The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!
Think for a moment how many questions you ask in a single day. There are the simple questions like asking your child what they’d like for breakfast or asking your spouse what time they’ll be home from work. There are then the more complex questions like asking your boss to clarify your responsibilities on a project or asking a potential client if they’d like to move forward with your services. For simple questions, an answer is usually easy to obtain. But for the more complex and sometimes controversial questions, a quick and straightforward answer is harder to extract.
Anyone who has asked enough questions knows exactly what I’m talking about. So often we avoid providing someone with an answer because we think it will upset them or strain our relationship. The interesting reality is that the lack of an answer is more frustrating, and potentially more damaging, than providing a yes or no because it demonstrates a lack of respect for someone’s time.
In business, I often compare waiting for an answer to being in progress purgatory. It’s terrible to have your hands tied and be forced to bring work to a halt while you wait for a response from a client or co-worker. There are certainly instances where a delayed response is understandable. Life has been known to throw curve balls. But when an answer can be provided, it should be provided—as quickly and clearly as possible. Otherwise you may be costing someone else their time and energy as they wait for an answer and put effort into following-up.
I’m sure we can all bring a few examples to mind, maybe even one we’re dealing with right now. It’s that email that hasn’t been answered in over a week or that voice mail message that’s still waiting on a call back. It shows a lack of respect for someone else’s time when such questions or requests go unanswered and it can all be avoided with some simple communication. Immediate responses aren’t always possible or expected, but even when you can’t provide a response, you can provide the communication that you are seeking one. I know I always appreciate a message acknowledging my question and letting me know when to expect follow-up.
The bottom line is that you’re not doing anyone any favors by leaving them hanging. If the answer you have isn’t the one they’d prefer, you likely still have a good reason for choosing that answer. Explain this reasoning as simply as possible and give them the answer straight-up. Even if you can’t give someone the response they want, you can at least give them the ability to move forward and seek a different solution or opportunity. And at the end of the day, that’s a lot better than being stuck in progress purgatory!
Do you agree that a no is as good as a yes compared to not receiving an answer at all? What role in this scenario do you usually play—the one waiting for the response or the one evading the response? Share your insights and input by commenting below!