By Larry Schuster
“Where will you be about 6:30 tomorrow evening?” I asked this straight forward question of a friend of mine when planning to meet on a weekend.
Since my friend is a native English speaker and a consultant for multinational companies, I thought he could respond sharply and to the point. It wasn’t hard.
But he didn’t. He started to tell me his schedule at 9:30 a.m. But why?
My friend was thinking Out Loud. He would start with his morning schedule, discuss his afternoon schedule and eventually, he would answer my question. But why? Wouldn’t he naturally know I don’t care about 9:30a.m. if I am asking about 6:30pm.?
Then, the next day, I almost did the same thing. A client asked a similar question in an email.
“When will you be able to send your proposal?” I began preparing my answer by starting to type all the things I would need to do to prepare the proposal, and estimate how long those steps would take and then finally answer her question. I was going to share all that in that email. And of course, for the most part, People don’t care!
Fortunately, I realized I was doing the same thing my friend had done, except I was writing and he was speaking. I stopped myself in time and deleted all the unnecessary information and just answered her question.
In case you think this is just a harmless personality trait, consider the case of the professional financial analyst at a multinational company who sought my consultation on this very problem.
In this financial analyst’s work, she often had to conduct financial research to answer a question for her boss so that he could make some decision. He just needed the answer. When she began to deliver the results of her research, much of her report was HOW she got a certain result. But he just wanted that answer.
But commonly, in the middle of her report, he would say to her, “What do you want me to do?” And that was the clue that she had given far more information than he needed. She wasted his time and didn’t get to the point. She’d go home frustrated that she worked so hard, but couldn’t sharply communicate what her boss needed in a concise way.
That’s another form of Thinking Out Loud. But this time, it was costly for the boss and potentially costly for her future promotions, if she couldn’t deliver information in a concise way.
What people need
Solutions. Just focus on exactly what people need and or ask. Time yourself and deliver whatever response your colleagues need within two minutes or less for complex issues. And that may include a restatement of the question or request. And then provide your answer.
Then pause. Make sure you make eye contact so you can see if they might have a question or if they need a few seconds to consider what you’ve said.
If it seems the boss or colleague wants more, follow that with at most three supporting points, in a sort of short bullet point fashion. Pause after each of the three points, and each time make sure you make eye contact.
Beyond that, just offer to send an email to summarize your key points and concerns.
Then stop. Be glad you didn’t start with your 9:30a.m. appointments when the topic was about 6:30pm.
Why? Because People Don’t Care! Except for what they care about!
Senior Consultant, Crescendo Communications Consulting