Expanding Your NoCabulary: Answer and Response
The words used by leaders and their organizations reflect their mindset and their mindset is reflected in the words they use, so to shift a mindset and begin looking at challenges in new ways, changing common vocabulary is a good place to start. Our NoCabulary series of Hard NoCs blog posts introduces language to help develop a Communication-Based Leadership mindset.
Part of being a leader is fielding questions. Whether dealing with an enduring topic, reacting to an event imposed upon you, or preparing to initiate an action, questions will arise. They’ll come from bosses and colleagues, members of your team, clients and customers, or even media representatives. Addressing their questions effectively will set you up for success – and of course failing to address them effectively will at best hinder progress toward your goals.
Introducing the NoCabulary terms answer and response to your lexicon will help you create the mindset you need to field any question, any time.
An answer is merely verifiable facts. At a minimum, provide the facts that answer the specific question asked.
Question: When did the fuel tank start leaking and how much fuel leaked out?
Answer: We discovered the leak at 8:00 this morning and immediately drained the tank to stop the leak; we estimate 200-300 gallons of fuel leaked out before we able to do that.
There are two key things to keep in mind when providing an answer to a question: First be accurate and don’t speculate; second, if you don’t know the answer, say you don’t know and when you expect to provide an accurate answer.
Providing a timely, accurate answer to questions will serve you well. Ideally though, providing a timely, accurate response is even better.
A response includes not only the minimum facts to address the question, but additional information and perspective in anticipation of predictable follow-on questions. A response also combines facts with opinion – but those opinions must be grounded in facts to be credible.
Question: When did the fuel tank start leaking and how much leaked out?
Response: We discovered the leak at 8:00 this morning and estimate 200-300 gallons of fuel leaked out. We immediately drained the tank, took steps to contain the leaked fuel and mitigate any damage to the environment, took steps to repair the leaking tank, and began an investigation to determine the cause of the leak. We have policies and procedures in place to prevent things like this, take immediate steps to mitigate them when they do happen, and will investigate the incident thoroughly to make sure we understand what went wrong and how to avoid a similar problem in the future.
Whether crafting an answer or a response to a question – or even better, preparing a statement for release before the questions even begin — timeliness and accuracy are essential elements to preserving your credibility as a leader and the trust of key publics in you and your organization.
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Cliff holds a PhD in organization and management with a specialization in leadership. A U.S. Marine Corps veteran, he completed operational deployments to Fallujah, Iraq and Kandahar and Helmand, Afghanistan. He has led multi-national and inter-agency teams including approximately one year on loan from the Corps as Director of Policy, Planning, and Outreach for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs. He also directly advised the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on public and media engagement regarding national security matters for two years as Special Assistant for Public Communication. Today he puts that experience to work helping people become the kind of leaders they would want to follow.