Get ahead of questions with answers

One of the most important lessons I have learned in working on projects and dealing with challenging situations is to get ahead of questions by answering them in advance.

As I have discussed in the past, ambiguity causes stress and can lead to conflicts.

Unanswered questions can be the ambiguity in any project or situation.

Moreover, the fear to even ask a question remain not only ambiguous yet also contribute to an unhealthy environment.

For these reasons, whenever I endeavor on a new project, I try to anticipate questions that might come from those involved and I try and answer them in advance.

I would even write them out in a communication and have a section in a shared working space for people to pose questions and the appropriate person answer.

This area would be available for everyone to see.

Sometimes the answers are not what people want yet nonetheless, as they are answered, they are less of a source of stress.

For example, on a special project, people might be wondering if they are expected to participate on a mandatory basis.

The answer could be “yes” or “no.” Either way, this requires an answer.

If the answer is “yes,” a follow-up question might be if they will be alleviated from their regular work.

Again, the answer could go either way, yet you can imagine if these two simple questions are not answered, they could be a major source of stress for individuals.

Taking it to another level, many might want to ask if they will get additional compensation for participating, yet too afraid to ask.

Without this answer clearly stated in advance, resistance and negativity might move in to the empty space where this answer should be.

Given this, you might find yourself starting a project with some chips already stacked against you.

I have also used this technique when meeting with new and potential clients.

The simple approach I take is try to anticipate all their questions and answer them in advance of them asking.

In one instance, I counted fifty questions that I answered and yes, this can be overwhelming in one sitting yet I followed-up with the questions and answers in writing.

The client thanked me and asked if they could contact me back if they had questions and of course, the answer to that was “yes.”

They contacted me back the next day, which was precisely what I wanted. Their next move was to immediately take action and get to business with revenue generating activity.

I have also used this approach in dealing with near-crisis situations.

In challenging times, leadership does not always have the time or luxury to debate or discuss important decisions.

Sometimes, decisions need to be made quickly due to threats or given short windows of opportunity.

In such instances, having questions and answers documented enables timely action and again, less ambiguity for those involved.

As an example, imagine a power outage at your place of work that is expected to last over 1 hour.

Should staff go home or stay at work waiting for the power to come back?

This is not a crisis situation, yet nonetheless important to answer because the next question will be, if they go home, will they still get paid for that day?

When I have posed this question to some business owners, the normal immediate answer I get is “I pay people to work.”

So, the answer would be “no,” you can go home yet you don’t get paid.

However, what might labour standards say about this?

My perspective is that if an employee is sent home by their employer or given permission to go home, due to no fault of their own, they are entitled to their regular pay for that period.

As you can see, having answers to simple questions can be useful and having them available to everyone in a simple to access repository can be beneficial.

At this point, you might be suggesting a policy and to that I would say, if you need one, you can proceed this way yet just ensure it is not 18 pages long.

If you can, keep it simple and answer the question before it is asked.