I've always had a fascination with questions and answers. The how and why of asking questions and answering them. Lately this fascination has been rekindled because I've been spending a lot of time thinking about the processes of collaborative communication.
You already know each other, you are clients or service providers, freelancers, interns, co-workers, you know each other. You've been working together for a while and have found the routines of how you share information.
It is at this stage that we begin to answer the wrong questions. Or more precisely answering most questions wrongly.
We think we know how the other person works, and how the other person thinks, so we begin to answer collaborative questions with what we think they want to hear, or what we think is the answer to a better question. Collaborative confusion ensues.
I am reminded of a great scene from an episode of The West Wing. I forget the episode's plot but despite paraphrasing it many times remember the scene vividly.
The White House Press Secretary is being prepared for a deposition by White House Council. After a few hours of going back and forth the lawyer casually asks the Press Secretary "can you tell me the time?"
She replies, "It's 2:35."
He becomes, well, angry. Sternly he tells her, "stop that, stop doing that. I asked you, 'can you tell me the time?' and the answer is yes. Stop answering the question you think you heard, answer the question I asked."
Stop answering the wrong questions.
Stop answering the question you thought you heard.
Stop answering the question you think they should have asked.
Stop answering the question with too much information and not enough answer.
Stop answering the question undecidedly.
Stop answering the question by pivoting the subject and saying something else you want to share. (Technique used most frequently during political debates.)
Stop answering the question in a way that hides the fact you don't know the answer. (Just say I don't know. Let me figure it out.)
Stop answering the question by providing more questions so you can buy yourself more time. (Just say I'm not done. I need more time.)
Stop answering the question without providing a solution.
Can you tell me the time?
Answer the situation, the problem, the question they asked.