Answer Questions Directly for Better Communication

Misunderstandings happens when you don't answer questions directly. Here's how to make sure you're being crystal clear with your commmunication.

Stever Robbins,
January 9, 2015

Communication breaks down when people don’t get the information they need.

Have you ever noticed that when you ask a question, people answer every question except the one you asked? And when they say stuff, they say everything except what they actually mean.

The problem is that they think they’re communicating perfectly clearly, even when they aren’t. Wait a second. I think I communicate perfectly clearly. Maybe I don’t? Or to bring it on home: It's possible that you think you communicate clearly, but you actually don’t.

Here’s a way to make sure you're being crystal clear:

When someone asks for a favor, for information, or for a deliverable, review their question in your mind. Then formulate your answer. But before you say or type anything, stop and repeat the question and answer together to make sure your answer flows smoothly from their question.

Imagine a customer says, “My printer is making a weird noise. Can you diagnose it?” You’re thinking about payment, so you are tempted to say, “Is the printer still under warranty?” Put the two together and find out if they work:

  • Q: Can you diagnose my printer?
  • A: I’ll have to charge you if it’s not under warranty.

See, you didn’t answer the customer's question.

Even though you’re asking questions relevant to the transaction, from the other person’s point of view, you didn’t answer the question they care about most. Instead, answer their question first, then move on to your answer. “I can diagnose your printer. Whether there’s a charge depends on your warranty.”

See also: 5 Ways to Correct Communication Mistakes


With teammates or colleagues, answer questions briefly and directly. Elaborate only after you provide an answer.

For example, if someone emails, asking, “Is the project done, yet?” answer “Yes” or “No.” Then, if need be, elaborate on our answer. Think twice before trying to hedge around an answer you don’t want to give. Believe it or not, saying “The project is virtually done” doesn’t fool anyone (or if it does, it just sets you up to disappoint them when they realize that you’re telling the literal truth while trying to give the wrong impression).

Not only is honesty a good policy when the truth will come out anyway, but by answering questions directly and succinctly, you'll get a reputation as someone who's a superb team player.