It’s frustrating when you question an employee and hear a non-answer. You can tell the individual is steering around the main issue or evading it entirely.
Maybe you’re the problem. If you tend to give long-winded, indirect answers to employees’ questions—or you fail to address them at all—you might lead staffers to mimic your slippery approach. Then you’re stuck with a group of poor communicators who drop hints or speak in code rather than bluntly say what they know.
Neither celebrities nor public officials help. In interviews, we watch them deliver canned talking points while ignoring the reporter’s question. This even happens on CNN: The in-studio anchors will ask a correspondent on the scene about some aspect of the story—and the correspondent will recite a prepared script that has little or nothing to do with the question.
The tendency to ignore questions and say whatever we want to say hampers our understanding. If you’re trying to assess a situation, you may rely on faulty or incomplete information from underlings who are reluctant to share all they know. They may fear admitting error or dislike bearing bad news.
Let everyone know you want and expect clear, concise answers. Don’t blame the messenger when you hear something objectionable. Welcome even the toughest inquiries from your employees and provide crisp, forth-right answers.
One of the best ways to model what you want is to respond yes, no or perhaps—and then stop. This gives questioners a chance to ask for elaboration or simply walk away with the satisfaction of receiving a clear answer.