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The Art of Thoughtful Response. Respond After Thinking, not Before...

I was reminded of something amazingly helpful, yet completely counter-cultural yesterday. I was interviewing a man who had just left the Army after four years of service. We had three questions to go over.. That’s it… Just three… The interview took 45 minutes, and I’ve never heard such amazing and thoughtful answers before. This young man paused after every question, thinking deeply about what his answer was going to be, and then, before ever opening his mouth, asked for the question again. After thinking deeply about how he wanted to respond, he quietly, thoroughly, and thoughtfully answered the question. I sat back just watching his facial expressions as they painted the picture of what was going on in his brain. You could tangibly see the conversation being played out, and it was beautiful.

How often, when asked a question, or for our opinion, do we make an attempt to not only spit out the right answer, but to do so immediately. We blurt out the first thing that comes to mind regarding whatever topic is presented, and we do it with the confidence and certainty of a Nobel laureate. Being able to throw out an answer off of the top of our head has become linked to compliments like, "She's quick on her feet" or "He performs well under pressure".

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of situations where quick answers and decisions are absolutely necessary. Making quick decisions in Iraq and Afghanistan kept us alive on so many occasions, however, these occasions are staunchly outweighed by the other side of the coin. How many times a day are you asked questions regarding your opinion or circumstance where you just say what's top of mind at the moment.

Culturally, this is how we are wired. In a job interview, how often do we kick ourselves for not answering a question quick enough? Imagine if we were brave enough to ask for a minute to really think about the question, write it down, and then respond. Imagine how our responses would change if we were able to take a few deep breathes, push oxygen to our brain, and respond with accuracy and thoughtfulness.

Imagine if we took this practice and used it in our most important relationships.

Someone close to you asks you how your day went, and you say "it was fine" without hesitating to really think about how the day actually was. This can be devastating to communication. In a culture where 1. Not being fine, is not ok, and 2. an immediate response is required for every question, we can lose track of how we are really feeling and can give inaccurate information to those with whom we are closest.

So, take your time in your responses, think about the question, and most importantly, if you don’t know the answer, say so! Saying that you don't know something doesn't have to be synonymous with a lack of knowledge. It's an opportunity to learn and to maintain contact. I promise it's not as scary as it seems. Try it out... When someone asks you a professional question that you may not have the most accurate or all of the information to answer it sufficiently, simply ask for some time to think about it. It will show the person asking the question that you care about the question and that you want to give them the best answer possible. But, don't forget to follow up. Leaving them hanging is worse than answering quickly.

Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!

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