Just answer the question.

The best business advice I ever received was to “Just answer the question.”

No more, no less. Just answer what was being asked.

My boss at the time gave me that advice because I was getting a bit long-winded in my email responses. I thought my background information and clarifying notes provided context and were helpful. And perhaps in some small way they were, but they also obscured the answer he was seeking.

He needed a short, to-the-point answer, and I was giving him an essay.

Short, to-the-point answers also kept me out of the usual office email tempests. You never know who your email will be forwarded to, and comments that are of a subjective nature or comments that can best be categorized as opinion can easily be misinterpreted, leading to a flurry of emails full of righteous indignation, copying more and more people.

Just answer the question. That’s all you need to do.

Today I found another reason to “Just answer the question.” Working with a large organization, sometimes you need information and the person you’re asking thinks you’ve been privy to all that’s happened since a project began, that you know the details, and the context.

Case in point: Today I needed to know when some pricing was due to the prospect. So, in an effort to be crystal clear, I asked, “When is the pricing due?”

This was the response. “She wants pricing to give to client.” How does this answer my question? I understand she was trying to give me more information than I had asked for, and maybe provide some context, but it didn’t answer my question at all.

Earlier, I was trying to get the name and contact information of someone the company could use as a reference. Again, trying to be very clear as to what I was seeking, I asked, “Who should we list as a client reference for XXXXXXXX? The RFP is asking for a company, a contact name and their email and phone number.”

The response “Are they wanting a reference or co. that we may have worked with before?” indicated that I was unsuccessful in being clear. Again, it didn’t answer my question at all.

Since most of our business communications are electronic, and since most of us are juggling multiple projects, we owe it to ourselves and to our co-workers to be brief and to be clear.

Just answer the question. It makes everyone’s job easier.