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How to get the BEST answers from critical interactions practicing an Asynchronous Communication

Given my previous experience as an instructional designer I became a good interviewer and shadower. I did hundreds of them and I got very good at active questioning and active listening. It has been helpful now, because I keep doing them all the time and so far, I thought I had it all under control. I was wrong.

Recently, I have been tasked to organize an event about purpose at work for the P&D team. When designing the event, the first thing I realized was how hard is to answer critical questions such as what is my purpose in life? or what means purpose to me? Or how do I think my work connects with my purpose, the purpose of my team and the one of the Company?

I took me two almost two weeks to come up with these answers. Then, I realized it.

Right away questions?

Most of the interviews I do, include right away questions about purpose, aims and objectives. Many questions could be considered critical. And even though, many of us (interviewers) expect for an immediate answer. Again, I took me two weeks to come up with my own answers.

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Me at an interview.

I realized that for some critical questions the interviewees would like (and should be allowed) to have the time to go to their files or notes (just like I did), simply because the questions are to complex, or they haven’t thought about it before or in the way you are putting it until that moment.

Just a few days ago a friend asked me to think what would I do if I know that a year from now I will die. It took me more than a week to come up with the answer, because I really wanted to represent myself in the answer, my feelings and thoughts.

We’ve all been there. It happens all the time. Often, some questions are rounding my mind for days until I come up with an answer or until I decide I have the best answer, just after having crossed thoughts, scenarios, data, ideas, feedback, readings and so.

The difference is that I had all the time to answer. In an interview, a meeting, or a business talk we don’t. I have seen how interviewees feel stressed because they just have a few seconds to come up not with an answer, but with the right answer or the accurate info. This is not only a bit unfair, but also ineffective and inefficient. 

I am pretty sure that many of them – and many of us – would like to know the questions and objectives of an interview beforehand in order to prepare the best answer. And we should start doing that more often: letting others to know questions and aims in advance.

What is the rush?

What I am saying is that the principle of letting your counterpart know in advance the objectives, questions, outputs desired from your interaction could be very beneficial. They will have the time to sleep on it and prepare better answers than if asked on the momentWhat’s the rush to get answers right away? 

Jason Fried – CEO of Basecamp and author of Rework – says that we should be more open to practice an asynchronous communication, which means basically to ask the questions giving time or space to the receiver (interviewee) to answer the questions. He says this will give better results, because the counterpart has the chance to meditate ideas and present a better answer.

Josh Bersin mentions that neurological research has proven the importance of spacing and questioning: students learn better (and come up with better answers) when they have the time to process information and questions. They got better solutions when they have the chance to consult sources, or ask questions about it.

Lately, I started to try this in some interview-like occasion with my wife, my boss, my colleagues and my customers and it is giving very good results. We all come to the talk with better thought ideas and answers.

So, next time you have a meeting, shadowing or interview try sending critical questions, aims and objectives in advance. It will be better for the session and you, your counterpart, and the organization will benefit much more. You’ll save time, get better answers, be more efficient and more objective.

Important Notes

1) Not all the time

Fried says that we need to evaluate a situation to say: ok, we can have a chat right away about this if there is no have a high stake involved or let’s do it asynchronous. Think about it.

2) Trust

You need to trust that your counterpart will be sincere by doing the job beforehand, and giving you genuine answers (not fabricated ones).

If you do not trust the other side – meaning it wants the best output from your interaction – and you think that sending the questions in advance will be used to be advantageous, you should consider to not even have contact in first place.

Try it, share your experiences and share this article as well to that person you think could find it helpful.

Bonus: Some tricks I have found useful at any interview-like occasion.

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Diego is an experienced learning advisor, a certified trainer and a design thinking consultant.

He is available for advisory where the focus is on driving trascendental learning and lasting change. Moreover, he is always eager to chat.