I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don’t know the answer.
– Douglas Adams
When asking somebody a question, assuming that they are even listening, you can expect them to either:
- know the answer
- don’t know what you’re talking about
If they know the answer they’re going to give it to you right away, and that’s fine… because they know what they’re talking about.
If they’re in the clueless gang, they’re either going to give you a “sort of correct in their own opinion” answer or they’re going to recognize the fact that they don’t know, honestly. I just hate it when people give me “their correct answer”… and I’m not the only one.
Most people don’t realize that the choice they make in that exact instance is a make it or break it deal, especially if it’s a first impression.
Appearances do matter, and somebody jumping directly to conclusions even if their knowledge of the situation or problem at hand is close to nothing will automatically get tagged as either “clueless” or just plain stupid.
On the other hand, being thorough and wanting to give the correct answer (not the first one) is highly prized, because… it’s more productive to work on facts rather than fantasy.
So, if somebody asks you a question that you should be able to answer but you can’t:
- honestly say that you can’t answer at this time and that you’ll get back to them in a very short time
- find the right answer and validate it – if you’re going to take your time, make sure that you are right
- get back to them as quickly as possible – never over-promise and under-deliver
This is really important for anything related to costs (such as licensing issues and estimates), compatibility or interoperability questions (most of them are tricky anyway) and client-facing issue.
Ensuring that your answers are correct and that you had time to think things through will help you do your job better and I’ve never seen a manager say “I don’t want the right answer in 10 minutes, I want the wrong one now!”.
So don’t just get things done, start getting things right.