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The power of process time in your Q&A sessions

Questions and answers want to be in relationship with one another. This post is about that relationship and the need for time between questions and their responses.

How much time passes between a well-asked question and a responsive answer?

It depends. In great conversation the Q&A goes fast and responses freely follow questions with little process time required for most questions.

What do we make of long process times between question and answer?

Long process times between the question and answer challenge our notion of the relationship between those two. The questioner generally asks the question hoping for an immediate response. A few seconds later, ok; a few minutes and a long pause later, strain. A couple of hours or days after the question first arrives, hard on us.

What can we do about this?

Build process time, and the awareness of its need, into our conversations. Some questions are easier to answer than others. Acknowledge that. Here are some examples that take place after a string of answered questions. These examples are what can happen when we arrive at a question that generates a long pause.

Example 1

Would more time to process that one help?

Yes, thank you.

[flag the question, ask it again later...]

Example 2

You may have some incomplete thoughts on that last one?

Yes.

Are you comfortable sharing your top of mind considerations?

OK, bear with me. I think…

Example 3

There has been a long pause, are their some missing facts that make answering right now hard?

Probably.

Can you share some of those as you are considering them?

[Be patient, this is a tender area of a person's thinking process]

Example 4

I have a hunch, that question needs more time to consider before you answer?

Yes.

Is an answer possible?

Right now I am not sure (or, yes, it just needs more time for me to consider).

Do you have a notion of how long it will take to gather up an answer?

[This is a push tactic, be ready for resistence here]

Example 5

I sense you do not currently have an answer you are willing to speak out loud?

No, just give me a second (or, yeah, you are probably right).

Ok, take your time, let me know when you are ready (or, is there anyone who would have good ears to hear the answer).

These are examples that fit a pattern.

First, sense that the question will take time to answer. Second, encourage the person to take more time. The acknowledgment of the need for more time can make all the difference in maintaining a relationship between our question and the answer we are looking for. Third, persist with the need to hear the answer and give a variety of options for how the answer might arrive, as a guess, partially formed, deconstructed from bits of information, etc. The key idea is to keep that relationship between your question and his or her answer intact!

Good luck! Let me know how it goes.

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