The end of a Discover Your Best Thinking with Precision Q+A workshop can feel like New Year’s Eve. It is an opportunity to think and communicate differently, and to use our new Q+A skills to think and collaborate deeper. But like many New Year’s resolutions, the changes we swore we were going to make can soon be forgotten if we don’t establish a routine.
Why It’s So Hard to Change
Our workplace conversations differ dramatically from social conversations, where questions are often invitations to talk leisurely. In these casual situations, the more we say, the more we are contributing to the enjoyment of the conversation.
But in meetings, we do not want to talk leisurely; instead, we want to focus. When we are collaborating with our colleagues to solve a problem, working with our manager to make a decision, or providing our executives with a project update, we want what we say to count. Precision Q+A is a routine that sets us up to shine in these situations. So how do we build the Precision Q+A habit?
Building New Habits
The first step is starting to see questions as cues. In his book The Power of Habit 1, Charles Duhigg describes a three-part “Habit Loop” – cue, routine, reward – that we can employ to build new practices into our work.
Let’s say you’d like to journal more regularly. Here’s how cue, routine, reward would work:
- You first need a cue to remind you of the habit you want to create. You leave your journal on top of your nightstand so you will see it when getting ready for bed.
- Then you need a routine to put the habit into action. You sit on the edge of your bed, set a timer for ten minutes, and write in the journal.
- Then you need a reward, something that reinforces the habit. You mark a big X on a wall calendar. The next night, you see the journal, you write again, you get to add another X, and soon you don’t want to break your streak of X’s.
The new habit is formed—you’re a consistent journaler. How can we use the Habit Loop to make clear and concise communication at work a strength?
The Cue: Listening for Questions
To start our Habit Loop, we become aware when a question has come our way. An easy first step is to notice questions in email, texts, or Slack, and then we can develop our awareness of questions in conversation. Listen for the question and notice it has been asked.
The Routine: Core Answer First
For many of us, the bad-habit cue is to launch into what we call storytelling mode: adding unnecessary details. To create a good habit, we need Precision Answering to maintain our focus. We start with core answers to keep our replies from meandering away from the question. We distill and qualify to maintain clarity and accuracy without sacrificing conciseness.
The Reward: Tapping into What You Value
Think about why clear, concise answers are valuable to you. Seeking greater productivity? Notice how Precision Answering shortens meetings and email threads. Want to build stronger work relationships? Let your clarity and conciseness show your colleagues you value their time. Looking to grow your credibility? Feel how Precision Answering sets you up to be heard and remembered, and become increasingly influential.
Practice: Look for the Cues
- When reading work email, notice when you’re being asked a question. Use the question mark as a cue to shift into your routine: align by starting with a core; distill into key points; qualify to maintain accuracy.
- Extend your vigilance to meetings and calls. Listen for questions and use them as cues. Your reward: improved efficiency, increasing credibility, and deeper work relationships. Because you are brief, people will tune in to your comments and your impact will grow!
1 Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit. Random House, 2012.
Join Vervago’s mailing list to receive our Skill Sharpeners and occasional updates about forthcoming publications, new products, and services.