A clarifying question helps to remove ambiguity, elicits additional detail, guides you as you answer a question that had been put to you, or just satisfies your curiosity. Clarification is a useful tool in job interviews, consulting, sales, investigation, and interrogation, but it must be used with delicacy and sensitivity.
In job interviews, as the candidate, if you're unsure how to respond to a question, you might want to ask a clarifying question. Unfortunately this can make you seem like you have something to hide. Better: answer in a minimally helpful way, and then ask the clarifier. Even a limited answer positions you as genuinely trying to reply, and earns the credit you need to ask the clarifier.
Keep two things in mind. First, interviewers sometimes intend to make you unsure how to respond. Maybe it's a test — will you take the initiative and ask a clarifier? Second, interviewers, recruiters, consultants, therapists, salespeople, investigators, and interrogators like to ask open questions, which sometimes feel vague. And people who ask open questions are not always skilled in doing so, which can add to their vagueness.
In conflict, when you sense tension, a gentle clarifying question — and careful listening to the response — can prevent misinterpretation from turning things toxic. And asking a question can tell your partner that communication generally isn't working right.
Here are some tips for clarifying questions.
- Don't ask too many
- Asking too many clarifiers looks evasive. The person you ask defines too many. Be sensitive to their responses.
- Clarifiers don't have to be questions
- "Say more," or "Tell me more about that" often suffice. And they don't always count as questions — your partner might even be flattered by your interest.
- Ask open questions
- Open questions tend to produce more information. Closed questions tend to produce short, limited responses. For instance, "Tell me how this all began," will produce more information than "How long has this been going on?"
- Asking too many clarifiers
looks evasive. The person you
ask defines too many.
- Avoid "or"
- "Or" restricts the reply to one of the possibilities you mention. If you catch yourself in "mid-or", adding "…or something else" at the end repairs some of the damage.
- Ask one question at a time
- You never know where the answer to the first question will lead. Wait to find out before asking another.
- Don't ask clarifiers in email
- The round trip time can be long, which creates frustration for all. If you need clarification, try telephone or face-to-face, instead of email.
- Go easy on presenters
- In presentations, it's disruptive to ask clarifiers more often than, say, every 15 minutes. If the presentation really needs that much clarification, questions won't help.
In a single day, you can witness the final hours of a brand that took ten years to build. Or you can see it re-emerge stronger than ever. From Tylenol to JetBlue — no brand is exempt. And the outcome depends not only on what you say to the public, but on how well you communicate internally — to each other. 101 Tips for Communication in Emergencies is filled with tips for sponsors of, leaders of, and participants in emergency management teams. It helps readers create an environment in which teams can work together, under pressure from outside stakeholders, in severely challenging circumstances, while still maintaining healthy relationships with each other. That's the key to effective communication in emergencies. It's an ebook, but it's about 15% larger than "Who Moved My Cheese?" Just . Order Now! .
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
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we're seeing more virtual conflict — conflict that crosses site boundaries. Dealing with destructive
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- One of the more counter-effective strategies incorporated into performance management systems is the enterprise-wide uniform quota, known as a vitality curve. Its fundamental injustice breeds cynicism, performance fraud, and toxic conflict. It produces performance assessments that are unrelated to enterprise objectives. Available here and by RSS on October 16.
- And on October 23: Power Distance and Teams
- One of the attributes of team cultures is something called power distance, which is a measure of the overall comfort people have with inequality in the distribution of power. Power distance can determine how well a team performs when executing high-risk projects. Available here and by RSS on October 23.
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- The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership
On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program.
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44017: November 7,
Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute.
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio 44017: November 7, Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
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