Leaders Don’t Badger People

When I was a teacher, I learned certain responses annoyed students when they asked clarifying questions:

  • “If you were paying attention, you’d know.”
  • “As I said twelve minutes ago…”
  • “I just told you that.”
  • “It’s in the syllabus. Did you read it?”

No one likes to be talked down to.

The best teachers answer the clarifying question without additional comment. If we’re honest with ourselves, the additional comments are not for the student anyway; they’re for the speaker as an outlet for the speaker’s own feelings of frustration and/or annoyance.

Clarifying questions don’t end at graduation. Instead, they follow into the adult world, getting more annoying, not less.

“What was the deadline on the Alpha Project again?”

“Per my email last week, it’s at 3PM on the 12th.”

“What’s the new expense limit on client lunches again?”

“As stated in my August 23rd message, the cap is $25.”

“Who’s putting the Proton Pump presentation together? Was it Claire?”

“As we reviewed in the staff meeting last week, Claire is taking a break and Samir is putting it together.”

“Do we have to put cover pages on the TPS reports now?”

“If you’d actually read the memo I posted on the board, you’d know the answer is yes.”

Condescending remarks do not build trusting relationships.

So, just answer the question without comments which reflect your frustrations.

Otherwise, be glad they’re asking and not making assumptions. It is better for them to clarify and ask questions upfront than to fix mistakes later.

Additionally, simply answering the question is quicker for you. Consider the brevity and efficiency when you eliminate your own feelings:

  • “At 3pm on the 12th”
  • “Twenty-five dollars.”
  • “No, it’s Samir.”
  • “Yes.”

Now, if you notice a repeated issue with one teammate or employee who keeps missing information, it may be time for a feedback opportunity, coaching conversation, or a one-on-one topic of discussion.

In the moment, however, answer the darn question so we can all get back to work.

Thanks for reading,

Alan Feirer

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