Think Like an Editor blog by Steve Davis and Emilie Davis, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

April 22: Surprise question? Answer it!

By · Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

For the month of April, our blog will be devoted to polishing
your professional skills.
Everything you need to know about courtesy, manners and common sense.
And we do mean “need” to know.

APRIL 22

Picture yourself at an interview for a job that you really hope to land. The interviewer asks you one of those questions you’re not expecting, such as, “If you could be an animal, what would you be and why?” It’s the kind of question that is intended to test a person’s ability to think quickly and respond thoughtfully. In such a situation, your answer probably would not be, “I don’t know what you want.”

So remember that example at other times, such as when you are working on a project in a classroom or professional setting and:

In these instances, these people generally are not looking for one answer; they are seeking multiple ideas. They are hoping to generate excitement, which leads to energy, which leads to synergy, which leads to a shared vision, which leads to an even greater end result than one person, alone, could provide.

When any of these people hears, “I don’t know what you want,” it sends a signal that:

The professional way to respond is to ask follow questions (if you really don’t understand) or to put forth one idea (and ask, “What do you think?) or to repeat what you believe the person means (and, still, share a couple of ideas). Think of it this way: If the person really “wanted” something a particular way, that person would have given you a directive. But in these examples, that’s not the intention. The theme here is to listen, think and generate ideas.

Go back to the image of the interviewer asking the question about the animal. If an interviewee stalls, seems perplexed, doesn’t have an answer, or blurts out, “I don’t know what you want,” the interview pretty much is over — even if it lasts longer. The interviewer likely is already thinking of the next person on the list to interview — in the hope of meeting someone full of ideas and then offering that person a job.

Read it. Learn it. Live it.
Be that person.

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