the Unasked Question


This is the seventh back-and-forth email on the same subject with your colleague in Bangalore. You thought your last email had closed this topic, but obviously not.

Yes, you could pick up the phone…

But with the time difference, it will either interrupt your colleague’s dinner or your cocktail, and you’ve already been down that road too often.

Email? Really?

Face-to-face communication gives you the luxury of seeing with just a glance when someone does not understand. Their bewildered look or vague nodding means, I have no idea what you are talking about. But with email, there is no face to look at.

Yet despite what other communications tools you use, there are many times when you have to use email. Our Chinese clients tell us they greatly prefer email over a conference call because reading English is easier than listening to it. And your London teammates would rather not receive your text, WhatsApp, Yammer, Jabber, or Spark at 1 AM no matter how much they love you.

Done. Click.

Because we often have so many tasks on our plate, we tend to quickly jot down a reply to email and send. Done. Click. Taking a step back and considering whether we are actually clear is not as satisfying as clicking “send.” Besides, we are often replying on our iPhones as we walk to the next meeting and who has time to think that deeply?

And let’s face it. In their emails to you, many people are just not that clear in what they need and why, what they understand and what they do not. They don’t ask all the questions they should.

So why don’t they just ask?

It could be they don’t see the issue the same way that you do, but don’t realize that there is a disconnect. It could be that they don’t think it through from your perspective and believe you will just understand. Or it could be that they do not want to burden you with too many questions.

So what do you do?

So what will help to make your email exchanges clearer and more effective in getting the job done?

Answer the unasked question. Bingo!

Before you hit “send,” step back and think After I send this email, what questions will they still have? You will immediately think of at least three. Answer them with a “Just to make sure we are on the same page,” or “Just in case this helps….”

What are these unasked questions?

Here are some favorites from our clients:

Why are we doing this?
How urgent is this and when is it due?
What are the dependencies? Priorities?
What if I can’t do it?
Who in a position of power is paying attention to this?

Yo! Faster results!

When you answer the unasked questions, you let teammates, clients, and customers know exactly what is needed and when, why it’s needed, and what the back-up plans are. Communication will be quicker. Projects will get delivered faster.

And who it really helps is you. Just think: Answering the unasked questions means a cleaner inbox, fewer late-night calls, a better-informed team…and more time for that evening cocktail if you are so inclined.


Disclaimer: Looking forward to your thought-provoking and constructive comments. Play nice. Comments are (quickly) moderated for the sanity of all.

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