On Answering Simple Questions

Phew! Will be another 350-something days of peace until my daily grind again becomes punctuated by George Michael’s wailing about his Christmas heartbreaks. On a more shocking note, we’re about 24 hours away from 2019 and I’ve barely checked a few items off my “2018 to do -list“. 

I am hopeless with sticking to New Year’s resolutions, but have decided to work on the following:

Having answers to easy questions. 

My job, if you wish to simplify it, is mainly to answer questions. Thus you’d be excused for supposing that I have a knack for being able to muster a response to pretty much anything that comes with a question-mark in the end. I have no problem with taking people’s breath away with lengthy elaborations on issues of ridiculously technical complexity. However, I freeze to the point of debilitating cul-de-sac when surprised with the following:

What do you want?

I bet we all can easily come up with a long list of items to place under the headline “things that I do not want”. But turn it around. If you could want anything, what would it be? If prompted by a “if you are allowed to dream really big now, what would you want to be, do and have?“, would you be willing and able to say it out loud?

I am about to finish a career coaching process, which greatly helped me with rehearsing a response to such a question. More importantly, the process showed me why it is important to have the reply figured out, even if no-one asks. I was as sceptical as anyone in the beginning. Used to mulling things over in my own head with the sporadic help of self help and occasionally a friend and a bottle of wine (also known as the birth of all brilliant ideas), I was convinced I would essentially be wasting my money.

Well, no surprises here: I wish I’d come up with the idea earlier. Much. Earlier. It’s a bit like hiring a personal trainer or a nutritionist. We do know how to lift dumbbells and operate the majority of appliances at a regular gym. We do know that we cannot subsist on crisps and wine alone. In principle we also do know how to cut hair, but still sometimes it is a better idea to pay a professional to give a hand to achieve optimal results. 

That’s how I feel about coaching. Instead of ending up in an exhausting exasperation after days years of to and fro inside my head, there was a professional by my side to help me find my way out (the coach is not there to take any decisions for me, I still have to do all the pesky work myself, but she’s there to see that I do not fall back into the loop). 

There’s another question that deserves preparing for, as it is likely to materialise in the most surprising of situations: 

Tell us about yourself.

How can something so benign-sounding be so horribly difficult to reply to? “I was born in this small town…” and you’ve lost your audience. (By the way, have you ever paid attention to the trendy phenomenon of “storytelling” that has spread like pest? How each and everyone has been taught to start their interventions with “I’m a storyteller”, which very often ends up being a poor excuse for a spur-of-a-moment, non-rehearsed, structureless ramble that is supposed to come across as a story, just because it lacks all the characteristics of a presentation?)  

​”I have a long experience from this field…”  – thanks, but we’ve already seen your CV. And even if we haven’t, what you’re saying is remotely not interesting. Why do you babble on about what you have accomplished in your professional life when all I asked you was to tell me about yourself?

In short, we are talking about mastering the skill of replying to simple questions “who are you?” and what do you want?. Both sound so terribly simple but are far from it. Also, I cannot help but wonder what it says about a person if she cannot reply to either of them? On the other hand, acing these two questions quite possibly holds the fundaments to pretty much everything else we’re ever being asked. 

So, here you are. With this short introduction, which hopefully didn’t come across too consultant-y or Linkedin-y, that’s something I am going to work on next year.

Photo: Heli Sorjonen

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