Byron's Babbles

Think Fast & Answer Quickly

I am reading the great book The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro. This book is about the leadership and power of Robert Moses. One of the strengths and attributes that people he worked with said he had was his ability to think fast and answer quickly. The context was his ability to quickly make a decision when asked a question or asked how to correct something and articulate the answer.

Usually, I consider myself a slow processor. I’m the one that when a meeting is ready to end will have a few questions to be answered or comments to be made. In other words, I’m a processor. This, I believe is very different than thinking fast and answering quickly. Actually, after thinking about this deeply I would argue this is a skill set we should develop and hone. Here’s why: it comes down to actively listening. We must work hard at actively listening. This means carefully listening to the very end. This also means resisting the urge to start formulating the answer before the other person is done asking the question. Concentrating on the question, rather than your answer, will result in a more thoughtful answer.

We are better and more powerful leaders when we are able to think on our feet, gather our thoughts quickly and deliver our points convincingly. The best leaders are able to do this. Think about it; we live in an unscripted world. Therefore, we must prepare ourselves to think fast and answer quickly.

Several years ago I was judging 30-40 sheep, cattle, and hog shows around the nation each year. I always said that many show committees asked me to judge because I was consistent (you always knew what I was going to pick to win, whether you liked my type or not) and I was fast. I could place a class of 30 lambs quickly and accurately. Which meant I could get through a show with 300-400 head without it taking forever. I always advised new judges to work quickly so the crowd didn’t have time to pick different favorites than what they had picked.

A couple of things we can do to hone these skills when being asked questions is to listen for trigger words. Trigger words will prompt you to be thinking about the most important parts of the question or point being made. It shows the listener that you heard their question or concern loud and clear and are addressing in directly and head on.

Another thing that I have to continually work on is giving the short answer first. In other words, get to the point and don’t ramble on. Give the quick answer first and let the other party ask clarifying or follow up questions.

In the end it really comes down to being authentic. We need to answer to the best of our ability and from the heart. Say what we really think.

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