Want Optimal Results? Tease the Question Apart then Put it Back Together

This past week I received a question via the Ask a Question button on my website (It makes me so happy when you use it!)

For the purposes of the questioner’s privacy, I have not included his note in full here. Instead, I picked a few salient sentences:

I work for X… we don’t really have a way to get promoted, but so many people seem to get these promotions that they don’t deserve. My team and I work very hard…  yet we are the least appreciated team. I no longer feel happy or that I am making a difference. I love X and helping others do their jobs better, but I don’t know what to do with myself anymore. Thoughts 

As you might imagine, after reading his note I was puzzled. Did he want to get a promotion, or did he need my help looking for a new job?

I’m guessing many of you have had a similar experience: been asked a question where you weren’t quite sure what the questioner was driving at.

In these moments, the tricky bit is taking the time to tease apart the questioner’s intention. Too often we jump to a conclusion about what we believe is being asked rather than taking the time to clarify.

As it happens, my request for clarification in this situation led to a heartfelt email stating that he wanted to stay at his job—he loves what he does. That information was useful to crafting his request for a promotion.

So the next time you receive a muddled question, my suggestion/request would be to take the time to tease apart the various elements included. I guarantee it will lead to a smoother conclusion.


Should you be interested in how we crafted his ask, my email to him is below:

Thank you for the clarification. I can tell that you are passionate about passing along what you know.

What I recommend now is to combine this passion with some facts that you can present to whomever is in charge of raises/promotions.

Referencing your passion for passing along your knowledge will keep you out of some of the language of your first email, where you referenced others’ promotions, etc. and ensure you speak from your heart. Having facts about the number of overtime hours you put in will enable whomever you speak with to make a clear case to whomever they need to speak with. 

Other things to think about:

  1. Make an appointment with whomever you will be meeting with. No one likes to be pounced on.
  2. When you do, try to keep your tone easygoing. No one wants to take a meeting where they think they are going to get into trouble.
  3. Once you are in the meeting, acknowledge that the person will need time to assimilate the information you will be giving them. This keeps them from feeling pressured into making a snap judgment. 

For more on how to successfully request a raise promotion, take a look at 100 Days to Your Promotion.