Avoid that killer question, 'Do you understand?'

Get this phrase out of your vocabulary! Think about it for a moment. If someone asks, 'Do you understand?', what is the typical response? Only a handful of extremely high self-esteem souls will answer it truthfully if they don't quite have a grasp on the matter under discussion.

Trouble is, it's a closed question, and leads the listener to either a 'yes' or a 'no'. If you've just given some instructions, they're still absorbing them. Their subconscious usually hasn't had time to check if there are any gaps in the information received, apart from the obvious. Most times it's not until we start a task that we realise there's more we need to know. And if we're the giver of the information, we're usually too close to it to realise we've left out a vital piece.

More useful questions are:


• I'm bound to have overlooked some details. What would you like me to go over again?

• You'll have some questions, I'm sure. What would you like to check on?

• I know that's a lot of information to take in at once. Go away, have a think about it, and come back in (and name a time that's convenient for you) with how you'll go about it, and any further questions.

• So, what do you think is the best way to start?

• What ideas spring to mind, or points that you would like to discuss further?

Another good strategy is to insist that people take notes of your instructions. Almost none of us, no matter how clever (unless we've had special memory training), can remember more than a maximum of nine pieces of information at a time, and for most of us this number can be reduced to three or five pieces of information (depending, of course, on their complexity).

I was running a meeting where one of the participants agreed to quite a number of actions. I began to get a little anxious when I realised she wasn't writing anything down. I knew from experience that she had a tendency to forget things. After the third action I said, 'Ann, would you like a pen and some paper?'

'Do you think I'll forget things, Robyn?' she said, a little defensive.

'Yes,' was the honest answer. With no further discussion she took the paper, made the notes, and delivered on her promises!

Would you like to join Robyn for breakfast? If you're quick you could win one of 5 free places at one of her GettingAGrip Breakfast Club seminars (valued at $95) in either Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch - 7am - 9am.

Email jill@gettingagrip.com with 'Breakfast Club - NZ Herald online article' in the subject line. Please advise preferred location. More information here.