Why can’t you just answer the question?

Instead of going through an explication todo-list that you must finish unless that train of thought gets derailed.

I was on a conference call Saturday when our boss, Mr. Dick Hardass, asked one of my colleagues a seemingly simple question about a deadline. “This couldn’t take more than 5 seconds to answer” we all thought.

Mr. Shakes-like-a Twig — nice fellow, neat hair —  went on to take 2 minutes to say “a week”.

You see, Mr. Twig had to go through how he was examining three months of business intelligence reports to figure out the right algorithms to sort through it all. Then he had to describe our current layout (which we were all familiar with), that he had just moved, that our report templates are “adequate”, that he just had 2 cups of coffee, that we had setup a second database server to mirror the original data (also something we all knew) and that his parents are from Ohio.

Mr. Hardass is a new boss, so we didn’t get a chance to tell him to never ask Mr. Twig for a status report unless it’s by email. He also has the patience of a fruit fly, the attention span of a hummingbird and the temper of a wounded leopard being poked with a stick, while being forced to watch a Dharma and Greg rerun.

And while Mr. Twig, being a nice fellow, isn’t capable of understanding that silence on the other end is often a sign of a boil-over to come.

“I don’t have the bandwidth to deal with all that, I just want to know how we’re doing!”
etc… etc…

Mr. Hardass

The flustered Mr. Twig replied with a wavering voice, “a week”.

Answer the question!

I’ve heard this said to many people who travel down the winding path of explanations, touching all subjects except the point.

The older I get the more I realize that these people are actually answering a long list of questions in their head accumulated through the hours, days, years and even a lifetime. The one they just heard is actually tacked on at the bottom… which they will get to eventually, time be damned.

Moreover, as I get older, I feel that I’m turning into one of these explanation adventurers touring the treacherous waters of societal impatience. It’s not that I want to delay, frustrate or otherwise confuse the listener, but this is more of an external monologue that I go through to build that very important answer. I’m thinking and I desperately want to give an answer you’re happy with as soon as I can compile a program that displays it — to me first — so I can relay it to you.

Comments are necessary in the code of this program so I can keep track of what I’m doing.

Of course, that’s not to say that you should be wasting your time listening to a dissertation on the consistency of yak dung (which is actually different from cow and buffalo dung, but not many people know this) when you just need a two word answer.

Diatribes, while they personally satisfying, don’t really help people like us. A sudden change in facial expression — raised eyebrows and tilted head works — that you’re waiting is usually the most reasonable thing you can do to get us back on track.