QTNA is shorthand for “Questions that need answers.” Usually it’s associated with one or two questions, ones that are often rhetorical. But there are six questions that need to be answered every time you’re communicating professional instructions with someone. If you answer these six from the onset, you’ll be a lot better of a communicator and the unnecessary emails you receive requesting clarification will decrease tremendously.
So, what are these six magical questions and how will they help so much? They’re the same ones we were taught need to be answered when telling a story or writing a report in the second grade: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?
How many times have you gotten an e-mail/ text/ call/ memo/ letter/ etc. or gone to a meeting and one (or more) of those six questions not been answered effectively during the introduction of an objective? This will cause the person who is introducing the objective to receive time-wasting communication in all forms (phone calls, e-mails, face-to-face interactions, texts, messenger birds being sent, et cetera). Or, worse even, the person/team charged with completing the objective will decide they already know enough details and can do it without the “unnecessary” (in my most sarcastic voice) details. This will likely cause a blunder in the final project.
It’s funny. I often pick on my girlfriend for the amount of detail she presents in her stories regarding her day at work but I almost always get at least five out of the six questions and, by the end of it, she’ll be trying to figure out why so-and-so’s decision made any sense (and I’ll be trying to decide why this concerns me but I just grin and bear). Either way, all six bases are covered.
Now, I know that second grade was decades ago for some of us (I was literally in the second grade exactly twenty years ago) so we may need a refresher regarding the importance of these questions. So here it is:
You, as the introducing party of the objective, need to explain who all is involved in the project. Employees, clients, upper management, partnering groups, vendors, civic organizations, interns, and even volunteers may play a role in the success of this project.
What’s going on? The objective of the communication is key to its success. This is the most important out of the six QTNA. Without it, there is no chance that anything will get accomplished. And don’t beat around the bush. Be specific. Don’t say “I want ice cream.” Don’t even say, “I want Bryers Sara Lee Strawberry Cheesecake ice cream with all the toppings.” Say, “I want Bryers Sara Lee Cheesecake ice cream with waffle cones, strawberry ice cream syrup, bananas, sprinkles, walnuts, and freshly cut strawberries.” Unless you’re ok with your team coming in with Neapolitan ice cream and nothing else. Then, feel free to just say “I want ice cream.”
Do you have a deadline? Then you need to give your team a deadline. And, what I’ve found to be most effective as a leader, is to give them an earlier deadline than your own that will give you adequate time to look over their work and possibly work out any kinks if there are any. Of course, in the case of the ice cream party I used as an example above, that’s not going to work because ice cream melts. But the day you present should not be the first time you, as a leader see all components of the presentation come together. That, my friends, is far from wise. Give yourself three to five business days if you can. At least one day if that’s all you can afford. But set a clearly defined timeline. It keeps people from making the age old excuse of “You said get it done whenever I’m free.”
Is the meeting in your office or in the conference room or via a conference call or at the Starbucks down the road? Not knowing where could cause your team, you, your firm, and your entire nation (if dealing internationally) to look incompetent. So don’t assume that the intern knows where he’s supposed to bring the breakfast for the meeting with potential investors from Japan. Chances are, it may be his first week there and he’s just not that familiar with the layout of the building.
What’s the buy in? What will accomplishing this goal do for me/the team/the company? People need to know why they’re doing things. Have you ever had a job in which you didn’t know why you were doing any of the things you were doing? How long did you want to stay there? When you know the impact of your work and it speaks to your values, you’re more likely to give it your all.
How is this going to get done? What funds will we use? Who plays what role? Et cetera. Sometimes you can generally say “Joe, you get the ice cream. Jane, you get the bowls. John, you get the toppings.” Basically an “I don’t care how you get it done, just get it done,” approach. Other times, you may need to be more specific, letting Joe know he needs to get the ice cream but that, because the company freezer cannot accommodate enough ice cream for the entire company, he needs to get it and rent a freezer.
Don’t be afraid to spell all of this out. Be as concise as possible but, in the interest of saving time by not having to respond to multiple e-mails later on, give them everything they need to know from the beginning. Believe me, it will save you hours of unnecessary small talk over the course of your life.