How to deal with ambiguity

Here is a simple way to deal with ambiguous questions and ambiguous answers.

There are two things that really, really, really annoy me:

  1. Somebody answers my question with “it depends”
  2. Answering a question someone asked me with “it depends”

I admit it! I am guilty of this myself!! But I am improving. I used to think “How hard can it be to say yes or no, red or green, up or down, north or south…?”.

“Did the meeting go well?” – “Depends”

“Did you enjoy your stay with us?” – “Depends“

“Do you like the product?” – “Depends”

So, what’s the way to deal with this?

From the perspective of the person who answered “it depends” it means 1 of 2 things:

  1. “I wish you had asked me a specific question”
  2. “Get lost. I don’t want to tell you any details”

Most of the time the thought number 1 crosses my mind and I developed the habit of either:

  • Asking back “what do you mean? What specifically do you want to know?”, drill down, start an interrogation
  • Making my answer excruciatingly detailed so the other person gets annoyed and asks me a more specific question

Top answer to an ambiguous question is a question:

“What do you mean? What specifically do you want to know?”

From the perspective of the person who asked the question it means 1 of 2 things:

  1. “I forgot / could not be bothered to think of a specific question”
  2. “I just want to do small talk”

 To avoid the answer “it depends”

make your question specific or add “and that means…”.

When I realize that I asked an ambiguous question I immediately add “and that means…” followed by what specifically I wanted to know.

Asking specific questions just means to avoid ambiguous words, e.g. well, best, good, bad, serious, a lot, a little, terrible, awesome…..

Hard work but worthwhile.

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