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Those that have been here at Marxent for some time have heard me talk about Chuck Wise, my first boss and mentor. Chuck gave me great advice that shaped my career, and I love passing along his hard-won wisdom. Today, I’m sharing an essential tip: How to respond to a request from a boss, peer or client like a pro. Sounds simple, but it can be a challenge.

Chuck suggested a simple three-step process to follow when responding to requests:

Chuck’s Three-Step Process For Responding To Requests
Step 1: Confirm your understanding of the request. Ask questions if needed, use an example, clarify the scope, etc. — even if your boss or client isn’t clear. It’s OK to make some assumptions.
Step 2: Confirm ownership and others you intend to involve.
Step 3: Confirm timing and deadlines. Don’t have one? Create a deadline for when you’ll know a deadline.

How does this work in practice? As an example, I recently asked Marxent Director of Product Management Matt Fowler the following question:

“Hey Matt, I just learned that there’s a new 3D model supplier talking to Macy’s. I’d like to understand if this is an opportunity or a threat, and make sure we’re informing Macy’s strategy as they learn more about the space.”

Matt has options for how to respond — many of them terrible. Here’s a short list of (really shitty) Non-Pro Responses Matt could have given me:

“Got it”
“No problem”
“On it”
“Sounds good”
“Will do”
“Sure thing”
“Yup”
“Cool”

Why are these answers terrible? Because Matt has told me next to nothing about how he plans to attack this problem, how long it will take, or when I can expect some kind of answer. I am left completely in the dark with no visibility into his approach or expectation of delivery. Saying “got it” is essentially the same as saying nothing at all.

Fortunately, Matt’s a pro and he knew the perfect way to respond:

“Understood. I will prepare our usual competitive assessment including employees, revenues, clients, products, and unique IP. I’m going to make the assumption that you’re looking for a couple of hour investment on this and that based on our learnings decide if we’d like to dig deeper. My plan will be to engage Rich to get his Macy’s learnings and Shawn to have him evaluate their 3D assets. Today is the 7th, I stuck a due date for June 17th to have this completed and I’ll put 30 minutes on the calendar with you to discuss next steps.”

Clear, direct communication. I know what to expect and when to expect it. Matt has given himself a deadline, based on his workload and what makes sense for him. I have the option of accepting this or pushing for a different delivery (“Actually, I absolutely need it by June 13th for a meeting”), but the transparency means I have concrete expectations and can move on to other concerns because I know Matt has “got it” under control.

Chuck would be proud.

Marxent @ Work is a recurring series of posts written by Marxent staffers discussing learnings and observations from their careers — both here at Marxent and beyond. For much more of the Marxent @ Work series, check out our Marxent @ Work index page containing all the best posts through the years.