You should change the question to get a different answer
My day job actually offered BEST Instruments seminars around different communication styles to address this kind of friction. Your boss’ communication style is “technical” while yours seems to be “bold.”
While ideally both parties will “flex” to meet the other’s style, as the one initiating the Q&A session it is in your best interest to “flex” further to ask a question that a Technical will hear in the way you Boldly intended it.
What has worked for Bolds talking to Technicals at my shop:
Name the elephant in the room as you ask and Boldly define the answer in the context you understand during the question
You might think “I just need a short answer” is clear enough but it’s not—our Technical view of “short” is as different as our view of “answer.”
Instead, name the question, the impact, and provide framing. “Sorry Boss, can you remind me what the acronym XYZ expands to? [then keep talking!] It was great to get confirmation last week that we’re aligned about how ABC interops with XYZ to help us FOO the BAR, but one of my deliverables this week is to expand out the XYZ acronym for sales’ slide deck. The team seems well situated to give sales the context but we still need to agree on how to expand the acronym.”
The above is more likely to get your boss to provide the acronym expansion then dive into talking about why sales is talking about XYZ and to whom. This puts the conversation squarely on track to talk about how the structure and meta-details of your upcoming deliverables fit into the business need, which is the point of meetings.
If the answer goes off the rails into territory you know, interrupt with excitement not impatience
Management by definition has a different perspective on business priorities and projects than you do. It’s a good sign when you get no new information from your boss’ context-giving! Beware: You must ensure this is because you were already on the same page, not because you stopped listening.
The Technical giving context usually doesn’t think you weren’t aware—they are making sure all parties in the meeting are aligned on the goal and the method. Football teams don’t tell the coach to stop pep-talking before the game, they join the hype!
Suppose the boss dives into why sales needs a new slide deck then goes off about how COVID-19 has impacted trade conferences and the company’s bottom line from reduced sales. You’ve heard of this, it’s not new, blah blah blah.
This is the time to remind yourself why you’re in this meeting and what the goal of the meeting is.
If it’s a half hour weekly dev team meeting that got through 5 minutes of agenda in 20 minutes, the boss has wandered off topic and there’s a business impact and you may be helping if you redirect back to the agenda.
“Ooh that’s a good way to put it! Businesses across the country still need to FOO the BAR and are looking to cut costs. If sales can show them how ABC and XYZ are innovative drop-in solutions, we can keep the money flowing!
Last week we found ABC would cause database corruption if the client didn’t already have universal keys across every table, which is a HUGE barrier to adoption with nobody’s DBA having time to refactor their data. (the boss already knows this, you are “flexing” to give technical framing.)
Mikey and I have a plan for an adapter that will translate keyless table formats into views that our product can work with. Do you plan to have the client team run the adapter against the client DB or is that something our deployment folks will do? If our deployment team will be doing it we’d like to save the time to market by not creating a GUI, not trying to autodetect data format, and our docs will read differently. How do we best fit what sales is pitching?”
Wordy, but a lot shorter than an unguided Technical seminar.
If it’s a cross-department project re-alignment, the meeting is now on topic and you need to:
- Listen for the boss, teammates, and especially other departments giving feedback that depends on an understanding contrary to your understanding or work.
- Give a description of how your work fits into the picture the boss painted when it’s your turn.