Have You Actually Read The Question?

I can certainly remember from my time at school, especially around exam time, one of the key mantras from the teachers was “make sure you have read the question multiple times before you start to answer it.” This must seem blindingly obvious, but even now we see multiple times when the person we are interacting with has clearly not read what is in front of them or listened to the question being asked before answering.

In terms of the tender documents that we produce for our clients, we get too many communications from bidders (that you never see) right from the outset, where they have clearly have not read what is in front of them before hitting the keyboard. A few examples are:-

Q1 – Can you please send me the SQ documents in Word format so we can print them out and fill them in?

A1 – Please read the supplied instructions, all answers are to be filled in online

Q2 – What is the potential value of this tender?

A2 – Please read the Contract Notice published on the Find A Tender Service

Q3 – Do I have to fill in the SQ stage or can I just go straight to the ITT stage?

A3 – No you can’t just circumvent the first stage of a PCR compliant process and give yourself a ‘bye’ into the next round (this is one of my personal favourites)!

Q4 – Can you please send me all of the documents mentioned in the tender pack?

A4 – All the documents you need are hyperlinked in the Appendices so you can download them yourself

Now this might all sound like we are carping on about the bidders not being able to follow basic instructions. Well there is definitely a bit of that going on, but this kind of communication does also feed into our own continuous improvement (CI) cycle. Whilst answering the same question repeatedly might be really annoying and time wasting, it should also prompt a question of why do we get asked the same thing over and over again? By feeding this into our CI activity we can then have a really good think about whether we are communicating effectively or do we need to change the wording to make that aspect clearer. We have changed multiple items because of this thinking, and I wonder if this is a timely reminder of something you could be adopting in your school/Trust?

On another front, it can be equally frustrating when talking directly to a person and they clearly are not listening to what you are saying. As an example of this, recently we have been trying to recruit an additional staff member. In one of the interviews, on multiple occasions, the candidate would not let us finish asking the question before they started answering. Not only was this annoying, but it meant that they ended up answering questions we hadn’t actually asked because they hadn’t waited to hear the whole question.

This can equally apply to tender events such as site visits and presentation days where I have personally seen numerous examples of both bidders and school staff talking over each other rather than listening to what has been said before proffering a response. I often need to intervene to make sure that each party gets what they want from the sessions.

Perhaps there are other things within schools which regularly get misunderstood such as communications with parents, is everything as clear as it could be in terms of dates for trips, when payments are due etc. How do you manage school meal payments? How many appointments are missed? Are parental responsibilities understood?

Despite having “read the question first” banged into my head at school and presumably the rest of you as well, it would seem that this is a skill we often forget as soon as we walk out of those school gates at age 16 or 18. The ability to communicate effectively is one that will lead some people to greater life success than any qualifications they might pick up along the way. As the saying goes “You have two ears and one mouth, please use them in that proportion.”

I don’t think there is an easy answer to this one, but if anyone has any suggestions as to how this could be addressed or if you have any great ideas on making sure “read/listen to the question first” might be embedded in students brains for the long term, I’m sure they would be very welcome.

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