In nearly every Q&A session I’ve observed — even when I’m not the speaker — there’s someone in the audience who gets the microphone and proceeds to share their opinions about the materials presented in the talk. After a few minutes of personal storytelling and philosophizing, the following becomes clear to everyone in the room: this person doesn’t have a question. They just want to be heard.
Some people don’t need an answer or an argument. They need a hug or a high-five.
This observation extends beyond mere Q&A sessions. In most conversations, comments, conflicts, and criticisms, people just want to feel heard. What seems like a challenge or a question on the surface often turns out to be nothing more than an interaction with someone who was hoping to get a little affirmation or attention.
Before you invest a bunch of time making your point, illustrating your point, or debating your point, make sure you’re not missing the following point: Sometimes the point of the discussion is something other than the points being discussed.
P.S. Don’t feel obligated to give high-fives or hugs to everyone who wants one. I sure don’t. Having the ability to discern people’s deeper needs can be a great time-saver, but it doesn’t mean you should assume you’re the best person to meet those needs. Sometimes it’s cool to give a hug. Sometimes it’s cool to listen. Sometimes it’s cool to refer people to someone who can help. And sometimes it’s cool to wrap up the interaction and walk away.