Imagine you’re writing a document, responding to an email, or writing a quick memo. You have a story you’d like to tell written out in your head: We should do X, Y costs this much, and we’re planning on doing Z.

How you tell that story is all about anticipating questions and answering them before they’re asked.

One of the clearest differences between junior and senior employees is how they approach communication. Often, a junior employee will lay out the details that feel important to them, answer the questions important to them, and propose actions they would like to take.

This effectively screams, “I’m inexperienced!”

A senior employee, writing the same communication, lays out the details important for their audience. They answer the audience’s inevitable questions. They propose actions that can be understood by their audience and explain why the audience would care. They go a step further by anticipating and answering the clarification questions their audience will inevitably ask.

The one tool that makes all the difference is empathy—the ability to understand others from their perspective. This includes the ability to understand what information they’re interested in, what their needs are, what their priorities are, what information they already have, and what knowledge they don’t have. Essentially, empathy puts you on the side of your audience: I understand you. I can feel your needs. This is about you, not me.

Follow up questions

I love developing new leaders at Amazon. When mentoring others on this topic, I always propose a simple tool to use to know when they’re nailing or missing the mark: If you get follow-up questions to your communication, you’ve made an error.

At Amazon, leaders are encouraged to be self-critical. In this situation, if we get follow-up questions to an email, it means we should assume we’ve failed to provide a complete communication. Similarly, if we receive a question that could have been answered in a document, we consider the document flawed.