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Managing Questions

Published 10/9/2015

Today we talk about saving time by managing questions.

  • Set expectations
  • Take questions seriously
  • Provide opportunity for questioner to find the answer themselves
  • Delay your answer
  • Learning is an investment! Don't answer questions as a shortcut every time.
Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to Developer Tea my name is Jonathan Cutrell and today I'm going to be giving you a very simple way of saving some time today at work. How many questions do you get asked in a given day? If your workplace is anything like mine that number can be very high for literally every person in the office. We get a ton of questions from other people because questions are necessary to collaborate. But a lot of the time the answer to the question is just beyond whatever the question actually is. In other words if you were to look into that particular question a little bit deeper you would probably find the answer for yourself. Today I'm going to give you a few tips that you can use to save some time when people ask you questions. That seems disingenuous maybe on its face but the reality is that you are not giving anybody any favors by answering all of their questions. They can't learn well if you answer all their questions. And if you are interrupting your own time to answer their questions you're likely going to get into a scenario where either you give them a less than adequate answer to their question or your work is compromised to some degree because you're interrupted and therefore you don't have the focus that you need in order to do the best work that you can do. So what are the best ways of dealing with questions from coworkers at work? Perhaps the most important thing in any relationship whether that is a coworker relationship or otherwise is to set meaningful expectations of each other. In other words if you tell your coworkers that while you are busy while you are focusing that you will be unavailable to answer their questions then when they choose to ask you a question while you are focusing you have the option of letting them know that you are currently focusing and you need to answer that question only in the future at some point. So that's really step one set expectations and usually those expectations need to provide you with the time that you need to do your work properly. Another very important factor is for you to take your coworkers questions seriously. They often are coming to you with questions because they believe that you can answer them the most effectively. As developers we can't treat questions with hostility. Instead we should only create systems that help us manage those questions properly. In other words the questions should be treated with hostility only in their timing and not in their content. Once you have set expectations for you and your coworkers and once you have decided to take their questions seriously which you always should the next step is to provide the opportunity for that worker to find the answer for themselves. It is very easy to get into the habit of asking other people for information that we don't have at hand that that person may have at hand and this doesn't increase efficiency necessarily. Instead it's just a habit. It's something that we do because we think in terms of people rather than in terms of information. In other words I know that as a certain person who has gone through a process they probably have the link that I'm looking for and so I can ask them to send it to me or I can spend two or three minutes trying to find that link on my own. An effective strategy to give people the space they need to be able to find the answer on their own is to simply delay your answer. In other words tell someone that you are interested in their question and that you will answer it but it's going to take a little bit of time before you are able to answer it. Nine times out of ten in my experience whether that person who is asking me a question is somebody that I am the manager over or it's my personal boss if they ask me a question even if I delay five to ten minutes a lot of the time I would say like I said nine times out of ten that answer is already found by the time I get around to helping that person with that particular question. There's a delicate balance that you have to learn to strike between respecting a person and knowing that they need your help and also providing them the space that they need to find the answer and providing yourself the space that you need to focus on whatever you are currently already focusing on. The struggle of answering our own questions is how we learn and we have to give each other the ability to learn even if it means saying no for a period of time or only providing assistance when a true failure or a true stopping point has occurred. With that said as with all learning we must treat this as an investment. Nine answering somebody's question might make them slightly less productive for the next five minutes or even five hours depending on what that question is and how experienced that particular person is but in the long run learning pays you back and so you have to look at these things on a case by case basis and determine is this worth the investment for this particular scenario to allow this person to move forward without this answer for the next however long. Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Developer Tea. I hope this starts a great conversation between you and your co-workers because I think this is something we all need to be aware of. We all need to know our habits and the ways that we are standing in the way of other people and also the ways that we absolutely must help each other. I hope you enjoyed this episode. Let me know if you have any further ideas or questions about this topic. I'd love to talk to you. You can email me at Developer Tea at gmail.com. You can always reach out on Twitter at Developer Tea and then you can always find the show notes for these episodes at spec.fm. Thanks so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.