De-effective Question Asking

Everyone is familiar with a situation like this, either you’ve run across it on a blog, discussion group, forum or even on someones status feed on a social media site. Someone asks a question and try as you might, you just can’t figure out what it is they’re asking.

When did people forget how to communicate?

Now I can’t speak for how often you all come face to face with this kind of thing, but I can tell you I run across it on a daily basis, usually more than once a day. I’m sure this has something to do with the fact that I do hang out in some teaching groups, run a community where questions are welcomed, and even contribute on an advice blog.

Problems with vagueness

In the last two days I’ve been asked or participated in discussions where the asker or the OP have asked for advice or help, where they have been unclear as to what the actual problem was. If you can’t even pinpoint what the problem or issue is getting others involved can be unnerving, for all parties involved.

Problem buried in text

Another issue that pops up regularly. People will ask about something or for advice, but the actual question ends up being buried somewhere in the post. There are too many details that don’t have any real bearing on the topic. I realize that some people feel the need to tell some grand tales about their abilities and their accomplishments, it makes them feel good. It gives them a nice ego boost. Applause, you’re awesome! But, let’s leave it out of the threads where you’re going to ask a question or request advice. Those who are reading are going to wonder why you weren’t able to figure it out yourself if you’re that bad ass.

Similar situations happen when people are trying to give a lot of detail about the problem. The problem gets buried somewhere in the middle of 2,000 words of series of events and descriptive sentences. Your audience doesn’t want to be forced to dig through all of this useless information. They want to answer the question and move on.

So is the problem too much information? Not enough information? Maybe it really comes down to how the information is being presented? All I can say for sure is that it’s a clear indication that there are many people who lack the skills required to communicate effectively.

If one has a need to ask for advice or for help with a problem these would be my suggestions.

Identify the problem:
This is the most important element of asking a question. You need to know what your question is before you start typing. If you don’t know what your question is, don’t start typing.

Ask the question:
You might know what your question is. Be sure that we know it as well. While I know some of you are scratching your heads at this being included, some times the question gets left out entirely.

Keep it simple:
Keep your question or story simple. Yes we need some detail in order to make an informed decision on what kind of advice to give, but keep it simple. Don’t go overboard with the details, claims to fame, etc. We don’t need your life story, your current degree in whichever mystery tradition or your favorite flavor of icecream to answer a question about your leaky faucet.

Proof read that shit:
You’re not done yet. Read over what you’ve just typed up. Don’t hit send until you’ve verified that you have included what your question was and to make sure that important details have been included.

Go ahead, hit send, or submit. Whichever option it was.

Accept and thank:
You might not always like the answer that you’re given. Don’t argue with the people who took the time out of their day to answer your question. All you have to do is thank them. If you want or need a second opinion, then feel free to get one, or even stick around in the discussion topic that you started. It’s completely possible to disagree with the answer/s that you get as long as it’s done with respect and grace.

Sometimes people will ask follow up questions, if that happens then do your best to answer, respectfully. Getting pissy or excited because someone asks for clarification is asking because they might be able to help but are unclear about what the problem is, or what happened to get the result that you did.

I think that’s it. Go forth, ask questions.


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