by Leon Rosenshein

Just One More Thing

There are almost as many reasons to ask questions as there are questions to ask many of them fit into a few categories. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but some of the bigger ones are:

  1. You're looking for context to help identify a problem
  2. You know what your problem is and you're looking for a solution
  3. You've got a solution and you're looking for an implementation
  4. You know the answer and you're leading the witness (Columbo style)

When you have the first kind of question you ask open ended questions, follow up questions, and why questions. You're trying to find a gap in your knowledge or understanding so you need to start, at least internally, by defining what you do know and where the boundaries are. You're an explorer and you're working with a guide. The guide might not have the answer, but together you can find it. And you need to be comfortable with silence while the guide thinks about the question.

A good question of the second kind takes some up front thought. Asking your peer or Stack Overflow a good question requires that you understand your problem. That you know what you've tried and why it didn't work. And you need to be able to explain that well so you don't waste anyone's time.

The third type of question is when I get to ask my favorite question, "What is it you're really trying to do?" It's the kind of question you get when someone knows just what they want to do, but can't figure out how to bend the system to their will. If you find yourself asking that kind of question, take a step back and think about what you're trying to do and if your approach makes sense.

That last kind of question is when you don't really have a question. You're trying to make a point or get buy-in. After all, if you can get the other person to convince themselves of something you don't need to do it. And that convincing is much more likely to last.

Just one more thing. If you've never watched Columbo, take some time and watch an episode or two. You'll be glad you did.