Another thing we learned in my peer mentoring
class was that there
are such things as stupid questions.
That sounds bad, but let’s look at that: what constitutes a stupid
question? Well, if you flip it around, what constitutes a good question?
A good question is one in which the person asking the question has
really thought the question through, they’ve tried to answer it
themselves, and they have a good grasp on what they’re asking - they’ve
put some effort into the formulation of the question. So, then, a stupid
question is when the person asking doesn’t think at all about the
question, they just blast it out there.
What shows me that you’ve thought about a question? That’s different
for different people, but when you ask me a question, especially if it
involves me having to stop what I’m doing to answer, here’s what I want
Priority: Is this super-urgent, or are you just asking out of
curiosity? If it’s not crisis level and I’m busy, maybe you should
save it for later.
Time To Answer: How long do you think it’s going to take me to
answer? More than two or three minutes (from the time you start
asking the question to the time I finish answering) and you might
want to block off some time in Outlook.
Concise Description of Problem: Can you ask the question in one
or two sentences (including enough context to make the problem
understandable)? If not, stop and think through what you’re asking.
What You Expect: What are you looking for from me? Advice? A
technical direction? Just someone to vent to?
Who Else You Asked: If you asked other people the question
first, are they still working on it? Did they give you any
What You’ve Done: What have you done already to try to answer
the question yourself?
When You Need It: Do I have to answer right now or can I get
back to you?
Much of this goes hand in hand with the use of correct communication
protocol. If you
bug a person too much and/or in the wrong fashion, you’re not going to
get a great response.
I’ll also throw out two more tips, specifically for people asking me
Do not start your question with “I have a quick question.” I’ll
determine if it’s quick or not based on the amount of time you think
you need. Instead, try “I have a one-minute question” or “I have a
two-minute question.” Make sure your time estimate is accurate -
don’t say you have a two-minute question if it’s a fifteen-minute
question. Don’t tell me you need one minute when you really need
Do not show up and drop your laptop on my desk. I know you may
want me to review some code or look at something. The fact that you
had to bring your laptop over already tells me you’re over the
one-or-two-minute limit on drop-in questions and you need to
schedule some time in Outlook. Nothing is more frustrating than
“*bam* Hey, can you look at this?” Seriously.
I think I’m going to try this out on a larger scale. If folks at work
have questions, I’m happy to answer them, as long as they’re good