I have a really qualified colleague. We work together, he is very smart but I struggle to communicate.

He always answer yes or no. Sometimes a few words...

He speaks very little, What is the best way to proceed?

We have been working together for 7 months. Everything is working fine. But it's a bit hard and strange without comunication.

  • 8
    Does that yes or no not suffice as an answer?
    – Sara
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 11:53
  • What do you ask him? If you look for smalltalk, he is not the right person. Commented May 18, 2020 at 11:58
  • 2
    are these more personal questions, intended to build a good work relation ship? or are these workrelated question? what exactly do you mind about these yes/no answer? (-> what's underlying your perception here?)
    – Benjamin
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 12:01
  • Someone having the opposite issue: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/25621/… Commented May 18, 2020 at 13:19
  • 6
    OP, could you please provide an example of conversation? Commented May 18, 2020 at 15:37

4 Answers 4


Unless you are limited to only one question a day, you fix this with followup questions.

Was it you who put that database change live this morning?


Don't stop here! There must be a reason you asked. Consider this question sort of a topic-setter for what you want to talk about.

Why did it go live this morning, when my calendar says it will be tomorrow afternoon?


Why did you do it instead of me?


That's a problem, I have an angry voice mail from [boss] asking me to reverse it. But before I do I want to understand why you did it.

Yes, this is a lot of work. To be fair, so is guessing what you had in mind when you asked your yes/no question, and giving you a paragraph of details without any cues or hints. Your coworker is putting all the work of the conversation on you. You'll get better results if you accept that and start asking better questions.

  • I disagree that the question "did you make the db modification this morning" is a bad question. It doesn't require a lot of brainpower when answering to say something like "Yes. Why are you asking?" or "Yes, it was necessary because of customer xyz". I've both asked and answered such questions many, many times.
    – DaveG
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 18:10
  • 4
    I didn't say it was a bad question. I said that stopping after getting a simple "yes" is a problem. Stopping after getting a simple "no" wouldn't be, presumably you'd go off to find whoever did. And yes, some people will naturally give long and useful answers to such a question. But if this coworker doesn't, then OP needs to ask another question not just give up because the coworker only answered "yes". Commented May 18, 2020 at 18:56

Well, then don't ask questions which can be answered with "yes" or "no". Ask open questions instead. When you require information, explicitly state what information you require. If you are fishing for opinions or proposals, specifically say so.

The question is not providing any specific examples or even what industry you are working in, so I can only guess. And with nothing to base my guess on, I am guessing that you are Captain of the USS Enterprise. But these communication techniques should also work at most other workplaces.

Requesting information:

Bad: "Ensign, is that a Klingon Bird of Prey heading towards us?"

Good: "Ensign, please identify type and course of the vessel on the screen!"

Accessing their knowledge:

Bad: "Lieutenant, do you believe the Klingons would listen to reason if we tried to negotiate?"

Good: "Lieutenant, according to your experience with Klingons, how do you think they would react if we proposed negotiations?"

Fishing for proposals:

Bad: "Number One, would you recommend firing photon torpedos? [...] Do you really think that's a good idea?"

Good: "What course of action would you propose, Number One? [...] What do you hope to achieve by doing that?"

Getting time estimates and resource requirements:

Bad: "Lieutenant, can you repair the warp core within 8 hours? How about if we assign more engineers to your team?"

Good: "Lieutenant, how long will it take you to repair the warp core? What could we do to help you repair it faster?"


If you feel that you are impacted by lack of communication with this person, you should privately take up the issue with your manager. This sort of concern is their role and their headache, not yours.

Then, if and when the time comes, also be prepared to listen.


Thank him. It's good to get a straight answer instead of having someone playing office politics give a bunch of double talk.

  • 5
    Silly answer. On this site, it is also forbidden to only say yes or no -- yet there is no double talk here. Also, how do you mean should the thanking go? Can you give an example how to thank them?
    – guest
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 18:16
  • 1
    One worded answers are not straight or helpful. Human sentences are full of context and queues that require followups, that the OPs college is actively ignoring. Commented May 19, 2020 at 9:50

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