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On a few occasions I've gotten feedback about the way I ask questions. It's been difficult to find a common theme but I think sometimes I ask questions in a way that annoys people, maybe because it comes across as challenging.

I think I sometimes try to explain why it's not clear to me (for example, why it could be either of two possibilities) but then it comes across as if I'm asking a question that I already know the answer to. Or even I ask a question and when they answer I ask why the other possibility wouldn't work. On my first day of work a coworker pointed out that it sounded like I was asking questions I know the answer to.

How can I fix this, or get more corrective feedback? Related to this post if management rather I just decide for myself than ask, that's fine, I just want to be clear that's the expectation.

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  • Do you ask an open question, and then counter their answer with your "other possibility"? Because that could be annoying as it seems like you're asking just to then argue against their answer. If you already have one or two possibilities in mind, you could be more up front by asking "is (summary of your own answer) right?" or "are either of these (answers) correct? which is better for this isituation?"
    – HorusKol
    Mar 13 '21 at 3:49
  • I mean, it could be phrasing, or it could be the tone in which you ask your questions. Mar 13 '21 at 5:13
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    Can you please give an example of one of the question(s) you've asked that have annoyed your coworker? Is this with all coworkers or just with someone? What have they told you on what is of your questions that "annoys" them?
    – DarkCygnus
    Mar 13 '21 at 5:21
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    What is a "procedural question" ... ?
    – Fattie
    Mar 13 '21 at 17:24
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    Here's one example. I was taught a rule then I pointed to examples I saw of people not following that rule. Assuming I was just told a rule X, instead of phrasing it like "if X is the rule, how come we have A, B and C?" maybe I should phrase it more like "I notice A, B and C, are those just exceptions to X?" Mar 23 '21 at 0:06
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You ask for an answer and when it's given you ask for another answers explanation.

That would annoy me because it means I would have to explain an answer I have already discounted. If I felt like doing that I'd have done it in the first instance. You already got the correct answer, now go do some work.

The implication is that you don't trust my answer, or you can't work it out for yourself, or you have too much time on your hands, or you want me to spoon feed you etc,.

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  • I think it depends on context. I feel there are two cases where it is useful to explain the answer: 1) There is one "obvious" answer, but your answer is not it. In that case, it is useful to explain why the "obvious", seemingly best answer is not the actually best answer. 2) There are multiple equally good answers. In that case, it is useful to explain why you chose that particular answer. In both cases, this will help to apply the answer to other situations, or to evaluate the answer in a context that maybe the answerer may not be aware of. Mar 13 '21 at 9:09
  • @JörgWMittag sure, but thats not obligatory although it may be useful.
    – Kilisi
    Mar 13 '21 at 9:13
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    Yeah, it should also be noted that you're at work. So someone you're with might not want to be with you but have to since you're working together. So they're not really interested in hearing or explaining things to you outside of what the actual fact of it is.
    – Dan
    Mar 13 '21 at 14:08
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    I think Dan's answer is true in spades. "It's not high school." Let's have the minimum talk-talk necessary, get tasks done, and move on.
    – Fattie
    Mar 13 '21 at 17:33
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Before asking your question, ask yourself, "Why am I asking this question?"

  • If it's because there's something you do not understand, phrase it like this: "I don't understand the part about XYZ. Can you help me understand it?"
  • If it's not because there's something you do not understand, then you probably shouldn't ask it.

This should help it sound less challenging. Of course, use your common sense; saying "I don't understand why we're doing it this way when doing it this other way would be so much better" is clearly challenging.

Since you mention procedural questions in particular: keep in mind that, unless you are someone's manager or it is explicitly your job to improve the procedures in use, people will often resist, and sometimes resent, suggestions that they should be doing things in a different way. People generally hate change, and even a relatively innocent-sounding (to you) question can be taken as a suggestion in this direction.

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  • This has a lot of good insight. I never thought of phrasing a question like "I don't understand xyz". I would have thought procedural questions are the easiest to answer because they are very fact based, but I see now how this could come across as challenging. Mar 23 '21 at 0:03
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I think I sometimes try to explain why it's not clear to me (for example, why it could be either of two possibilities) but then it comes across as if I'm asking a question that I already know the answer to. Or even I ask a question and when they answer I ask why the other possibility wouldn't work. On my first day of work a coworker pointed out that it sounded like I was asking questions I know the answer to.

It's hard to say exactly what it is you're asking. Since your title says you want to ask a procedural question, I'm assuming you're asking why certain things are the way it is.

To be truthful, I can totally understand why someone would be annoyed by it for two reasons:

  1. If it is a procedural question involving how to do something, then you can look that up yourself.

  2. There's no rhyme or reason why something is the way it is. Sometimes it is the way it is and of course, it can go the other way, as you say, but debating about it is totally pointless since it is the way it is currently. There's no way someone could change it and on top of that, most people probably don't care. They just do it and continue on with their life.

Sometimes #2 is very obvious to everyone but since they cannot change it, they really don't talk about it or discuss about it. For most people, they worry only about things they can change or have influence on. Since something is done the way it is, they just try to work around whatever it is, even though they know there is a much easier way to do it.

A good example might be, "Bob, do you know how I can submit my vacation time on the time card?" "That sounds like something you can look up yourself in the HR documents, but it is on -insert where it is-" "Oh that's strange, Bob, why couldn't they just do it easier like make a vacation drop down?" "I don't know and I don't really care. Stop asking me."

Instead you should look it up yourself, enter the hours yourself, and do it yourself. Perhaps joke with Bob, "Bob, this time card stinks. The vacation is so freaking hard to enter." "Yeah I know right, they really make it hard for us."

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Could this relate to your problem ?

Or even I ask a question and when they answer I ask why the other possibility wouldn't work...

If your role is software. In fact, this issue often comes up on this site...

There are many questions along the lines .. "I'm a programmer and my boss wants to do something her way but I want to do it another way."

The facts can be stated simply:

  1. Fact 1. In software, there are many ways to do something.

  2. Fact 2. In software, you have to be able to do it in all of the many ways. You must have that skill.

  3. Fact 3. Unfortunately - until I win the lotto or I own the company! - I have to do it the way my boss specifies.

Unfortunately "that's the end of it".

One can discuss "why" one has to do it "the boss's way". (For business reasons, for personnel reasons, for continuity reasons, for pipeline reasons, for technical reasons, for team reasons.) But the plain fact is, Fact-1 is correct and Fact-2 is correct. And unfortunately Fact-3 is correct.

Could it be that what you see as:

  • "my question-asking style is wrong"

is just not the problem, and the problem is:

  • "I am resisting implementing the software the way requested".

The question does not have much info, but this is a possibility.

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