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I've been recently accepted in a new position (joining new company) as a team leader. My team is composed of 2 persons, relatively my age and experience.

What I've noticed is that one of those new colleagues have a tendency to respond to questions, by answering more questions. It's quite exhausting to have to dig a lot to get simple basic responses especially that this behavior might get us out of the topic, so I'd like to know what's the best way to handle repetitive counter-questions situation ?

I'm not sure yet whether it's a kind of insurance at her end (wanting to always be sure of my intentions/thoughts before answering), but I don't want my response to this weird situation to impact my new position.

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    "by answering more questions." do you mean asking ? What is the nature of the follow up questions ? Are they to dig further on a topic, to explore things unsaid (exceptions, borderline cases, etc.) or question asked to corner you ?
    – JayZ
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 15:45
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    Can we get some example questions and responses? Sounds like there's vagueness or clarifications required: "How do I XYZ?" "Well, you XYZ when you EFG but not before ABC. What are you doing?" Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 17:31
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    An actual real example of those questions would be helpful. Because if you asked "How long do you think this new feature is going to take?" Then, it's in their interest to avoid making any kind of commitment until they've hammered down all the details. Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 18:39
  • Related (?): meta.stackexchange.com/questions/108060/…
    – AakashM
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 9:04

3 Answers 3

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What you describe is some kind of a pattern also known as a form of maieutic.

Having faced the exact same situation, I can share the best method I know (maybe other exists...):

  1. find the heart/origin of the repeating questioning (you being unclear? untrained/insecured colleague? other?). At this point, when it happens in a meeting, your best option might be to schedule another meeting with this person, 1-on-1. And repeat this again and again, but from time to time (say, once/twice a week), with 5 to 10 minutes dedicated to this colleague and his questions/problems. He'll also have to focus on the important points if he wants answers. A list is great, he'll have to prepare it, and shorten it too.
  2. stick to the meeting schedule, time and questions. No more. In case he wants to interrupt for more questions, mention your 1-on-1 meetings later. Be sure you're being sharp and crystal-clear, otherwise their questions become legitimate. They may be trying to understand what you missed saying; they're digging for more in-depth cases or nitpicking?
  3. focus on solutions. Teach them how to first look for solutions. They can list their questions, and do research to see if they can answer them. Being independant can create a good opportunity for them to become problem-solving folks. You help them improve, and it's also your role as leader. Make sure you tell them where is the line, and what you consider critical.

What I found important is to not ignore their questions. If you can't (or don't want to) answer right now, give them an opportunity to discuss this later, in your office, at your desk, around a coffee maybe. It depends on the importance of the questions. Don't waste your time or theirs. Be clear and short whenever possible, straight to the point, as an example. But when they come with a problem, show them how to find the solution if you can't or don't want to provide them with it. It'll still be helpful in the future.

The good workplace blog adds some points too, as lack of training, more interest in the job... There are many reasons, as mentioned in #1, find them first.

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  • My reading of the question is that the OP is asking his colleague for information and the colleague is replying with questions. If so, a separate 1:1 meeting or sticking to the schedule would seem counterproductive. If OP needs the information they're trying to elicit, not getting it until they can have a separate 1:1 meeting would be rather counterproductive and way more likely to derail the current meeting than answering the questions. Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 17:45
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    @JustinCave : that's also my reading, and it's the core of the problem, but its roots are to be discovered. Why is the colleague doing this? "It's quite exhausting to have to dig a lot to get simple basic responses" says Radhwen. That's also why I bullet-list this way, until you find out, because you can't waste the other colleagues time and energy. Talking 1-1 isn't counterproductive if you understand what was going on :)
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 18:20
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You don't give enough context to indicate whether this is relevant, but you might want to consider the question.

Sometimes the issue can be an ill defined question. If I'm asked a question such as "how long will it take to do X?" where X is not well defined, or the level of resources available is not clear, I'm going to either ask for more context or answer with a whole lot of caveats ("assuming that you mean this ..."), otherwise there is the risk that what is being asked and what is being answered are two different questions, and the simple answer will be misleading.

The ability to ask clear meaningful questions is an important skill, just as answering them is.

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If I understand what your issue is - it's something like this:

"Hi Bob, can you tell me the Average wait time for our call centre yesterday?"

"Yes Boss! Total Dropped calls was 12, we had 3040 total calls inbound, of which over 99% were answered, Average handle time was 5 minutes per call, the longest wait time was 15 minutes and.."

"Just the Average Wait time, please"

"That was 56 seconds"

If the above is correct, then it could be a couple of things - it could come from an insecurity that they are trying to mask, by over-delivering on Information (to give the appearance of being knowledgable and competent)

It could be that their previous Team Lead liked to receive information in this verbose manner and so they are simply continuing this method.

Regardless of the reason - Here is what I would do:

Sit down with them and say something like

"It's clear you are very knowledgeable on these areas, and I greatly value your input. Can I ask that when I ask a specific question - before you expound, give me the specific answer (feel free to use the example above) first. That way, I've got the info that I need right at that moment first. If there's other items that are important, you can let me know after"

I have had a tendency in the past myself to give verbose answers and so I've learned that for direct questions (where there is a 'correct' answer e.g. 56 seconds being average wait time) a direct answer is best and then if needed, you can expand later.

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    That makes the assumption that it is a well defined question has a simple answer that is not misleading. If for instance the mean wait was usually round about a minute, but there was some sort of exceptional outlier that brought the mean up to 3 minutes, it is probably worth mentioning that before the technically correct but misleading answer. Even worse is if a question doesn't have a straight answer: "how long will it take to do X?" (where X is poorly defined, or without stating what resources will be available to do X).
    – MadMan
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 1:28

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