I have a coworker in another department, and she and I work closely on many projects. She is very knowledgeable in her field, and I am in mine, and I really like her. The only problem is that when I ask her a simple and very specific question, she responds with a lengthy lesson on all other aspects of the project, telling me how to do things I already know. When she does this, I kindly say, "yes, that is what I am doing" or similar. But she persists and repeats herself. I know she is trying to be helpful, but she is essentially treating me as if I know nothing. I have seen her do this to other coworkers as well. What is the best way to deal with her? Thank you in advance!
It's all in how you ask the question. The same principles that apply when you file a bug report or ask a question on Stack Exchange will serve you here. "How do I do X?" is open-ended; she may not know what you already know. Try giving her some context: "I'm trying to do X. I've already done A and B, and I know that I'll have to do C after this, but I'm not sure about this one step. Can you help?" This brackets the problem and shows that you've done some research already. And she'll probably appreciate it, judging from the coworkers I've had who are most in demand for advice/mentoring/answers.
I would tell her "I am sorry I have to cut you short, but I am literally under the gun - my butt is on fire. The single most helpful thing you can do for me right now is to give me the short answer, with me asking you for clarifications as I need them."
Now that I think about it, I had evolved the same technique when interviewing: "You asked me a very broad question. I am going to take my best guess as to what you want from me and give you the shortest, most relevant answer I can think of. If you have further questions and want clarifications, we'll follow up. Agreed?" It doesn't hurt your credibility to come across as business-like :)
I think that you should take it positively and feel happy of having such a coworker (from another department). It is really nice that she is spending a good amount of time to write detailed e-mails/messages about the projects. May be she want you to be expert in all the aspects of the project. Even if you are an expert/knowledgeable of your project, take whatever you like from her e-mails and acknowledge a "thank you".
This happened to me very recently as well. A colleague was teaching me (and a few of my colleagues) about how to use re-sharper or anything related to software development any time we were discussing a problem.
Even though it is a little bit frustrating (hearing very basic information that is not related to a problem that you are discussing), as it makes you feel really low.
After some time I learnt how to ignore her comments and I just appreciate working with her. If you feel that you are close with your colleague I wouldn't be afraid to say "Yes, you don't have to explain that to me." and have a laugh about it.
I agree this is nice and it is better to have her and not someone who is not accessible. High performance businesses however do not spend time on unecessary things.
You can use an agenda or template for your meetings. I mean just a light one, like problem/issue/point, action, deadline written on a sheet. You can use this for every discussion point to drive your meetings. It takes time, but it pays off. After a while you'll have a new routine for action plans for example.
I use the same technique for quick reporting. I lay out a bulletpoint list and go over it like a mantra.
Sometimes you need information or a decision quickly, with simple tools like this you can drive the talk. It is important to talk over a paper or whiteboard. This way it becomes external. She won't feel that you are trying to avoid her overcommunication. The whole thing will be about solving a point on the paper.
Some folks just naturally organize their thoughts in chapters rather than paragraphs, and automatically start giving all the context and alternatives and so on. Growing up around someone with this inclination I learned that I could gently say "you're drifting off topic a bit; I only need to know..." and usually redirect them appropriately, and as long as the tone is friendly rather than annoyed most won't take offense -- they've been told that before.
(The real problem was a conference call with someone who both had this tendency ... and was using a half-duplex phone, so as long as he wax talking he couldn't hear us trying to interrupt. I had to get together with him separately, point out the problem, and suggest he deliberately introduce pauses, or tell us the basics and wait for someone to ask for more detail. He's gotten much better.)
You may want to send the question in an email and then schedule some time to meet for an answer. Some people are a little chatty especially if they don't have time to prepare a response. When you have the meeting, let her know that time is limited. You're going to have to tell her to stop when she goes off topic. She may be offended, but she needs to know that she does this with others and it is to her benefit to get to the point and leave the other stuff out.
It is quite rare to find such people who are always ready to help you & others, you are lucky you have got one of that. Giving time to others at any time or anyone is not an easy thing to do.
Now coming to challenge you face, in my experience, such people like to demonstrate their knowledge to everyone and sometimes showing their supremacy over you when you need help. These people are not only intelligent & go-getters. When they help you they only not help you but try to make impression with everyone around they are expert of their field and publicize themselves. That solves two purposes in one, help you and making goodwill with other people around(even when they are not related).
Solution to this can be :
Try to book a meeting room/online meeting with meeting invite defining challenge you are facing, resources to replicate issue. If possible ask them to go through that before meeting so that they can think of solution beforehand or atleast understand issue
Make sure person is available, there are no distractions/unnecessary people in meeting
Most importantly, meeting should be time-bound having clear agenda and try to adhere to agenda whenever he/she deviate from that. Make sure you are able to focus mostly on solving challenge
There is no silver bullet in every situation. Idea is to focus a simple challenge with time bound meeting with no distractions and show off to others. Add another time bound follow-up meeting if needed but don't extend meetings endlessly without focusing on agenda/challenge, otherwise that will replicate same issue you are having.