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This is a specific case of being interrupted so I did not find a similar question.

I am a consultant and sometimes have to train my client's employees to take over my work. The people I work with are all quite pleasant and fun to work with.

However, while I am having screen sharing sessions or shoulder to shoulder meetings they ask me questions. I begin to answer their question by showing them the documentation that answers their question or by bringing up the source code related to their question. While I am stepping them thru to the answer they interrupt me and ask another question.

I suspect they get bored with the answer because it takes too long and their mind wanders. This is technical information so making it "exciting" is not really an option.

I don't want to be confrontational because I am a consultant and I don't want to discourage them from asking questions; but I also want them to actually learn the topic so they can report to their boss that they training was very good.

The next thing I am going to try is to have a text editor up on the screen and each question they ask I will first type in. Then it will make it easy to go back and make sure all their questions are answered.

Do you have any other techniques to recommend?

  • 1
    While this is a great place to ask this kind of question, I'd also like to point you to the new Interpersonal Skills; it can also be a good place to ask questions like this, with a slightly different bent. (I think this is sufficiently on-topic here that there's no reason to migrate it, but if you decide you do want to, you can always flag your own question for migration.) – Joe Sep 1 '17 at 21:24
  • I've sometimes asked a general question to someone because I wasn't sure what I was looking for. The moment I get it, my real question has been answered, and the rest of the general answer is out of scope. Alternatively, I'm known to answer simple questions with long history-filled answers. Some people will prefer to abort and not get their answer rather than go through the long lecture. Two cases to think about. – leokhorn Sep 5 '17 at 7:14
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The classic method, if they ask a question about something that's not directly on the path you're travelling on and doesn't show that they're comfortable with what you've already explained, is to table the topic.

That's a great question. Let's put a pin in it and I'll get to it in just a minute.

or

That's a very interesting question. I've got about two more things to show you here, then I can give that the attention it deserves.

or

If it's okay, I'd like to put that in the parking lot so I can finish my thought here, and then I'll answer that next.

That's pretty similar to your text editor, really: that's a good way to deal with it.

The key here though is to notice whether they're trying to signal you that they're done with whatever topic you're on now, and if they are, to make the determination of whether they actually do understand whatever you were trying to get across. Obviously if you're trying to train them in a process, and they interrupt you halfway through, they can't really have understood it all; but if you're explaining how to do something that they asked about, it's possible you just solved the problem for them because they had a sticking point in the early portion of the problem, and answering that made them realize the full solution.

If you do realize they're done with the current topic, or think they might be, you can always ask:

I just want to make sure you are comfortable with my answer to >question A< before we move on - are you?

or

Great question. Do you have what you need on the earlier question, or should I hold off on this and finish it first?

These can also give you a way to quietly signal that they are interrupting you; many people don't really realize it when they do, after all. You're being polite and constructive, but it might make them realize what they're doing.

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