Houston, we have a problem. Either I'm unable
to ask the right question or you keep answering the wrong one. It's probably
something in between. First
case in point: I recently tried learning how to place an order for supplies.
After searching the resource site with no luck, I turned to a teammate. Our email
interaction looked something like this.
[Me] Where can I find a
purchase request form?
I clicked the link and
was immediately asked to submit a password. Reluctantly, I submitted another
query to my teammate.
Which password do I use to get in?
[Teammate] in a message forwarded to IT:
Franny needs help with passwords.
This summoned an earnest
young IT intern to my desk thinking I needed a new network password. No, I
explained pointing to my long list of passwords to various systems, I just need
to know which of these to use. After a circuitous conversation that attracted
others from my team to join and attempt to help, my original question was
answered, my embarrassment level topped the charts, and several inaccurate
conclusions were drawn about my cognitive skills.
Second case in point:
the folder location. Having recovered from the purchase request incident, I
attempted to regain credibility by quickly learning a complex analysis tool
being developed. After mastering the basics in just a few hours, I boldly
clicked the advanced tab, ready to prove my mettle. I was doing fine until I
encountered a puzzle I couldn't solve on my own. I emailed a different teammate
[Me] Will customers be
able to store modified queries in folders other than the default?
[Teammate] First, you
need to remember that only certain customers will have the ability to modify
queries. Administrators give these permissions...[insert a
page-and-a-half of excruciating, vaguely condescending detail].
[Me] Yes, I know. But,
can customers with security authorization create new folders in which to
store modified reports?
[Teammate] Oh. No, they
all will be stored in the default folder.
I thought long and hard
about what went wrong with both of these cases, and concluded that everyone
involved, including me, suffered from what I call "Assumption
Syndrome." In both cases, I thought my questions were clear, but they lacked
one element needed for the recipient to fully understand what I was asking.
Similarly, both answerers filled in my missing blanks with assumptions about
what I was asking. We all were wrong. We should have asked one or both of these
1. What are you trying
2. Did that answer your
If I had asked myself
what I was really
trying to accomplish, I might have formed more complete questions. If my
teammates had asked for clarification before or followed up after sending their
answers, we could have prevented a great deal of time and confusion.
Of course, not every
question needs to be clarified. But, if you have any doubts about what you're
asking or answering, why not find out?
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