What's the REAL question?

I’ve been in a lot of meetings recently, and I’ve been observing the way people ask questions. There are a lot of different ways of asking questions (of course), but I started to notice patterns. For one of the patterns I discovered, people tend to stick to their particular pattern no matter what question they’re asking.

In the “questioning about pattern” people like to ask a lot of questions leading into the question. For example, they’ll ask a chain of questions like this: “What is your team doing? Is the work difficult? What’s the vacation schedule for everyone? Is Bob back full time yet? How accurate were estimates for the last milestone?”

Other people use the “questioning direct pattern” and always seem to cut immediately to the chase. They ask “How long will this task take your team?” Depending on the answer, they may work backwards from there to understand more context?

I get both approaches – in the first, people want all the information first. This allows them to change their question if needed, and get context up front. It has the danger of leading people into “rat-hole” conversations on context as well.

I live more in the second camp – especially if you’re asking me a question. Just ask me. If it doesn’t make sense, we can go into details. I can’t say for sure if one style is ultimately better than the other, but recognizing the two styles and pondering how people think has been a fun way for me to try to get in the heads of others and put myself in their shoes.