The art of asking questions

The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge. Source

Cover image from here.


What makes us human, I think, is an ability to ask questions, a consequence of our sophisticated spoken language. Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms. Jane Goodall, George Eliot.


Although I have always excelled at academics and extra curricular activities ever since my school days, one thing I have been shy or intimidated about is asking questions. It has happened n number of times to me in the past; my brain has always had a question, but I have always stopped myself from slipping this question out of my tongue thinking I would make a fool out of myself, and only to realise later that somebody else asked an almost similar question and got applauded for asking such a wonderful question!

Do you relate yourself to this situation?

It’s more than a year now, and I am getting better at asking questions, in-fact, sometimes I have way too many questions to ask. Thanks to the Outreachy internship, I have overcome my imposter syndrome! Also, these days, usually I am on the other side of the table while handling interviews or Pull Requests, and I have some advice on the importance of asking questions and how to ask them right.

'There are no stupid questions, so let's also agree there are no stupid answers.'
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Rule #1

When in doubt, ask questions

Don’t make assumptions.

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I cannot stress enough on the importance of open communication, asking questions whenever relevant and avoiding any silent assumptions. This rule applies to your normal day to day work, talking to your colleagues or undergoing an interview process.

Scenario #1: When using an acronym

A common scenario is one person using an acronym. You can politely ask the person to abbreviate the acronym rather than making silent assumptions and thereby ending up with a different conclusion.

Scenario #2: Maintaining the homework log

Another scenario is to silently note down points when you are too shy to ask questions openly. You end up building a homework log for yourself, and spend double the time to get answers for the very questions which could have been answered instantly, should you have had the courage to ask in the first place.

Research shows this is a prevalent case with under-represented groups and people of colour. As a woman of colour, I myself, have done this n no. of times when I have been too scared to be framed of not knowing anything. This is a clear symptom of having an Imposter Syndrome.

Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want or need to know. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life. Don Miguel Ruiz

Rule #2

Think deep

Life throws at us many options and it is very easy to get lost and lose focus in life. At times, it is also very important to ask relevant questions to oneself.

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Before you start some work, always ask yourself three questions – Why am I doing it, What the results might be and Will I be successful. Only when you think deeply and find satisfactory answers to these questions, go ahead. Chanakya

Rule #3

No question is stupid

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If you were like me, then I’d totally understand how hard it is to push oneself to ask a question.

No one is dumb who is curious. The people who don’t ask questions remain clueless throughout their lives. Neil deGrasse Tyson

Once you start asking questions, innocence is gone. Mary Astor

PS: This post was sitting in my drafts since October 2018 and today on 25.12.2018 I published it without making any changes. I hope to write a follow up to this post with more concrete real world examples.


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