People Don’t Ask Questions

People don’t bother with understanding.

Really, they don’t.

When I tweet something like “Maybe it’s interesting to care more about polar bears” I get replies in the form of “It is a bad idea to own penguins” or “Indeed, global warming is a big problem”. But I was neither referring to penguins, nor ownership, nor global warming.

When I complain about something like “Riding my bicycle is a real pain” half a dozen people will suggest that I switch to a submarine or a spaceship. But submarines and spaceships are totally different kinds of things than bicycles. They wouldn’t solve the problem. (And they would only add others.)

When I say “I cannot bake a cake” I mean I don’t have time to make one. But people don’t wait for such an explanation. Instead, they will start offering cake recipes, cake ingredients, replacement ovens, and how to work my way around a cake allergy.

Very few people bother with understanding.

They have lots of great ideas, opinions, and suggestions.

But very few start by offering questions.

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  • http://profile.typepad.com/paulboos Paul_boos

    What prompted this great post? (Just trying to get a little understanding here…)
    Wholeheartedly agree though that many people don’t ask enough questions. I also see people that react to questions in a negative manner; thinking it is about planting a seed of doubt as opposed to perhaps trying to learn about their perspective.
    Cheers!
    Paul

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    What prompted this post was the fact that I wasted too much time this week on Twitter trying to correct people’s incorrect assumptions about what I actually meant.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/paulboos Paul_boos

    Thanks for taking the time to reply! It’s so easy to jump to conclusions; I think it must be an innate human trait just as is categorizing things and people to make the complex simple (and thus not recognizing the difference between complexity and complicated).
    Paul

  • http://profile.typepad.com/bonifaz Boni Faz

    Well I think that’s in the very nature of Twitter, isn’t it? When your message is limited to 140 characters, you cannot give a full explanation about what you actually refer to, which might trigger wrong understanding.
    Even though what you experienced can very well be annoying, I think there is also a positive aspect about it: Obviously, there are plenty of people out there who respond to what you say. If a particular message (or even more of them) trigger faulty responses, maybe simply the context was not process-able and understandable for others?
    I do agree with you that asking good questions help. Again, I strongly feel Twitter is about guessing what somebody might have meant. I’m fairly certain that the vast majority of the messages you get build on some assumptions, and I hope that most of them are meaningful to you. Would you prefer to get some questions in the style of “…and what exactly did you mean with that …?” all the time?
    Finally, I summarized my thoughts on a similar topic a while ago on my blog: http://randomwalkdownearth.blogspot.com/2011/09/you-misunderstood-me.html

  • Don

    What should motivate someone to ask a question to “Maybe it’s interesting to care more about polar bears.”? I would only expect a boring smart-ass monologue if I asked.
    If you say “Boy, polar bears are in serious trouble!” I would be motivated much more to ask a question (although I don’t like that you deliberately shortened the message to leave out exactly the fact that I should be asking about – kind of liking fishing for the question).
    But why not say, e.g. “Polar bear population is going to be extinct by 2050.” I would probably ask how you know that, what that means and what we can do against it? … Or I would be going wild on the internet about how polar bears need to be protected without ever checking the credibility of that information… depends on whether I’m in science or riot mode.
    In all the examples you have given you’re not stating what is important.
    Here: “Riding my bicycle is a real pain” you’re not to the point. You’re just saying riding…bicycle… pain. Of course people will talk about how their car is so much more convenient. People always try to help, you could have said: “I love my bicycle, but I need help to ride smoothly.” (watch the power of how saying “I need help” instead of “I can’t figure out” totally turns away submarines and spaceships).
    Here: “I cannot bake a cake” you say people don’t wait for an explanation. But actually you’ve misguided them. Yes, you can! …but you don’t have time. You could have easily said “I don’t have time to bake a cake.” in the first place. That would probably require some more thinking on your behalf for your actual reasons, before posting it. And if you said that, maybe someone would ask you what you’re doing instead?

  • http://herdingcats.typepad.com Glen B. Alleman

    As the son of a college English Professor, I might suggest that if you said “I cannot bake a cake” but really meant to say “I don’t have time to make one,” that you perhaps should have said the latter rather than the former, then the readers would have had a clear understanding of your original intent.
    Twitter is a terrible media for actual communication. The very essence of agile anything is face-to-face, it goes down hill from there and arrives at twitter.

  • http://twitter.com/lucianadrian Lucian Adrian (@lucianadrian)

    Living in a fast paced world has it’s perils, and one of them is becoming superficial. I believe this is what you are experiencing now.
    On the other hand, making oneself fully understood in 140 chars is quite an achievement, and I doubt that many can do that (I can not ..for myself).
    To me this does not come as a surprise, as in most occasions, people expected to be asked to raise their questions.
    Was it questions that you wanted and expected?
    Did you try to rephrase your posts, so that they ask directly for question, if this is the case?

  • Martin Moene

    Aren’t you simply triggering associative responses? People like to say something, no matter what: q.e.d. 😉

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    I don’t expect anything from people when I broadcast something. But when they try to give me unsollicited advice, I expect them to make an attempt at understanding what the problem is. 🙂

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    Good point.

  • Sergio

    Excellent post, and self proofing… 🙂

  • http://www.niwotridge.com Glen B Alleman

    What would be ab expected outcome from the “broadcast?”

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    Marketing, learning, social connections, and serendipity.

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