clarifying ambiguous questions

hollywoodontap replied to your post “Anonymous said to realsocialskills: I have problems with reacting…”

I have trouble answering questions if the asker has not given me specific details. I feel like I can’t give them what they want unless I’m told precisely what it is they’re looking for. I tend to ask questions in return before getting to an answer.

realsocialskills said:


It’s ok to need details. If asking clarifying questions is working for you, I’d keep doing that. The important thing is to communicate effectively.


Some thoughts on ways to make clarifying questions work:

There are a couple ways to ask in a general way that work for some people:

  • “I need more words”.
  • “I’m confused; can you rephrase?“
  • “That’s kind of abstract - can you be more specific?”


It can sometimes help to be more specific yourself, and offer options. Someone asking a question they think is easily understood might not know how to clarify.


Eg:

  • Jane: What do you think of the foo?
  • You: In what sense? Are you asking if I like it personally, or if I think it’s marketable? Or something else?

or:

  • Joel: What’s Applied Foo 101 like? Should I take it?
  • You: Are you asking about how hard it is, or how interesting it is, or something else?

Another possibility: Guess and then ask if you got it right:


eg:

  • Yosef: Did the thing happen?
  • You: The football game?

or: 

  • Erica: Where are the things?
  • You: The supplies?

Sometimes it is better to make your best guess, then answer the question you think they’re asking:


Eg: 

  • Susan: How about that foo?
  • You: Do you mean the sales statistics? If so, they’re way up this week.

or: 

  • Thomas: Did you do the thing?
  • You: Do you mean my entry in the bad poetry contest. If so, I submitted that today. I’m excited for my chances this year. It was a truly terrible poem. 


tl;dr It’s ok to need to ask clarifying questions when someone asks you something, even if you need more details than most people need. The important thing is to communicate clearly.