by Princiya

The art of asking questions

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


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.


“What makes us human, I think, is an ability to ask questions, a consequence of our sophisticated spoken language.” — Jane Goodall

It has happened nnumber of times to me in the past. My brain has had a question, but I have always stopped it from slipping out, thinking I would make a fool out of myself. Only later would I realise that somebody else asked a similar question and got applauded for asking such a wonderful question!

Do you relate to this situation?

It’s been 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.

“Animals are such agreeable friends — they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms.” — George Eliot.

Rule #1

Don’t make assumptions.

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.


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 of ourselves.

Before you start some work, always ask yourself three questions:

  • Why are you doing it
  • What might the results be, and
  • Will you be successful.
Only when you think deeply and find satisfactory answers to these questions, go ahead. Chanakya

Rule #3

No question is stupid

If you are like me, then I totally understand how hard it is to push yourself 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


Based on my experience, few real world examples explaining the need to ask questions.


#1: When using an acronym

A common scenario is when one person uses an acronym that might not be very common. You can politely ask the person to abbreviate the acronym rather than making silent assumptions and thereby ending up with a different conclusion.


#2: Maintaining your 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, if you’d 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 number of times when I have been too scared to be framed of not knowing anything. This is a clear symptom of having 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

#3: During an interview

While there is enough advice available on preparing yourself for an interview process and the questions to ask, I too would like to stress the importance of asking a few relevant questions when given the time. As an interviewer myself, I really like when interviewees ask questions.


#4: Issues and pull requests

Dealing with the OpenSource world gets better with experience. I can still recall the days when I was new and everything was too overwhelming. Naturally, I was too shy to comment on an issue or pull request and used to spend a considerable amount of time before I made a public statement.

Get a mentor or practice with your colleagues reviewing each other's pull requests in a constructive manner. Trust me, this gets much better over time.


Having said all that, while we have to get better at asking questions, it is also equally important to be in an environment which fosters the culture of asking questions and giving encouraging answers. Below are a few pointers on how to achieve this:

  1. Do not make fun of others or shame them for asking questions
  2. It is ok to not know the answer to everything
  3. Be humble in accepting the above fact
  4. Learn new things while discovering answers to unknown questions
  5. Share your learnings

I would be very much interested in knowing your thoughts and experiences on this subject. Please share your feedback. Thank you ?