Scott Hanselman

Creating a question friendly environment

November 05, 2020 Comment on this post [0] Posted in Musings
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christina-wocintechchat-com-MkxWUzCuYkE-unsplashA few years back I had a lovely podcast conversation with technical leader Keavy McMinn.

Sometimes I wonder if anyone listens to the show. Then a nice comment will come in when someone listen to an episode years ago and is still thinking about particular quote or line.

Last week I got an email asking about a blog post or podcast that I might have written, and the person wanted me to dig up the quote on a specific topic. It turns out it was from that podcast episode with Keavy. Keavy talks a lot about technical leadership on her blog and you should check it out.

I recently added Transcripts to all 400 HOURS of the podcast and you can search the entire 15 year episode archive in one place at Podscribe!

One of the topics around leadership I've been thinking about a lot lately is how to make work a "question friendly environment." You may hear the term "safe space" to refer to this kind of thing.

"We are missing out on valuable opportunities to connect and grow in our understanding of people if we aren’t giving one another permission to ask each other ignorant questions" - from Viewpoint

Some people come up at your later in career might say, "you should just ask your question don't be a wimp." However, when we do this I think we forget what it was like to be just a few years out of school. You know you don't know anything, but you really don't know how much you don't know.

In my opinion, the number one thing that we can do make more senior engineers, is to give the junior engineers a really good place to ask lots of dumb questions. That means replying to them with patience, providing them with resources to learn and explore, not scoffing or rolling our eyes. You too were once early in career, Dear Reader. Being given a place and permission to ask questions without judgment is a huge gift!

Permission to ask

As a manager, we need to explicitly offer the permission to ask. Talk about permission to ask questions up front, and model that behavior so that others know it's OK. Make sure that folks know you're not going to "flip the bozo bit" just because someone asked a question about DNS.

From Scott Ginsberg, If you want to build this type of environment, there are four key tasks ahead:

1. List the reasons why employees might (not) ask questions.
2. Maintain a question-friendly attitude.
3. Affirm your employees when they ask questions.
4. Reinforce a question-friendly environment.

Make it so that questions can also be asked anonymously. Take their technical questions and consider them from their perspective. They may be missing historical context but they add a new diverse point of view or a fresh technical spin.

What are you doing in your technical teams and at your company to make sure that folks feel they can ask technical questions without judgment?

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.