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.
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.
- 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?
- 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:
- Yosef: Did the thing happen?
- You: The football game?
- 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:
- Susan: How about that foo?
- You: Do you mean the sales statistics? If so, they’re way up this week.
- 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.
Short version: 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.