I believe that the clarity of an answer to a question is determined by three things.
- The humility of the person answering the question
- The experience of the person answering the question
- The empathy of the person answering the question
Outside of those three variables, you enter the wizard’s domain. But first, let me flesh this out a little.
Humility is important because the world we live in is changing so fast that you can’t possibly always know all the answers. Even though you are hired to. Even though you are supposed to be the expert. You had better keep some humility lying around just in case you missed something. Which you did.
Experience is the basis on which you have the right to humbly answer a question. I can probably sort out how a transmission works if I’m given enough time. But if I’m asked how to make it faster, I WILL make a fool out of myself when I try to answer. I just don’t have enough experience with transmissions to answer the question well.
And finally, if I don’t have empathy for the person asking the question, can I really answer the question at all? Of course, answers to simple questions are easy, but complex questions require empathy. How do I know I’ve done enough research into a problem? When I can empathize with why they are asking the question.
So, outside of those three measurements for answering a question what happens? I think it’s something we call the wizards domain.
The Wizard’s Domain
Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.
~ J.R.R. Tolkien
The Wizards Domain is that nuance of communication that makes you feel like:
- You aren’t smart enough
- You can’t possibly understand how this works
- You don’t really want to know
These are really just ways for the person answering your question to avoid having to actually answer your question. There might be a plethora of reasons why. Your question is threatening, they don’t know the answer and can’t admit it, they aren’t able to answer it for cultural reasons or they are a horse’s ass. Regardless of the reason, you have entered the Wizard’s Domain.
The bottom line is, the answer is coming from a lack of empathy, humility and experience. Even if they are a top expert in their field. By the way, I know some top people in their fields and they don’t do that. They are humble, kind, and generous. My questions don’t threaten them.
So, How Do I Break The Magic?
Why, with humility, empathy, and experience of course! Maybe YOU don’t know what you don’t know. Maybe you need to understand that this developer has worked his ass off on a feature and isn’t ready for criticism. Maybe you don’t have the experience to know how to ask the question. I think this introspection works best in collaborative scenarios. Either as partner vendors or team members in an organization.
Outside of that, if you are paying an “expert” to help you and they treat you as if they are the all-seeing wizard that will bestow wisdom upon the common people, then they get one conversation. It might go something like this:
“Hey, I’m paying you to do this. I asked you a question. Please answer my question.”
If they don’t reply with empathy, humility and experience at that point, fire them. There are LOTS of excellent experts that would love to help you.