my staff doesn’t like it that I use the Socratic method with them

A reader writes:

I’m a fairly new manager (two years) of a small team and recently received some feedback from an employee that I don’t know what to do about. A previous employee had also given me the same feedback so I’m starting to see a pattern.

When team members come to me with questions, I tend not to give the answer right away, but ask them questions back to stimulate their thinking. Most often they do know the answers but are just not making the connections or fully analyzing the situation. Sometimes they are quite far off and we end up spending 15-30 minutes fleshing it out. I thought I was “coaching” and helping to improve their critical thinking skills, but they don’t see it this way.

I have overheard grumblings about my “Socratic” method and would I just tell them the darn answer already so they can get back to their work! Our workloads are high and we are quite busy, so I can empathize there. They also find it stressful because they are having to think on their feet and remember facts and details. Plus, they are uncomfortable with me knowing what they don’t know, or being wrong in front of me. That was some feedback I received directly.

My boss sometimes works directly with my team and they LOVE her because she always tells them exactly what to do and they don’t have to think about anything or make any judgement calls. They’ve definitely hinted at this in a not-so-subtle way – okay, I get it.

I know exactly why I’m like this and it’s from university and years of grad school. This socratic method was completely the norm with my professors and grad school supervisor. They were focussed on training us on how to think. They expected us to gain knowledge in our subject area but more importantly on how to think critically and analyze what’s in front of us. I guess I have carried this into the workplace. None of my team members have post-grad schooling, just the bachelors degree we require as a minimum.

Anyway, I don’t know what to do. The team really needs to improve their critical thinking skills and problem-solving ability. I don’t feel I’m helping them by spoon feeding everything, but I don’t want them hating me either. Maybe I should have just become a professor ;)

What you don’t want to do is to act like a professor rather than a manager. That’s not your job, it’s not what people signed up for, and it’s not the most effective way of managing people.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t coach — you absolutely should coach. But coaching people effectively means (a) adapting your approach to fit what works best for each individual person, and (b) recognizing that there’s a time and a place for coaching, and that other times you just need to give someone the damn answer already.

So, questions back to you: Are you doing this reflexively whenever someone brings you a question? Or are you thoughtfully picking the times when you think it will help build their skills rather than doing it across the board? Also, are you truly building their skills when you do this — is the result that they’re learning something that they’re carrying forward into their work in the future? Or is there a method of training them that might work better, even if only because it wouldn’t come with the side of “agh, I just need a quick answer to this”?

Also, it’s really important for you to tell them what you’re doing and why. If they need to improve their problem-solving skills, tell them that directly, and why, and what that would look like (so that they’re on the same page as you about what that really means). Then explain that you’re going to work with them to build those skills, and that may mean that sometimes when they bring you questions, you’ll help them puzzle through it rather than giving them a quick answer — not to be pedantic, but because that will make them better at their jobs in the long run. If you don’t explain that, they’re likely to just be annoyed and frustrated. (They may still be annoyed and frustrated, but at least they won’t be creating their own story about why it’s happening.)

Also: Try not to see this as being about them having no post-grad schooling while you do. That risks getting you into condescending territory really quickly, and it’s more likely that it’s really just about them wanting a quick answer and being frustrated that you’ve not giving them one.

{ 469 comments… read them below or add one }

      1. Emmy Rae

        My dad used the Socratic method while teaching me to drive. Being quizzed on your road rules knowledge when it’s your second time behind the wheel doesn’t work that well, as it turns out.

        Reply
  1. Doriana Gray

    But coaching people effectively means (a) adapting your approach to fit what works best for each individual person, and (b) recognizing that there’s a time and a place for coaching, and that other times you just need to give someone the damn answer already.

    This! My manager has a bad habit of giving us riddles when we come to her with questions, and we don’t have the time to be going down rabbit holes with her – we’re understaffed, our workload is through the roof, and if we’re coming to her with questions, it’s on something that needs to be answered right now, not after we’ve read an entire state statute and cross referenced this with case law. She frustrates the hell out of us, and this is one of many reasons why I’m leaving my current division and going to a different unit. There’s a time and a place for everything, and part of being a good manager is knowing when to recognize that.

    Reply
    1. JMegan

      Or start by asking them what they need from you in that moment. Do they have time to go down the rabbit hole and explore a bit, or are they running on a deadline and just need a quick answer? If really do need a quick answer now, would they have the time later on for a more detailed discussion of you got there?

      You can gain a lot here by being transparent about what you’re trying to achieve and why, and also by picking your times to use this method. (Basically, exactly what Alison said!) I expect you’ll eventually end up with some sort of balance – you may need to accept that you can’t do it every time, and your team may need to accept that they also don’t just get the quick answer every time. Both approaches are valid and necessary, depending on the circumstances.

      Reply
      1. Kyrielle

        This. And, honestly, what I found most effective at my last job when helping people (not as a manager, but as a senior technical person, anyway) was to give the answer *and* then provide how I got there and why. (The reasoning and the dead ends.)

        NB that if someone is on a tight schedule, they just need the answer, not the explanation. That’s better handled in email. (And if you’re emailing both the answer and the explanation, it’s best formated as “Answer: blah. Reasoning: blah.” Only as separate paragraphs, at least, please.)

        Reply
        1. Doriana Gray

          NB that if someone is on a tight schedule, they just need the answer, not the explanation. That’s better handled in email. (And if you’re emailing both the answer and the explanation, it’s best formated as “Answer: blah. Reasoning: blah.” Only as separate paragraphs, at least, please.)

          Thank you.

          Reply
        2. Shannon

          Thank you.

          Nine times out of ten, when I go to my boss with a problem, assuming that I am reasonably competent at my job, I am going to my boss with a problem because it needs to be solved right now. I check out during the Socratic method because the problem is taking priority in my mind. Tell me how you got to that answer when I’m not stressing about the latest fire that needs to be put out – I’m 90% more likely to actually pay attention what you’re saying.

          Reply
          1. Charity

            Agreed.

            Even when the reasoning is important, I think it is very helpful to separate them as much as possible. I’ve worked with people where every conversation was like that — the answer had so many irrelevant asides and intricate, convoluted backstory that it was like watching a Star Wars prequel, and by the time I walked away I wasn’t sure what they were trying to communicate or if they had actually addressed my question. This isn’t the Socratic method though, it’s just not knowing how to filter information and present it coherently.

            Reply
            1. Nell Gwyn

              Did you work for my old boss? They’d use the Socratic method, and then when you *still* couldn’t get the answer (jeeze, what’s wrong with you!), they’d launch into a rambling response that never actually answered your question.

              Reply
        3. Abby

          Absolutely. Sometimes (especially in a work environment), you just need the answer quickly to get the job done. A good employee will appreciate and remember the reasoning behind it.

          Reply
        4. OriginalEmma

          Sounds like the good ol’ BLUF I was introduced to while working in emergency preparedness. BLUF = Bottom Line Up Front (1-2 sentences, max), then the background or explanation. Worked a treat.

          Reply
          1. Ad Astra

            Not totally unlike the “inverted pyramid” writing style I learned in journalism school. Start with the most important information, then add the rather important information, then the slightly less important information (perhaps some background), then the least important information (“The hearing is set for Jan. 16” or “Wal-Mart representatives declined to comment on the accusations.).

            Originally, this method was important because layout editors would cut stories from the bottom to make them fit whatever space they had in print. These days, it’s more related to the fact that most readers don’t make it to the bottom of an article online.

            Reply
        5. neverjaunty

          EXACTLY. The way to teach people to ‘think critically’ about a problem is to explain why the answer is what it is; not to play guessing games.

          Reply
          1. I'm a Little Teapot

            “Guessing games” is perfect. Most of my math courses in school were taught via “guessing game” or “hey kids, here’s a word problem involving fairly advanced algebraic concepts you haven’t learned yet; go reinvent the wheel in groups of four.” Which is a large part of how I ended up an adult with a master’s degree and elementary school math skills.

            Reply
            1. Clever Name

              Ha ha! I remember in calculus learning about limits (which is a way to approximate the slope of a curved line). It took an entire unit and an entire test just covered limits. The very first class after that test, which was kind of brutal, the professor introduced something wonderful and easy that does the same thing as limits, and takes 1/10th of the time! Derivatives! OMG. I wanted to walk out I was so pissed.

              Reply
              1. Tau

                Eh, I think this is different – you’re in class, not work, and it’s not about getting an answer as quick as possible but about understanding the theory and why it works.

                And as a matter of fact, you legitimately need limits for derivatives – the way you calculate them, why they work, why derivatives are what they are is limits all over. Teaching derivatives first and then limits is how I generally see it and how many students may prefer it, but from a maths point of view it’s putting the cart before the horse and encourages mathematically-sloppy thinking.

                Reply
                1. Connie-Lynne

                  Yeah, limits actually explain what derivatives are and how they work. They provide a sound basis for understanding; if you just learn derivatives without understanding limits it’s sort of like learning tricks for times tables but not why they work.

              2. Cath in Canada

                I had an otherwise outstanding chemistry teacher in high school who used to tell us (advanced class) “what I’m about to tell you is such a gross over-simplification that it’s actually wrong. However, it’s a useful way of thinking about the concept. Please just learn it, and then if you take chemistry next year I’ll tell you what really happens”. Then the following year he’d say “now, this version is less wrong than what you learned last year, but it’s still a massive over-simplification. Please just learn it, and if you do a chemistry degree you’ll learn what really happens”.

                I mean, I get what he meant, but it didn’t exactly motivate me to spend a ton of time learning something that he’d just told us was wrong!

                Reply
                1. Lena

                  Ah, ‘lies-to-children’ as Terry Pratchett called it.

                  At least by being told it was a lie-to-children, you didn’t spent the rest of your life convinced it was 100% accurate. This is a very, very common problem with history.

                2. Blurgle

                  And genetics. Why no, there isn’t just one eye colour gene, and just because your parents have blue eyes and you have brown doesn’t mean you’re adopted or the product of an affair.

              3. Not So NewReader

                I might have actually understood calculus, if the teacher’s method was something other than “think about it until you figure it out.” The final was so hard that no one finished it (there were some very brainy people in this class, too), we had to come in a second day to finish. He must have known on some level that test was way over our heads because he gave an extra problem for extra points. I ended up acing the test because I had two days. If I had one day, I would have only completed 60% of the test.
                This man permanently cured me of every having any liking for Calculus.

                Reply
                1. UK Nerd

                  “Think about it until you figure it out” is a viable teaching method for calculus if your class consists of only two students and their names are Newton and Leibniz.

            2. Natalie

              My geometry class was taught like this, and there were no proofs or what have you in the text for reference. So if you did the exercise to determine the proof incorrectly, you would get literally everything wrong.

              That might be a perfectly nice exercise for a math class, but my textbook made it a fundamental part of the course.

              Reply
        6. Anonsie

          Yeah I don’t see why this isn’t the first place he would go when they don’t respond well to the questioning method. It seems like the logical next step from making them work through the explanation to me, and it’s how I typically answer questions.

          Reply
        7. Stranger than fiction

          That is awesome. On the flip side of this, though, I’m wondering if some of the questions the Op is getting are things she’s told them before and/or things they should know how to find the answer to themselves, because I see how that could get annoying as well.

          Reply
          1. Kyrielle

            I have been known to respond to those sorts of questions with “I’ve forwarded my email from April 4, which should address this – please let me know if there’s anything missing or clarification needed” or “You’ll find the details of the expense report procedure on the finance department’s procedures page. (instructions to browse to it, or a link if I’m feeling nice)”.

            I save the explanations of thought process for things that require enough of a thought process for it to apply. :)

            Reply
          2. kms1025

            Exactly what I was thinking…I get so frustrated when I find myself thinking “for the 101st time…the blue teapots go in the blue boxes and the pink ones go in the pink”. I understand being busy and needing an answer, but what about the time that the manager is spending doing the employee’s job and not able to focus on her own??? Sometimes people seem to find it easier to ask, then to think about the process and reason it out for themselves.

            Reply
          3. Lena

            Or when, for what feels like the three thousandth time, I talk somebody through, “What does the error report say the problem is? How does the error report say to fix the problem? Have you tried doing that? Well, try it, and come back to me if it doesn’t work.”

            Reply
      2. KC

        I agree with everything you’re saying except for “and your team may need to accept that they also don’t just get the quick answer every time”. As a manager it is good to coach people, but your primary job is to manage. If talking them through a question will not take too long, and help them save time by not having to come to you with similar questions in the future, then it makes sense. But if it’s more about the principle of the thing, then it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

        Reply
        1. JMegan

          Absolutely. I was trying to guard against going too far in the other direction, and the OP deciding to knock it off entirely because the team doesn’t like it. There’s a time and a place for everything, including the Socratic method. It’s up to the OP to figure out the time and place, but the team doesn’t just get to opt out entirely if the OP makes a (good, managerial) decision that it’s necessary sometimes.

          Reply
      3. Sarah

        Generally, unless I’m new on a job and still learning the pickayune little details about how each person wants something done, I won’t ask a question until I’ve taken MYSELF down the flipping rabbit hole. I often start with, “I thought this, but I’m not sure because that.” (Which can irritate people who don’t LIKE their underlings to think independently).

        I hated the Socratic method in college, too. I know how to think. I’m there to learn what I DON’T know and to verify that what I DO figure out on my own is correct.

        Reply
  2. 12345678910112 do do do

    A compromise: give them the answer, but keep track of what sorts of issues are being brought up regularly and schedule trainings for those issues. In the trainings, feel free to be Socratic and train them how to find the answers for themselves.

    Also, the Socratic method is used even in undergraduate settings (I even got it in high school), so it’s not a big secret that only graduate-degree holders are privy to.

    Reply
    1. Snarkus Aurelius

      Right? What a weird thing to mention. I started on the Socratic Method in high school. Even people in my class who didn’t go to college were exposed to it too.

      Reply
      1. alter_ego

        yeah, I’m pretty sure we learned what the Socratic method was, and started using it in 9th grade World History.

        Reply
        1. Shannon

          I don’t know if the OP is mentioning it as how grad school shaped their outlook on life via using the Socratic method all the time? Otherwise, mentioning it comes off a little bit like you’re trying to put on airs.

          Because, yeah. I’m not (yet) a college graduate, but, not only am I intimately familiar with the Socratic method, I’ve also conducted training integrating it.

          Reply
          1. Bailey Quarters

            However, I think we need to remember is that the Socratic method is a teaching technique, and the OP is a manager. While the skill sets can overlap, at times the Socratic method is a hindrance to managing effectively.

            Reply
        2. JB (not in Houston)

          Sure, a lot of (most?) people know what the Socratic method is. But not everyone has entire programs structured around that method of learning. It’s a frequently-mentioned frustration of first year law students that sometimes they just want an answer but never get one–though by the time you graduate, you’re used to it.

          I do think the OP’s inclusion of that comment could signal some elitism–I definitely had a negative reaction to it. But from what I know, must high schools and undergraduate programs, at least in the US, aren’t built entirely or almost entirely around that method. So I don’t think it’s entirely unreasonable to think that someone who has not gone through that kind of program might not be as comfortable with it.

          Reply
          1. JB (not in Houston)

            What I mean is, I think there’s a difference in the comfort level a person would have with the Socratic method if they’ve had a class or two that used it versus having been in an academic program that used only the Socratic method, so that you get used to never getting direct answers to anything.

            Reply
          2. neverjaunty

            Honestly, I think the elitism is less OP’s mentioning the Socratic method per se, than the tone of the letter, which suggests OP thinks her staff is just not up to her intellectual standards because they don’t like being quizzed.

            OP, in addition to being judicious with applying the ‘why don’t we work through this together’ method, you may want to consider whether you’re giving your team the impression that you think they’re lazy or mentally beneath you.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              Or at least a clearer link between the critical thinking she’s trying to coach and the workplace application. For a discussion to take 15-30 minutes of something that could just be giving an answer, I’d expect that to be a pretty key positional skill that’s being taught. But right now it sounds more like life coaching than job training.

              Reply
              1. aebhel

                This. OP, your job as manager is to enable your staff to do their jobs effectively, not to teach them how to think.

                Reply
                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Yes, and I’d also argue that with the amount of time a manager can reasonably invest in developing employees, you can’t really teach critical thinking. Problem-solving, yes, to some degree. But really, if there’s a serious critical thinking deficit on the team, it probably points to having the wrong staff in place (or the manager having expectations that don’t line up well with what the roles under her really require, or that it’s not a critical thinking issue at all but rather one of specific job-related training).

            2. Anonsie

              you may want to consider whether you’re giving your team the impression that you think they’re lazy or mentally beneath you.

              I think this is the key right here.

              Reply
              1. coffee powerrd

                Agree.

                I’ve worked in some offices where everyone is expected to know how to think and contribute unique ideas, and some where the only people expected to think are the managers.

                OP, it appears you have acquired an office staff where the culture is ingrained in the latter. My condolences.

                Reply
                1. neverjaunty

                  Uh, where are you getting that? OP is not talking about her team contributing “unique ideas”, but about being asked questions and responding to them.

      2. Anxa

        I honestly can’t remember a time where some degree of Socratic method wasn’t used in my schooling.

        Only I didn’t know it was A Thing until middle school.

        Reply
    2. some1

      This is exactly what I was thinking. For one thing, you would be setting aside time to explore how and why to come up with solutions.

      Secondly, with the whole team there, people can build on each other’s ideas and feel more secure about “spit-balling” solutions that might be wrong when they aren’t the only one offering ideas.

      Reply
      1. katamia

        Doh. Got distracted and deleted half the sentence–middle school in the general curriculum, elementary school because I went to a summer camp that had it. So despite my lack of a gradate degree, I am quite familiar with it. :P

        Reply
    3. Not a Real Giraffe

      I don’t think the OP was insinuating that only grad school students are familiar with the Socratic method, just that it’s been ingrained in her way of thinking because she’s been in school for so many years.

      Reply
      1. Observer

        You are probably right. But, as you can see, it comes of in a very different way. I have no doubt that at least some of her managees feel that way as well.

        Reply
      2. Stranger than fiction

        I agree. But what I do think is that Op had her heart set on managing a team this way one day, but now she’s taken over a team that’s clearly used to being managed differently and perhaps the culture isn’t so much in alignment. That isn’t to say the old manager didn’t maybe spoil them, so to speak, by giving answers all the time, but Op does need to find a balance rather than just turning what they’re used to upside down suddenly. I think there’s enough feedback to suggest some adjustment is necessary and that’s probably what prompted her to ask.

        Reply
        1. Jen S. 2.0

          Well put. There’s nothing wrong with the Socratic method per se and in the right circumstances, but just because OP had her heart set on managing with it doesn’t make it the right technique [i]all the time[/i], or at least as often as OP is using it. If I ask where the Peterson file is because I need it for a call in 5 minutes, “Where do YOU think it is?” isn’t helpful and is a waste of everyone’s time.

          Sometimes you have to adjust your expectations from what you had your heart set on doing, both for practicality’s sake and because life doesn’t always get on board with our expectations. Being flexible about that is a skill a manager needs.

          Reply
          1. Natalie

            “If I ask where the Peterson file is because I need it for a call in 5 minutes, “Where do YOU think it is?” isn’t helpful and is a waste of everyone’s time.”

            And in my office, at least, the answer to this is “I think you [boss] lost it on your desk, which is why I asked you in the first place!”

            Reply
            1. Not So NewReader

              This exactly. OP, look at what you are doing with your method. I was taught and I also believe that different situations call for different management styles. A good manager is able to comfortably go between the styles.
              In an extreme example, if the work place catches fire, this is no time to ask, “well how do you think we should get out of the building?” People expect leaders to actually lead. And there are times where it is totally inappropriate to launch into a series of questions.
              Your series of questions can make you look like an indecisive person who cannot lead. Yes, this is hard to read. But it is important that you understand how you can be discrediting yourself and not even realizing.

              Reply
        2. Dust Bunny

          Then the OP should have stayed in academia if she wanted to fulfill her Socratic fantasies.

          I have a very nice boss who encourages us to problem-solve first, but we also have a hierarchy, and my position does not involve a lot of decision-making in the larger sense. Plus, I work in an area where there are lots of rules and methods that might not be immediately obvious to somebody who doesn’t have higher-level training (I’m semi-professional, not fully qualified).

          So I ask, because I don’t want to make a decision that sets a bad long-term precedent or that violates an obscure professional practice of which I may not be aware. That’s why my boss is the boss: He’s been doing this longer and has a lot more experience and formal training. The thinking pattern that might make sense in the “extracurricular” world is not always the one that should be followed in the professional world. Furthermore, because we network resources with other institutions, there are some formats that are standardized and seem repetitive or awkward if you view them out of context. I know most of them, but things change and I feel I should check in to make sure that what I have done in the past is up-to-date.

          I had professors who used this method to great ends . . . when I was in college. I’m not in college any more. Emphasis on this kind of coaching wouldn’t serve my current situation well and, yes, I would find it insulting. I have relatives who have also spent years in graduate school who don’t do this with their managees because that’s not what managers do.

          Reply
    4. Ad Astra

      I also encountered a lot of Socratic method in high school and undergrad, so even though OP is probably dead on about why she’s like this, she may be wrong about why her team doesn’t care for it.

      Reply
    5. The Other Beebs

      And I have to say that if anything, in my experience the Socratic method was used less in grad school than anywhere else . . . by that point, we were expected to have internalized the ability to work through sticky issues on our own, without laborious prompting. The teacher’s voice that led the discussion becomes the internal voice that guides the thought process.

      Reply
        1. The Other Beebs

          Yeah, fair statement, especially for the first couple of years. I’m probably thinking more of the later stages, after classwork is finished.

          Reply
          1. TL -

            Oh, I definitely know science PIs who will not give a straight answer on anything (unless money is involved.) It’s all – why would you want to do this? why choose X over Y? hmm..that sounds interesting. Occasionally, you’ll get something that’s more clear, like “Have you considered this?” and you do get some advisors who write out your experiments for you, but it varies widely.

            Reply
    6. Hlyssande

      Yes, this. I majored in philosophy in undergrad. Socratic method all day, every day.

      It’s useful to question why something is done and how they got to an answer, but having to come up with and justify your actions every. damn. time they have a question to the boss is going to put people on the defensive, forever. It would put me off of ever asking the boss anything.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        That is something that is quite common, people will give up on asking the boss anything. It’s very dangerous because the boss could lose control of her department and not understand why.

        Reply
    7. Liz T

      My mom taught me about the Socratic method because when she was a hippie in law school she and her friends felt the Socratic method was patriarchal, and rebelled against it whenever they could.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        Bingo! It is patriarchal because the underlying message is, “I know something you don’t know and I am going to make you jump through hoops to get it, just because I can.”

        Reply
        1. jmkenrick

          I’d like to challenge you on that point. People do use the Socratic method incorrectly – there’s a lot more to it than just refusing to give a ‘straight answer’.

          As I was taught it, the Socratic method is most appropriately used to teach children to think critically through questions that don’t have an inherent ‘right’ answer, such as moral dilemmas. It’s about challenging assumptions and established thought – not about taunting people. Plus, properly used, both sides (student and teacher) should be asking questions. It’s not meant to be a one-sided pedantic thing.

          Reply
    8. a

      And its usually used very poorly by people who think they’re being clever. (I’ve had one teacher ever use it effectively, every other time it came across as the showing-off that it so often is.)

      Reply
    9. M-C

      Let me also point out that this is the sort of thing that literacy was invented for. If the manager is being used as a sole source of information, that is bad management. Remember the old win the lottery/run over by a bus dilemna? it also applies to you, OP, and you should address putting information available to you into a place your staff can access without being subjected to one of your lectures. Let me suggest a wiki, which can be both kept practical by the staff and embellished with reasoning by you (in the aforementioned journalistic format, the answer should be front and center). It’ll keep people from doing foolish things in order to avoid having to ask you.

      What a manager is useful/needed for is making decisions. If your staff comes to you for one of those in a time crunch, be sure you’re providing them as fast as possible, and not taking this as a teaching opportunity. You can always address the background later, in a staff meeting, if dialog is important, or a general email if not.

      Reply
  3. The Cosmic Avenger

    I’m not saying that this is what the OP is doing, but one thing to watch out for: I find that when people are misusing the Socratic method, it’s predominantly because they can’t see the difference between what is obvious and what is obvious to them. In order to not become a pedantic classroom lecture, it requires understanding the other person’s knowledge and experience and working off of that.

    So I guess I’m saying the same thing Alison did, which is that it’s not always suitable.

    Reply
    1. hbc

      Yeah, it’s not universal, but I find a significant portion of people who use the Socratic method have a *lot* of underlying assumptions that make the exchange guesswork for the person on the other end. “Is it more important to meet our deadlines or meet our quality specs?” I don’t know, that’s not really my decision, and I’m sure you can find quotes from business gurus to back up either option. Just tell me whether I should ship the blemished teapots today or tell the customer that they have to wait a week.

      Reply
      1. jmkenrick

        Which is a touch ironic, because one of the main points of the Socratic method is to challenge underlying assumptions.

        He was a philosopher after all. The method was used to examine morals and belief systems, not to figure out whether to put cover sheets on your TPS reports.

        Reply
    2. TechIntern

      Hah, I was about to link to my old question and Alison beat me to it. This is one part of why my boss’ method is so annoying. It can feel like he’s coming at it from a perspective of “you don’t know XYZ, what’s wrong with you?” rather than “what do you already know and how can we build on that?”

      A related issue is that it’s easy to fall into this Socratic mode when you (the boss) think you understand the question they’re asking but really you don’t. So then it gets especially frustrating for the employee.

      I agree with the person above who says you should try to track the questions they ask and then train people on them at a set time. Another option would be to have check in meetings on a regular basis where you ask what’s difficult for them and try to bring up this method there. The problem with doing it when people have come to you with questions is that (especially if you have this reputation in the office) they are probably already a bit frustrated by the time they come to you. If they knew how to solve the problem already they would have done so.

      Frankly it’s at this point that my boss’ behavior (and perhaps yours, to your employees) begins to feel condescending. I finally told him something like “if I’m coming to you it means I’ve tried several things already, so don’t assume I haven’t tried anything.” I would imagine I might feel similarly if my boss told me, or implied through his behavior, that I lacked “critical thinking skills.” It’s kind of an insulting mindset to approach people with, especially people who are already frustrated and just want to do their jobs. I think a question or two to help people along can help, but keep it up for more than a couple minutes and you risk alienating people.

      Reply
      1. Jen S. 2.0

        “I think a question or two to help people along can help, but keep it up for more than a couple minutes and you risk alienating people.”

        Particularly important for a person who is spending **30 minutes** doing this to hear.

        Reply
      2. Not So NewReader

        I agree with this also, be careful to realize that people have already done 23 things to day to help you and the group effort. To harp on one point for 30 minutes of questions sends a message that the other 23 things that were done are meaningless. Not the message you intend, but that can be the way it gets perceived.

        Reply
      3. One of the Sarahs

        A related issue is that it’s easy to fall into this Socratic mode when you (the boss) think you understand the question they’re asking but really you don’t. So then it gets especially frustrating for the employee.

        I’ve had this for sure, and it kills me – the manager who smugly asks me to think [standard process] through, and it’s like NO, you’re not listening to the question, it’s [complicated thing I need a manager call on].

        Reply
  4. Kassy

    I think it’s definitely about a balance. Your team members do need to think critically and problem-solve, and it’s wonderful that you’re trying to teach them that…but not EVERY time they have a question.

    Reply
  5. Former Diet Coke Addict

    Uni and grad school life are not equivalent to the workplace. They just aren’t. Your professors are there to train you in critical thought. Usually a manager is not.

    What kind of questions are you doing this with? Is it “Hey, can I push back the deadline on this project so I can do another time sensitive one?” and you lead them down the primrose path of why deadlines exist? Or is it “How do I reckon this column with the other numbers people are getting?” And then you walk them through the process via questioning.

    I wonder if your team is finding your method condescending, especially if you are frequently mentioning grad school or whatever. And is this even efficient for you? Yes, you want to coach people, but not every question needs 30 minutes of discussion. You may be slowing down both your and their productivity. And if your office supports fast moving over deep intellectual dives….you need to stop.

    Reply
    1. Anna

      This. The Socratic method can come across as condescending. I had a manager do this to me ONE time and it completely changed my relationship with her. It made me feel small and wasn’t good at all.

      Reply
      1. OwnedByTheCat (formerly Anony-Moose)

        I feel like in most professional settings the Socratic method has left me feeling like the whole exchange was really condescending. I can’t remember a time in the ten years where I felt it was effective.

        Reply
      2. Katie the Fed

        Yep. I work with someone who does this. I believe he means well, but most people leave conversations with him thinking “wow, what a pompous, condescending jerk”

        Reply
        1. Jinx

          I think the difference has to do with a production vs. academic environment. In school the goal is for us to learn, so it’s worthwhile to spend time on things like the Socratic method to develop our thinking processes. But at work, we’re getting paid to accomplish something, and the person giving us the run-around in an attempt to be educational is wasting precious time. I’d be frustrated if someone did that to me at work.

          Reply
          1. Mike C.

            That’s where I’m sitting. That time spent in pedantry land is time I can’t use to help the others I’m responsible for.

            Reply
            1. TL -

              I’ve had people ask things like, “Oh, why would you suggest Y?” in a truly curious, non-condescending tone that is sometimes really productive – either I’ve thought of something innovative or they realize through my answer that I’m missing a piece of the puzzle.
              But that’s as far as I’ve ever found it helpful (so…one question, not really the Socratic method.)

              Reply
              1. Not So NewReader

                I have asked people why the suggest something, but it is part of a larger back and forth relationship, where sometimes I explain things and sometimes they explain things. So let’s say a person’s choice is falling short because it only has a, b and c considered in the idea. I would say, “Okay, I like this, but we have to work in factor d also. ” Then I would suggest something based on what they laid out so far, or they might suggest something because they instantly see how to work d into the solution.

                Reply
          2. Paige Turner

            Yes, if this were my boss, I’d be wondering how she had so much free time to spend 15-30 minutes answering a question, multiple times a day, when my coworkers and I were getting buried in work.

            Reply
      3. Bwmn

        In the workplace, I think that often the Socratic method can feel condescending in that it’s ultimately very hierarchical. One person asks all the questions and the other has to answer all of them.

        At work, I usually have two types of questions, #1 is something I genuinely don’t know what to do and need an answer or guidance in the short term and then in the long term perhaps training makes sense. #2 is something where I’m not necessarily sure the best approach and would benefit from a mix of guidance, direction, and general talking it through.

        For #1, the Socratic method is a just an exercise in perpetually feeling wrong. But for #2, the Socratic method can often just fail to feel collaborative. I’m asking about X or Y because I’m not sure what’s best, and will benefit from not only personally thinking it through but also from hearing my manager think it through.

        Obviously there are cases of employees who need to be coached on being more self sufficient, but that’s different. Sometimes that’s a case of needing to build self reliance and problem solving skills – but often the reason can just be work habits from previous jobs where *everything* needs to be run through management. Where I worked before, that was not the case. Now, cc’ing management and sending things to be checked/approved is so pervasive that I could see working somewhere else and needing to be coached a bit to stop it.

        Reply
      4. Anonsie

        The Socratic method easily becomes pimping, whether or not the person doing the questioning realizes it. Especially because, as Serin said below, it’s really a game of “guess what I’m thinking” rather than an real use of the Socratic method as one would do in an academic setting anyway.

        Reply
      5. Tau

        To me, it feels condescending because – rightly or wrongly – it feels like the person is telling me I didn’t put enough time into answering the question myself. Because the Socratic method is all about leading the person to the right answer with information they’ve already got and showing them that they could have solved it on their own. If I ask a question, it’s generally either because I think the other person has information I don’t and need to solve this problem (the “what’s more important: meeting our deadlines or our quality standards?” example from upthread) or because I think I’ve spent so long trying to figure this out on my own that continuing would not be an effective use of my time. In both cases someone launching into “have you considered X?” and waiting for me to solve it on my own isn’t really appropriate.

        As a matter of fact, I tend to have difficulties the other way – that I *don’t* ask questions when I ought to and try to solve absolutely everything on my own. When I was in grad school, rather than reinforce that he wouldn’t tell me the answer just if I asked, my supervisor told me that I ought to be asking him more questions and ask them sooner! It’s the main piece of negative feedback I got during my PhD.

        Reply
        1. Not So NewReader

          I found it annoying to even read what Socrates had to say. It took pages for him to say, “it might rain today”. Ugh, ugh, ugh. I enjoy philosophy but it it is a huge chunk of time before you see the punchline.

          Reply
    2. Kelly O

      I tend to agree with you; it can very easily feel condescending and start making you question yourself unnecessarily.

      I would think there should be a balance between simply providing the answer and coaching on critical thinking, quick judgment, and all the other things the OP is trying to accomplish.

      Yes, it’s good to be able to think on your feet and come prepared, but while managers can coach and educate, that’s also ultimately not their primary responsibility. Sometimes the work just needs to be done, and if you’re reflexively answering every question with more questions, I can understand how that would be difficult for your staff and why they would want to go elsewhere with questions. Ultimately that’s not good for you as a manager.

      And consider how you’re framing this coaching too. When presenting it, you don’t want to come across as a professor, because that can also feel condescending in the workplace. It’s all about sorting out the differences between the education system and the workplace, which don’t work the same way. Adjusting to those differences is something we all have to navigate successfully. Moreso when you have others reporting up to you.

      Reply
    3. OriginalEmma

      What are some sample questions of blundering Socratic method attempts by managers? I’m imagining a manager who answers every question with “Why do you think we do that this way? Well, let me tell you, ….” but I’m not quite sure.

      Reply
      1. Serin

        In my experience, a lot of people think they’re using the Socratic method when they’re actually playing a game of “guess what I’m thinking.”

        So a blundering question would be something like … “Where do we store a copy of this document for future reference? I know reference is Ophelia’s area, but she should have showed you the folder during your training in August. Remember?” and then they start giving hints.

        Reply
        1. Charity

          This is doubly aggravating when the answer that Socrates is trying to tease out of you is actually incorrect or outdated. Like, if it turned out that Ophelia stopped using that file months ago and is storing the info elsewhere. It’s like trying to solve a crossword where half of the answers are misspelled.

          Reply
          1. Mallory Janis Ian

            This is what aggravates me about it. The person trying to be Socratic focuses on assumptions of his own correctness and priortizes that over any attempt to understand what is actually being asked. Then your attempts to reframe what you’re asking so that they understand are met with more questions that are frustratingly beside the point of what you’re trying to ask.

            Reply
            1. Doriana Gray

              OMG, this! My manager is constantly going off on tangents that have nothing to do with anything so I’ve just started asking questions via email so I don’t have to listen to her insufferable diatribes. (And they are diatribes – she’s constantly pissed about something.)

              Reply
              1. Not So NewReader

                You spend 20 minutes in conversation and when you walk away you have no idea what the boss wants you to do.

                Reply
                1. Doriana Gray

                  Or worse – you start to doubt what you already know and/or whether you’re even asking the right questions, and then you make stupid confused mistakes.

            2. M-C

              So, so true! Everyone (in academia at least) thinks they’re using the Socratic method, but Socrates must be rolling his grave to see his philosophical ideas so misapplied. I’m having trouble at the moment from a spontaneous-unsolicited-therapy person, who doesn’t appreciate my engineering-modular-deconstruction approach to problem solving :-). We need to all keep our methods into the context that they were intended for!

              Reply
        2. Who Watches the Watcher's?

          “In my experience, a lot of people think they’re using the Socratic method when they’re actually playing a game of “guess what I’m thinking.”

          This! I go through this with my trainer/mentor most days. It always goes something like this:

          Me: “Hi Mentor. Do you know who’s in charge of ordering blue pens? I just went to the supply closet and saw that we are out.”

          Mentor: “We only use blue pens for filling out crossword puzzles.”

          Me: “Yeah. I just needed one and saw we were out. Do you know who orders the supplies so I can let them know?”

          Mentor: “Did you check the supply closet? I’m not in charge of the supplies.”

          Me: “Yes, I just came from there. Do you know who’s in charge of ordering supplies?”

          Mentor: Option 1–No response. Option 2–“Go ask your manager and/or someone else on your team.” Option 3–“I’ve already sent them an email while you’ve been standing here. It’s taken care of.”

          Every. Day. 90% of all my questions go something like that with her. It’s exhausting. Learning from her is like pulling crocodile teeth.

          Reply
          1. Ife

            Oh god. That’s like everyone at my company. I have been trying to decide if it’s because they don’t know the answer either, or because they enjoy hoarding the information. Now I have a third option… they enjoy the Guess What I’m Thinking Game!

            Reply
          2. Not So NewReader

            I hope you are looking for a new job.

            I see stuff like this and I just figure people are not interested in succeeding or doing superior work. They are solely focused on themselves.

            Reply
        3. Kate M

          Yes – the “guess what I’m thinking game.” It’s the absolute worst.

          This isn’t quite the Socratic method, but once when I was an executive assistant, I was making a travel itinerary for my boss. There were a few flights that were possible for him to take, so I emailed him to ask which he would prefer. His response – “I’m not going to tell you – I want you to guess which one, book it, and then send me the itinerary. If I want it changed I’ll let you know and you can cancel the flight.” Like those were his exact words. It was him trying to “train” me by getting me to think through his thought process of which he’d like, but I had no idea what was in his brain. The way he should have done it was to say “I prefer flight B. In the future, just for your knowledge, I prefer flights mid-afternoon/the cheapest option/the cheapest first class option, etc.”

          Then again, he was not a very nice guy all around.

          Reply
          1. Kate M

            I mean, this is also the guy who expected me to reroute a charter plane mid-air or something at 7 AM on Saturday because he wanted to leave the Hamptons earlier and his plane wasn’t there yet. He told me he was driving to the airport, and expected the plane (that was scheduled to leave at 11 am) to be there ready to transport him. So all in all it was a fun job.

            Reply
          2. Katie the Fed

            I….what?! why would anyone do this? Does he think it’s appropriate to waste the company’s money to pay to to play guessing games? Why? WHY????

            Reply
          3. Not So NewReader

            There are many ways that people defraud their company. This boss here is a good example of one way to defraud a company.
            People provide labor, they are a resource for the company. If you have people put in a concrete floor and rip it out, then put it and rip it out, then do it AGAIN, you are wasting company money.
            Similar with guessing games. “Okay read my mind on the company dime.”

            Reply
      2. Elsajeni

        In addition to the “guess what I’m thinking” version, there’s the “I’ll just rephrase your question back to you” version. Hbc gave a good example above:
        Q: “Should I ship these blemished teapots on time, or tell the customer their shipment will be delayed while we make a new, unblemished set?”
        A: “Is it more important to meet our deadlines or meet our quality specs?”
        Like the boss thinks he’s shifting the question into a new light and you’re going to have an epiphany, “Oh, that is the choice I face! It seems so obvious now!” When in fact what you’re thinking is, “If I knew that, I wouldn’t be here, asking you… that.”

        Reply
        1. Not So NewReader

          BTDT. My response is, “Yes, that is exactly what I am asking. It’s your call, which one do you want.”

          Reply
  6. CrazyCatLady

    I definitely agree with what Alison said about adapting your approach to fit the individual. I always try to come up with solutions on my own and it would drive me insane if I had a manager who did this every time I came to them for questions. Are you sure that they do actually know the answers? To me, for most questions, if it takes 15-30 minutes every single time to flesh it out, then I’m not the right person for the job (I’m either not qualified, or the answers you’re looking for are higher-level) or there are issues with training.

    Reply
  7. TotesMaGoats

    I’ve been through grad school and we didn’t use Socratic method and I would find it beyond a doubt annoying to be “coached” that way, especially if all I needed was a freaking answer.

    There are lots of ways to help people learn to think critically. You are clearly being told that using the socratic method isn’t the one that works for your team. So STOP. Or stop doing it for every single question. I would take a hard look at the questions you are being asked. What is the pattern there? Is it a training issue? Or if you are expecting them to make decisions and they aren’t is it because they don’t feel you’ve truly empowered them to do that? There are many reasons why people come to managers with repeated questions. Don’t assume that it’s a critical thinking issue when it could be other things.

    And I would add that graduate level schooling does not in any way, shape or form mean that people know how to think critically. Lots of people get of out of grad school with a master’s degree and couldn’t critically think their way out of a paper bag.

    Reply
    1. Doriana Gray

      Or if you are expecting them to make decisions and they aren’t is it because they don’t feel you’ve truly empowered them to do that? There are many reasons why people come to managers with repeated questions. Don’t assume that it’s a critical thinking issue when it could be other things.

      Another great point. My current team asks our manager questions all the time either in person or via email because she doesn’t really allow us to make autonomous decisions. We’re exempt employees, but if we try to handle our work without getting input from her, she gets upset if something is done “wrong.” And by upset I mean, will chew you out on the floor for a half hour in front of the rest of the division.

      Reply
      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

        Do we work for the same person?

        Asks for an okay to move forward: Do I have to do everything for you?
        Makes a decision on their own: What have you done?! Why wasn’t I consulted?! It doesn’t matter that everything is working well.

        Reply
        1. Nobody Here By That Name

          If so, then the three of us share a boss.

          “You all need to be more pro-active and stop bothering me.”
          “OMG how dare you take a step without checking with me first????”

          Reply
        2. Kelly O

          I will sit over here with you all.

          Make a decision and you’ve usurped power. Ask a question and clearly you were fortunate to find your way back to the same office. Good luck figuring out which day it’s going to be. It’s like Wheel of Employment Fortune!

          Reply
        3. Doriana Gray

          LMAO @ Not the Droid You are Looking For! That sounds exactly like my boss. God, I can’t wait to start my new job on the 18th. It would be comical if she wasn’t so damn crazy.

          Reply
          1. Ellen

            I’ll just join you folks over here.

            I’ve learned that with one of my two bosses, if I make a judgement call I will almost always receive an irritated email demanding to know why something was done a certain way (even if I include copious notes explaining it), and then will have to drag what she wants out of her piece by piece.

            I now ask her for “help” with every decision, sending an email explaining what I think is the right answer and my rationale, and offering some alternatives. She then “chooses” what I was planning to do anyway, but she gets to feel like she was the decision-maker. It’s effective, but boy is it crappy to feel as though your boss doesn’t trust you to make basic decisions.

            Reply
        4. Rachel

          I had a manager like that at a previous job. I repeatedly got dinged on my annual reviews for not making more independent decisions…but whenever I did make one, I got in trouble for not asking my supervisor before I did it! No matter what I did, it was the wrong thing to do.

          Reply
    2. Observer

      And I would add that graduate level schooling does not in any way, shape or form mean that people know how to think critically. Lots of people get of out of grad school with a master’s degree and couldn’t critically think their way out of a paper bag.

      That is completely true.

      Reply
      1. neverjaunty

        Let me footnote that: lots of people get out of law school, which is the high holy temple of the Socratic Method, and can’t critically think their way out of a paper bag.

        The Socratic method is supposed to be a way to encourage people to support an argument by challenging them on their methods and assumptions. It’s a crappy way to run a workplace.

        Reply
      2. A grad student

        True also for lots of PhDs (at least ones I know personally). While the program should theoretically teach to think critically, you can also just learn to passionately argue for whatever suits you at the time.

        Reply
    3. NJ Anon

      Agree 100% with all of this. I have a masters degree and never heard of Socratic method. Being a good manager means you know when a person just needs an answer to get something done and when additional training or coaching is required. Sometimes it is both. “Here’s the answer. Let’s set aside some time next week to go over it.”

      Reply
    4. Anonsie

      What is the pattern there? Is it a training issue? Or if you are expecting them to make decisions and they aren’t is it because they don’t feel you’ve truly empowered them to do that? There are many reasons why people come to managers with repeated questions. Don’t assume that it’s a critical thinking issue when it could be other things.

      I think this is the major issue here. The LW thinks her team needs critical thinking training, presumably because she believes they are not going to the correct conclusions. But do you think that might because… Their manager won’t just actually tell them what she wants or why?

      Reply
    5. Not So NewReader

      Yes, OP, you need to stop. I hope you have not been doing this for two years with the same people. If so, I would assume many of your people are looking for new jobs.

      Reply
  8. Dawn

    “Our workloads are high and we are quite busy.”

    So every minute you spend in Socratic teaching with them is a minute they could be using to do their work. If I was super busy and had a high workload and just needed to get a quick confirmation on something before getting it off my plate but instead my *grad school educated* boss wanted to play Dr. Professor at me for a half hour…

    Well, step one would be I’d probably think you were the worst boss ever and step two would be me actively looking for another job. If these “teaching moments” also meant I was having to work late to get stuff done then I would also actively hate your guts and probably dream about leaving dead fish in the air vents in your office. Not to mention additional ickyness if you, Dr. Professor Boss, are an older man and the employee being lectured to is a younger woman.

    There was a question a few weeks back from a just fresh out of college employee, who was a programmer (a job where learning how to fix things yourself is a must), who was getting the Socratic method from his/her boss and who was annoyed by it. However, in that situation it made sense because A- his/her workload wasn’t so high that the Socratic method was taking away from valuable work time, B- he/she was fresh out of college and absolutely at the right stage of his/her career to need addition education, and C- the profession in question is programming, where an employee absolutely needs to know how to solve their own problems and think things through instead of just being given the answer.

    Reply
    1. Maxwell Edison

      All of this. And the OP’s direct reports may well stop coming to him/her with questions, preferring to make mistakes rather than endure a 30-minute exploration of whether the deadline on the Lannister project can be pushed back.

      Reply
      1. AndersonDarling

        Seconded. I would start circumventing my manager whenever a situation arose that needed a solid, quick solution. And I’d be looking for a new job because I’d assume my manager doesn’t know how to…you know…manage.
        I was steaming just reading the OP’s question. I’m a grown up and know how to do my job. Having a strategic discussion with Mr. Rogers would drive me insane.

        Reply
    2. neverjaunty

      That letter didn’t even say that the boss was using the Socratic method – just that the employee was coming in with “how do I do this?” when a few minutes of problem-solving was the better way for the employee to figure it out.

      Reply
    3. Jen S. 2.0

      Right. In the previous scenario, the new young employee essentially was freaking out and running to the boss both before and instead of doing any independent problem-solving. We’re not sure that’s the case here.

      Reply
      1. Jen S. 2.0

        ETA: And, we’re also not sure in the current scenario whether these are questions where problem-solving techniques would be useful, which they were in the previous scenario. (Yes, problem-solving is always useful, but sometimes you can just say no.)

        Reply
    4. Not So NewReader

      “Well, step one would be I’d probably think you were the worst boss ever and step two would be me actively looking for another job.”

      I totally agree. I would assume that you did not understand how things are in the working world and since I cannot fix it, I must move on.

      Reply
  9. Kvaren

    Not having direct guidance can be frustrating. Please consider the context when they talk to you, and maybe step back and don’t make the assumption that it’s not because they don’t know what to do. They may just want to bounce things off of you and get your blessing.

    If my boss used the socratic method for all of my questions, it would drive me crazy. I don’t work inside the television show CSI, I work in a damn office. I’d feel like Pam Beesly but panicking because there’d be no camera around to give an exasperated look.

    Reply
    1. Annie Moose

      That’s when you pick a spot on the wall to pretend is the camera and give it the Look periodically. It helps. ;)

      Reply
    2. I@W

      +1
      I don’t know what the questions are or even what type of work this is, but possibly these questions are due, in part, to a lack of standards? I do project-based work as a consultant and I do ask lots of questions, and many of them seem pedantic. I rarely just ‘problem solve’ things myself unless I know the company standards and its politics and culture. What’s perfectly appropriate at one organization or work group is completely unacceptable at another.

      Reply
    3. Not So NewReader

      It’s a violation of trust. If you cannot trust your boss to give you a straight answer then all is lost.

      Bosses do many things. One of which is to make sure their employees know what is expected out of them, to the employee can REMAIN employed. If I cannot trust my boss to give me the info I need to know, then I cannot feel that my job is secure.

      Reply
  10. Blurgle

    I would feel demeaned by this manager. I would feel like she didn’t have my back. I would not see her as condescending but intensely, insanely contemptuous.

    Reply
    1. Jadelyn

      +1000

      Honestly, if I had a manager who responded like that to me bringing questions to her, my internal reaction would be essentially “Oh my GOD you useless walnut, do you think I’m a complete idiot and I don’t bother to look for answers on my own before coming to you?” It would feel patronizing as hell, and I would feel like you don’t trust me to know how to do my job.

      All this “Socratic” bs is going to end up doing is leaving you with staff who avoid you as much as possible, instead using valuable working time desperately Googling for answers on things they should’ve been able to expect you to help them with, because at least Google won’t condescend to them for not knowing something.

      Reply
  11. Not Gloria, A.A., B.S.

    I also think there’s a thin line between using the Socratic method and just being patronizing. “You can’t find your shoes? Well let’s think about where you took them off.”

    Reply
      1. The Other Beebs

        Exactly. I do this to my child all of the time and it makes her crazy, but that’s my job. My hope is to annoy her into doing the brain work herself without asking me first.

        Reply
      2. Kelly O

        I did laugh because I have a five year old and this is definitely something I relate to.

        You can’t find Twilight Sparkle? Okay, where did you have her last? And did you look on your bed? Let’s go look together. Oh look, there she is on your bed…

        Reply
      3. Not Gloria, A.A., B.S.

        And that’s the point. Using that tone with a seven year old is appropriate. Using it with your direct report or coworker makes them fantasize about pushing their thumbs into your eye sockets.

        Reply
        1. Anonsie

          Same. He’s brought this upon himself though, but literally never remembering where anything in the house is even though it’s always in the same place. He used to just ask me where things were rather than looking at all, which needed to be nipped in the bud.

          “Honey where are the bandaids?”
          “Where do we usually keep the bandaids?”
          “…In the first aid kit in the bathroom?”
          “Yes.”
          “So they’re in the first aid kit in the bathroom?”
          “I don’t know, do you think that makes sense?”
          [SO frustratedly goes to the bathroom to check for himself]

          Reply
          1. neverjaunty

            Alternative method for nipping this in the bud: pretend your SO is quizzing you. (It’s a little aggressive, but it helped in those moments where Mr. Jaunty forgot that I do not in fact have an Uterus-Related Everything In The House Tracking Device.)

            “Honey, where are the band-aids?”

            “Huh. You know, I’m not sure. Okay, I give up – where ARE the band-aids?”

            Reply
            1. Anonsie

              but it helped in those moments where Mr. Jaunty forgot that I do not in fact have an Uterus-Related Everything In The House Tracking Device. Can you come over and convince Mr. Anonsie I don’t have one of those, either?

              That’s basically what I do in the end, I’ll rarely confirm anything is anywhere. Just, where do you think it should be? Well, you better try looking there then, because I’m over here busy with not doing everything for you all the time. If it ain’t there then I guess you gotta keep looking. Sorry not sorry.

              Reply
              1. neverjaunty

                YMMV, but I’m a big fan of escalating bluntness when somebody’s that clueless. “Stop assuming I know where everything in the house is, and it’s my job to tell you where it is without your bothering to look.” *goes back to book, ignores further questions*

                Reply
                1. Anonsie

                  I’m a pretty blunt person, but I’ve definitely lost track of how many times I’ve told him “look for it yourself” and ignored him without any results.

          2. ThursdaysGeek

            My least favorite: “Are the dishes in the dishwasher clean?”

            Why don’t you look!? In order to answer that question, I’ll have to look, so you could just look instead of asking me. If I were the only person in the house, I’m sure I’d know, but since we’re all capable of emptying the clean dishes, loading the dishwasher with dirty, and starting it, the status could have changed since the last time I touched it.

            No, even less favorite is when I’m not asked, and a dirty dish is quickly added to the clean dishes, without looking. Yeah, perhaps I’d rather you’d asked.

            Reply
            1. Ad Astra

              When I lived with my in-laws, they had this weird system where the dishwasher was supposed to be left slightly open to signify “These are clean, but I opened the dishwasher to grab a plate so the little green light turned off.” But nobody told me about this system, and I’ve never had a dishwasher with a little green light to indicate clean dishes, so I routinely grabbed a plate and then shut the dishwasher again — causing a great deal of confusion.

              Really, I think every household should just invest in one of those “clean/dirty” magnets.

              Reply
            2. Anonsie

              My least favorite is when he complains that I haven’t done the laundry when in reality I’ve done all the laundry and he just couldn’t be bothered to look through the bin full of clean clothes I gave him to put away to find more socks [or whatever he’s looking for]. Because the laundry is mine in the division of chores, if socks don’t magically appear in his closet then surely the fault must be mine. I’ve questioned him to think of the clean clothes bin I’ve given him and he’ll be like, oh, there’s socks in there? So it’s not even that he forgot about the bin, but that he can’t even look in it himself.

              Reply
            3. Kristina L

              I ended up taking a coaster, putting tape on both sides and writing “dirty” on one side and “clean” on the other – makes it much easier, as long as everyone remembers to flip the coaster.

              Reply
          3. knitcrazybooknut

            There’s something called learned helplessness that I’ve experienced with my brother and past boyfriends. If you are raised in an environment that allows you to walk into a room and ask “Where are my socks?” and the answer is given unto you, you will continue to use this as The One True Way to Find Things throughout the rest of your life. Until someone calls you on it, which may never, ever, ever happen if your partner doesn’t want to spend the time and energy it would take to retrain you. And if you have a vested interest in not being retrained, you can make it difficult and uncomfortable to retrain you (e.g., break a dish every time you’re asked to wash dishes, etc.).

            Reply
            1. neverjaunty

              That’s not learned helpnessness. That’s just being selfish and lazy.

              (Learned helplessness is when, say, you have a boss who yells at you for taking initiative and yells at you if you ask her opinion, so after a while you just do nothing because you can’t win.)

              Reply
            2. F.

              That’s why divorce was created. Been there, done that, got the grey hairs to prove it. Mommy made sure ex-hubby never had to lift a finger. So effin frustrating!

              Reply
              1. Anonsie

                That’s why divorce was created.

                *snortlaugh*

                Most of them don’t show this “why won’t you be my mommy” business until you hit some major milestone (married, moved in together, baby is born something like that) at which they decide you’re the woman of the house now and this shit is your job. Not to be dramatic but I do have a limited amount of patience for him getting his shit together and at some point it’s going to run out entirely and that’s gonna be that. As much as you do have to learn how to live with someone, there is a limit.

                Reply
            3. Anonsie

              I find many men* seem to think they can coast over from mommy to wifey, and once you’ve got a woman in the house it’s Their Job to do everything during home hours– including thinking and knowing things.

              *I only date men so I cannot comment on the variety of laziness most common in women. I think we’re mostly garden variety slobs, though.

              Reply
            4. Mallory Janis Ian

              I’ve spent the last couple of years reducing the amount of household services (such as finding things, making all the meals, doing all the kitchen cleaning, etc.) that I offer, and it has been exponentially harder to wean my husband than it has the kids. The kids just accept the reduced helpfulness as the new normal, but my husband clung and clung to the old ways. It has been a hard row to hoe, but now that it has finally taken effect, it has been worth all the angst and trouble.

              Reply
      4. BananaPants

        I do this with the 5 year old every day! I’d find it highly inappropriate for one college-educated adult to be using with another college-educated adult in a management context in the workplace.

        Reply
    1. OwnedByTheCat (formerly Anony-Moose)

      Or me and my fiance because I can never find my keys and they are 100% always in my purse.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        I have two sets of keys for this reason. One set stays in Definite Location. The set I use has a clip on them. I clip them to my purse, my belt loop, my tote bag and so on. If I did not do this, I would lose huge amounts of time looking for my keys.

        Reply
  12. boop

    15-30 minutes seems pretty excessive. I imagine it would also be pretty difficult to lean back and engage in this process without accidentally (?) coming off as if you’re just prolonging the superiority you have over someone who is struggling with a thing you find so easy.

    My history is terrible, but I vaguely remember that Socrates wasn’t very well-liked for his methods.

    Reply
    1. Not me

      That’s one way to put it!

      I also think 15-30 minutes sounds like too much. If they’re working on anything time-sensitive, that’s going to be a problem. Not a good time for a lesson, or for, like boop said, watching someone struggle with something you find easy.

      Reply
    2. Kat

      I work in PR which tends to be very fast-paced, with sometimes needing to respond to a crisis within an hour

      If my boss tried to “coach” me with the Socratic method for 30 minutes, I would quit on the spot. No exaggeration, that’s just ridiculous. When your department is stressed and busy, you want to make the life of your team easier, not harder.

      Reply
    3. AnonInSC

      Another aspect to consider is that they will stop coming to you (and likely already avoid coming to you) with questions if they think they are losing valuable work time in doing so. So it’s likely they are coming to you when they are already frustrated, which doesn’t help how they perceive the interaction.

      They also may be wondering why you aren’t as busy as they are if you have time to drag things out. I understand you are approaching it as a necessary requirement to help them grow as their manager – I’m just trying to think at what may be behind some of the feedback you’re getting.

      Reply
      1. Kfish

        Also, Socrates KNEW he was being a jerk. When the 500 Athenians voted to poison him (I think the vote was 280 to 220) he commented that he was surprised the margin was that narrow. He called himself the gadfly to sting the people of Athens into action.

        Reply
    4. neverjaunty

      Also keep in mind that the Socratic method comes from our impression of Socrates as described in Plato’s fanfic about him.

      Reply
          1. Anna

            My friend does a fanfic panel at a nearby convention every year. I’m so suggesting this as a topic. (Sometimes she reads already written fanfic; sometimes she has people write intentionally bad fanfic to read.)

            Reply
      1. Velociraptor Attack

        I love you for this comment.

        One of my favorite professors taught Political Philosophy and Ethics so I frequently liked to joke around with him about my theory that he completely invented not just Atlantis, but also Socrates. Luckily for me, he appreciated the good natured ribbing.

        Reply
  13. Allison

    I agree with AAM, it’s good to occasionally help people think through a tough problem, but I had a manager who did this when I really wanted to make sure I was doing things the way he wanted them done, and when he used the Socratic method with me it felt like a mind game.

    For example, one day I was working through a tricky task that I knew he wanted me to finish before I left for the day, but there was a team party that afternoon and I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish the task by the usual end of the day if I went to the party; I worried that by not going to the party it would seem like I wasn’t a team player, but if I went to the party and then stayed late to finish the task it would look like I couldn’t manage my time or prioritize work well enough. So I asked my manager what he’d prefer I do, and he kept asking “well, what do *you* think you should do?” and it felt like a mind game! I just wanted us to be on the same page and I wanted to know, if he had a preference, what that preference was so I wouldn’t disappoint him by choosing wrong, and it felt like he was testing me instead of clarifying his expectations.

    People do develop their skills and develop new ones with each job, but when you’re working, you have a job that needs to get done, and most of the time people ask a question, they’re just want to make sure they’re doing it right. Not everything needs to be used as a learning lesson.

    Reply
    1. Ad Astra

      Oh, I can so relate to the party thing. I had a boss who always wanted to start at the veeeery beginning of every problem I brought to him, as if I hadn’t considered any possible solutions or weighed any of the options. And he had a nasty habit of not really letting me talk, so trying to walk him through my process and catch him up felt almost impossible.

      Reply
    2. M-C

      I too had a problem with a coworker who’d want to start at the very beginning of any problem I wanted to discuss with her, as if I’d come and bug her if I hadn’t already been banging my head on this for days (now let’s see, what is the alphabet, and can you read?). I read something very helpful about different expectations of what ‘help’ means in different cultures (Robin Lakoff if you’re curious) and calmed down :-). But I also learned never to ask her for help, or only very indirectly..

      Reply
  14. Snarkus Aurelius

    Do you want to be right or do you want to be productive?  Because you’re not going to get both in this situation.  

    More importantly, how are you being evaluated?  Are you being evaluated on your ability to “teach” your staff via the Socratic method or your ability to effectively manage a team that will have outstanding productivity?  It sounds like you’re being evaluated on the latter, and you’re failing.

    I get it.  Critical thinking skills are good, but they don’t come to everyone naturally and, as AAM said, it’s probably not what they signed up for.  Even if it was, you need to make sure you’re right person to be doing that and the employees know that too.  That doesn’t sound like what’s happening here.

    Finally, there’s a time and place for everything.  If your staff are working on a time sensitive, high stakes project, losing 15-30 minutes playing 20 Questions can not only waste someone’s time but drive him/her to frustration when they need to get things done.

    If you want to be a good manager, you need to adjust your style to the people and the situation  to get the best results not the other way around.

    Reply
  15. Violet Fox

    I would honestly find it belittling to be coached this way by a manager. Rather then feeling like they have my back and trust me to have the competence to do my job, I would feel like they were talking down to me, not to mention not exactly using my work time well, to put it mildly, if I had a heavy workload.

    Maybe rather then trying to be pedantic with them, keep track of what sort of issues they keep on asking you about, and maybe work on some training, or better documentation if you keep on being asked about the same sort of things over and over again.

    Out in the world world, most things are not a “teachable moment”.

    Reply
        1. Violet Fox

          The funny thing is that I work in IT staff in academia, and no one does that Socratic method stuff anywhere outside of select classrooms. :)

          When I ask my team leader a question on how to do something, I get an answer, if he has one, and if it is something that I might not do often, or a bit complex at all, documentation in an email, so I can reference it again if I need to. When I ask our boss something I get an answer very quickly, and can go back to doing my job, but then again he trusts me to actually do my job.

          Within my team, we look at things that our users ask us often about our services, and what we ask each other a lot, and keep up documentation. Then again my team also all sits in the same office so we just talk to each other to make sure we all know what is going on.

          I like “world world” though, probably best autocorrect fail in a long time.

          Reply
    1. aebhel

      Better training and documentation seem like a much better idea. Or even just tell them ‘look, this is something you need to be able to work out for yourself’. It gets at the same issue with them coming to you with things they should already know the answer to (if that’s what’s actually happening) without being patronizing.

      Reply
  16. katamia

    It’s really easy to come off as condescending when doing this. Can you try it with a friend or family member, someone who will be honest with you, and see if they think you’re coming off as condescending? Also, I have no post-grad education and yet heavily encountered the Socratic method in my schooling starting in elementary school. Don’t make this about how much education you have versus how much they have. That will make things worse, especially since there are many factors beyond intelligence that determine whether or not somebody goes to graduate school and beyond.

    As someone who likes to try to solve problems on her own first, I would definitely find it frustrating if I spent awhile trying to solve a problem, came up with nothing, and then had to go through your entire process, especially when I was busy. If they’re like me, you may be asking them things they’ve already thought about, which would certainly add to their frustration.

    Not everyone learns and thinks the same way. The Socratic method works really well for some people (you’re clearly one of them, OP) but not so well for other people. If you really want to coach them and if that coaching would be welcomed by your reports, look into expanding your methods. You’ve gotten pretty clear feedback that, for at least some of your employees, what you’re doing isn’t working.

    Reply
    1. Kelly O

      It’s sort of like calling a technical support hotline. You can’t just say “look, I am a reasonable adult. It is plugged in, I have turned it off and turned it back on. It is not currently on fire, can you just give me a return authorization/send out a tech/send me on to level two, please?”

      Reply
      1. Hlyssande

        Yeah, that! No matter how much you say that it’s all plugged in, you’ve restarted it, verified that the settings are correct, updated drivers and bios, etc, they make you go through every single step in the script as you get more and more frustrated. That’s what this type of “coaching” feels like.

        Reply
        1. Liane

          Yes, except that you can get away easier with* getting sharptongued with Level 1 Tech support than your boss.

          *although it is rude, jerky, unprofessional…

          Reply
          1. Kelly O

            Full disclosure : Married to an IT help desk person so I guess I default to that. He worked from home for a long time, so I heard the questions a lot.

            Reply
        2. neverjaunty

          That’s because a lot of people say “yeah yeah of course I did that” and… they didn’t, they just assume they did. It frustrates me too, but I get why they do it.

          Reply
      2. Oryx

        Um, actually I have said all of that before. Politely, of course, but I’m not going to sit through there script if I don’t have to.

        Reply
      3. Collarbone High

        I so wish my ISP had an option for “press 1 if you’ve already rebooted your modem and verified that it’s plugged in.”

        Last week we went through the 80 “have you ever seen a computer before” questions only for the tech to discover that when a different tech buried the phone line, he severed it. Which — fun fact — will indeed cause your Internet to go out.

        Reply
  17. the gold digger

    I had a boss who did this and I hated it. I finally asked him to stop, telling him that if I was asking him, it was because I had exhausted every other possible avenue to getting the answer. I am not a stupid person who does not know how to think or find answers and I am not a student of my boss. If I am going to interrupt my boss, I want to be efficient with my time and with his.

    Reply
    1. Sandy

      Ditto. I had a boss who would do this, and it drove me crazy. I finally wound up having a very frank conversation with him and saying “by the time I have come to you, it’s because I have already exhausted every option available to me that doesn’t require your input or pre-approval.”

      I wish I could say it was a magic bullet. It wasn’t, but the blunt talk did make me feel better and the frequency of his Socratic moments went down.

      Reply
    2. hamster

      Yes, but perhaps you asked the different questions.
      Sincerely , sometimes people ask me anwers that also take me 30 minutes to get. I get they wasted 30 minutes on it, so I want us to search TOGHETHER for the answer, because next time i hope they will ask better question and find their own reasoning. It’s not condescending if done right. I would say . I would start with , have you tried that?
      Give them at least an avenue of thinking
      But op, what does your boss think?

      Reply
      1. the gold digger

        I can tell you that there is not one single question I would have asked my former boss to which I would have answered, “No” to his question of me, “Have y0u tried this?”

        Again. Not a stupid, lazy person here. I hate asking for help, so if I am asking, it is my last resort.

        Reply
        1. hamster

          Okay, so what did the boss tell you that you coudn’t find out? Where was the hidden source of knowlege?
          I mean if people ask you so many questions you need to improve your documentation / make sure people acess all the data.
          Asking for help is not stupid/lazy. I do like when someone asks me for help instead of wasting a day when the situation calls for it. I never feel bad about asking. I mean if i exhaused all my avenues i m either looking at the window wasting my time or perturbing someone else but at least moving forward. I don’t know why this is such a drama relating to asking. IF you asked, and know you know. BAM instant knowledge update.

          Reply
          1. hamster

            Re-reading everythign i feel like maybe i am avoiding to be used as a voicing documentary. I have no issue if someone asks me to share my non-documented knowledge/experience/suggestions.

            Reply
          2. the gold digger

            The drama comes from your insinuation that rather than try to find the answer myself, I have taken a shortcut to my boss.

            If I do ask my boss, it is because I truly do not have the answer and do not know where to find it, so even if he tried to Socrate the answer out of me, I WOULD NOT HAVE IT.

            Reply
            1. hamster

              really not insinuating that. Just trying to say that context matters. When i leave a case in progress( such as going on vacation or something) . I specifically include .I SEARCHED ON -keywords in ( documents/manuals/google whatever) i think thought of … keywords but dismissed because… so the other pearson doesn’t have to waste time redoing my research. Maybe OP is feeling burdened with questions she feels they might need to answer on their own, but this is a performance issue not a socrate issue. But then again, i m not at all emotional in the workplace , i had some pretty tough experiences and these days i m floating in a bubble of facts aka I just don’t care that much about what other people think of me so i always assume good intention. Or my personal favourite for condescending bullies ( oh, he is probably really insecure if he needs to prove he’s always the smart one) , take my info and move on to my life. But FYI when i go to a MUCH SMARTER PERSON with a question, and he answers me , i always appreciate an explanation, not just the answer. I many times proactively asked HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT? HOW DID YOU FIND ABOUT THAT? HOW ON EARTH ONE WENTS ON TO BECOME SUCH WISE GODESS ?

              Reply
              1. Not So NewReader

                If OP feels burdened by too many questions, she is doing something to cause that. Bare bones, she is doing nothing to figure out why people have so many questions. I would expect that at least part of the problem is inadequate training. Another answer might be is that people have no idea what she expects of them.

                Reply
              2. Sarah

                They became a wise goddess by having their questions answered immediately, so they could ask more questions and gain more knowledge.

                Reply
      2. Blurgle

        Or perhaps they just want you to give them the freaking answer already so they can get back to work.

        It’s almost always condescending and supercilious.

        Reply
  18. Not me

    When they ask questions, do they tell you how they have already tried to solve the problem for themselves? Or do you ask about this?

    This might not relate to you at all, but usually when I bring up a question with a manager, it’s because I’ve already hit a wall repeatedly. So the Socratic method in response feels condescending. It also makes me wonder if they simply don’t know the answer.

    Reply
  19. Roscoe

    Yeah, this does come across kind of condescending. I have a post grad degree too, and I’d be annoyed by this as well, so its not just people with “only” a bachelors degree. If you know they have a high workload, it does seem like a waste of time to make them take 15-30 minutes to work through something that you could have told them in 10 seconds. Thats not the time to work on their problem solving skills, unless you are going to also cut back on their workload. If your method of managing isn’t working for your entire staff (and your previous staff by the sounds of it) maybe you need to work on learning better management techniques as opposed to teaching them more problem solving skills. I’m sure you mean well, but there is a time and place for these things.

    Reply
  20. Artemesia

    This goes back to something Alison talked about a few days ago about getting people to explore potential answers and solutions rather than just being dependent on the boss for answers. But you have to tell the individuals when you coach that that is your goal. So the advice to ‘think about it and come back in a couple of hours with potential approaches’ can be used when appropriate.

    But 20 questions or the ‘socratic method’ comes across as extremely condescending if you are not careful and fairly annoying most of the time. If your message is ‘I need you to explore options before running to me’ then you need to say that and one way is ‘Can you tell me the alternatives you have already explored here?’ Otherwise, answer the damn question already.

    Reply
  21. AdAgencyChick

    My last manager f**king LOVED the Socratic method and it is a major reason that I went “bye, Felicia” and got myself a new gig.

    I consider myself an intellectually curious person and I do try to bring solutions rather than just problems at work. But if my manager already has a different idea in mind, I would rather she just tell me what that is instead of making me guess. Worse, this manager would keep asking questions about minutiae that had no bearing on how we would actually attack the problem, and then decide we were “light on our knowledge” because we couldn’t immediately answer all of her questions.

    AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT.

    Reply
    1. Blurgle

      Oh, this.

      LW, your staff are not feeling as if they’re being taught. They’re feeling as if you’re contemptuously making the stupid little inferiors jump through hoops until – tee hee – they finally get “the answer”.

      Which is most likely not the only possible answer; it’s only the answer YOU want.

      Shrimp in the curtain rods.

      Reply
      1. AdAgencyChick

        That is EXACTLY how I felt — like my boss thought I was dumb. I have been in the business long enough to know that, although I have many flaws, they are on the emotional intelligence side, not the intelligence-intelligence side. So I just quietly plotted a) how to drop-kick her out the nearest window, and b) what my next job was going to be. But I feel really bad for the more junior employees who had to take this shiz from her. (Significantly, of a staff of 7 that she started with when she was hired, only two remain — the rest have quit.)

        And BTW, so that this isn’t a total pile-on on LW, who may very well be right that her staff needs to be better at thinking through a problem:

        In the LW’s shoes, I would first give my answer to the problem, so that the immediate problem is solved. And then, afterward, in a 1:1 (i.e., not in front of any other staff), I would talk about how in that situation, I would have liked to see the employee consider X, Y, and Z, and that I’d like to see her ask similarly hard questions of herself when attacking this kind of problem in the future.

        Reply
  22. Temperance

    If your team is overextended, I think it makes sense to just give them the answer or tell them where to find it. I hate the Socratic method, personally, after law school, but at least it made sense there.

    I used to work with someone who was quite lazy and didn’t retain information well, so I just kept redirecting him back to the manual when he’d ask me the same question 5 times in one week. (It was always about how to handle processes, which he should have learned. He just didn’t retain information well and knew that I did.)

    Reply
    1. JessaB

      Yes but in your case you actually have a record of the same types of questions being asked over and over. The OP here has not at least in the text of the letter said this is the case. You actually do have a reason to sit lazy down and say “okay we’re going to work through steps for resolution of your questions and you’re going to write them down, and next time I’m going to say look at your notes. We’re not going forward with this behaviour and if we do, we may need to talk PIP. This is a job requirement here.”

      Reply
  23. insert pun here

    I think it really, really depends on what kind of problems and concerns we are talking about here. Things like “minor exceptions to established routine, should I do a or b?” where neither a nor b has a huge impact on your business: just give an answer and maybe an explanation. But if your staff is working through complex problems with complicated interpersonal dynamics or political components or possible repercussions down the line, I think it’s appropriate to dig a little deeper.

    That said, if these are things for which the staff should know the answer, and they keep coming to you with questions about it, I don’t actually have a lot of sympathy for their complaints about the manner in which the answer is given.

    Reply
    1. Observer

      That said, if these are things for which the staff should know the answer, and they keep coming to you with questions about it, I don’t actually have a lot of sympathy for their complaints about the manner in which the answer is given.

      And I have even less sympathy for the boss. If this is happening, the clearly the socratic method (or whatever it is she is actually doing) is not working. This is where good management comes in. It’s time to say to the person or group, as appropriate, “I keep on getting the same questions on processes and decisions that you should be able to manage yourself. What’s keeping you back and / or this is what we are going to do about it.”

      Also, if going through this type of process is really appropriate, then you also need to tell people what you are doing. Something like “This is something you are going to come up against on a regular basis, so I’m going to take you through the process.” This way the person knows to pay attention to the questions that are being asked, not just the answers they get.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        That’s a good point–if this is genuinely a problem with their work methods, it’s too elliptical an address of the problem.

        Reply
    2. aebhel

      If it was one person, I’d agree with you. But when your *entire staff* is doing that, maybe you need to re-evaluate what you think they should know.

      Reply
  24. LawBee

    omg the Socratic method is TERRIBLE. I had immediate law school flashbacks to the three professors who actually still used it, and all it did is stress people out and make us hate them.

    “Sometimes they are quite far off and we end up spending 15-30 minutes fleshing it out. ”
    At this point, just tell them the answer! half an hour working something out together is probably not a great use of time for you or them, and it’s so irritating.

    Reply
  25. Ad Astra

    In addition to the good advice already being offered, I have this suggestion: If you’re not keen on just giving them the answer, consider pointing them in the right direction. Instead of saying “The answer is 37,” tell them to check the Chocolate Teapot Statutes and let them find the answer there. It’s a whole lot less frustrating than a Socratic interrogation, but it still requires the employee to do the legwork.

    Reply
    1. Doriana Gray

      This. So much. Just tell me where to go, and I can find the answer myself from there. That’s all I ever ask my manager, but of course, she prefers playing games instead of giving guidance.

      Reply
    2. CADMonkey007

      Yes, I usually formulate my questions for the boss into yes/no questions or do you have a preference between A or B. If it’s open ended, I might ask a recommendation for a particular resource to point me in the right direction.

      If I still get a run around, i assume the real answer is “I don’t know.”

      Which, BTW, is a totally acceptable answer! I’m not sure why so many managers are afraid of that phrase!

      Reply
  26. Three Thousand

    As someone who teaches for a living and uses the Socratic method to great effect, you really need to stop doing this, especially if, as others pointed out, you’re “teaching” them the answers to situation-specific questions such as when a particular client deadline is. If it were a case of new employees needing to be taught transferable skills related to doing their jobs, such as programming, teaching them how to find the answers would make sense, but not in pretty much any other format.

    Reply
  27. Katie the Fed

    This post evokes a visceral reaction in me like few I ever read here. I know you mean well, but I would rather chew off my own arm than sit through 15-30 MINUTES of this, especially when I have a heavy workload. What you’ll quickly find is that your employees would rather do things wrong than come to you with questions, and that’s bad.

    So yeah, you’ve got to stop this. There’s a big difference between helping people learn to take initiative and problem solve, and subjecting them to 15-30 minutes of socratic method. And the fact that you’re having to keep doing it so much tells me that it’s not working in improving their critical thinking skills.

    I would start actually giving them the answer sometime, and also make sure they know how to find the answer. You can try “what else have you tried to solve this before you came to me” but then leave it at that. And keep in mind the context – the time for those discussions is not when your employees have a heavy workload and short deadlines.

    Thanks for at least realizing there’s a problem, a lot of people wouldn’t. Be grateful for the people who gave you that feedback – it’s really valuable.

    Reply
    1. LawBee

      “This post evokes a visceral reaction in me like few I ever read here.”

      I saw the subject on my Twitter feed, and it literally felt like a sock in the stomach. That’s how much I hate this kind of teaching.

      Reply
        1. Vin packer

          Right–and the fact that OP’s employees came to her and talked to her about it instead of just resentfully trying to work around her suggests that her relationship with them could be pretty decent despite this habit, which is another good sign.

          Reply
          1. Doriana Gray

            Yup, because no one on my team has told my manager to stop doing it (we’ll get our heads lopped off if we do), and most of us are/were actively job searching. OP, please take this advice to heart and make a change for the better – you still have a salvageable thing going on here.

            Reply
      1. neverjaunty

        I don’t have a problem with this kind of teaching – at least when it’s done by people who intend to teach, rather than as intellectual posturing – but it’s appropriate to specific situations, and “helping staff problem-solve” is not one of them.

        Reply
    2. J.B.

      I have a manager who insists on the socratic method all the time. If I’m coming to him, I have already assessed the situation and am usually trying to make a specific recommendation that is his call. Like “situation a, management decision to be made, my recommendation is b for reasons c, d and e.” Instead of trusting my judgement even the teeniest bit, he starts in on x y and z and comes back to b 20 minutes later. It’s frustrating.

      Thanks indeed for asking this question and thinking through your responses.

      Reply
    3. Kvaren

      “I would rather chew off my own arm than sit through 15-30 MINUTES of this, especially when I have a heavy workload”.

      I’d seriously consider getting a dummy to sit in my place like Pee-Wee did to Dinah Shore in his Christmas special.

      Reply
    4. Shannon

      You said this a lot nicer than I would have.

      My main problem with using the Socratic method in the work place is that the underlying message is that you should all ready know the answer and that you are being a pest to your boss. Maybe not everyone takes that message out of it, but, I do.

      If you are routinely seeing the same problem or related problems arise, answer the question, then, when the employee isn’t stressed about having this problem to solve, conduct training on the problem.

      Reply
      1. moss

        the underlying message is that you should all ready know the answer and that you are being a pest to your boss
        I agree with this. And it’s a horrible experience as a subordinate.

        Reply
    5. Not the Droid You are Looking For

      You can try “what else have you tried to solve this before you came to me” but then leave it at that.

      I used to have a really young staff that would encounter a roadblock and immediately come running to my office. In my efforts to empower them, I would resist giving the answer and say, “what have you tried?” because quite often the answer was nothing. Typically, the thing they needed from me was a point in the right direction, encouragement that they would work it, and that if they still needed support I was available.

      After the first few times, and as they got more comfortable in their roles, I noticed that when they were coming to me it was because they had worked on it and couldn’t get past the roadblock, or it was something that was incredibly time sensitive or truly need a department heads’ help to move forward.

      It was also great hearing my team say, “I just need a fresh perspective, can we kick around ideas for half an hour” when they couldn’t find a creative solution.

      Reply
      1. Jubilance

        Yeah, I’m known for going to teammates or my manager and just saying “I just want to think through this, can I pick your brain?”. There’s a difference between needing an immediate answer because you have a roadblock, and wanting to take the time to walk through a problem with someone and solicit ideas/feedback.

        Reply
    6. Development professional

      “the fact that you’re having to keep doing it so much tells me that it’s not working in improving their critical thinking skills.” – Katie is once again right, and I was coming here to say the same thing. Just because you think this method of coaching *should* work doesn’t mean that it *is* working.

      What do you actually need to change about their behavior? Are they asking you too many questions and taking up too much of your time? This time-intensive coaching technique seems to indicate not, but if that’s the problem, think about how you’re going to solve THAT. Can you provide more detailed instruction or information up front?

      If you want them to be able to move past these questions in order to eventually move on to solving higher level problems, then figure out how to solve THAT, and involve them in the technique you develop. Would it help to have them spend more time codifying their knowledge and procedures to refer back to later? Share more information amongst each other so each team member benefits from what the others have learned? Do you need some dedicated training sessions to perfect simpler tasks so they can move on to the more complex ones?

      If your goal is really coaching, think about what you need to coach on and why, first. Only then will you be able to effectively work out a technique for coaching that will work for both you and your team.

      Reply
    7. LizB

      Ditto on the visceral reaction. I’ve tried three times now to write a comment that isn’t too harsh, but the thought of being “coached” through every single question I ask, likely in a way that feels super condescending, when I’m already struggling with a heavy workload is making me want to scream. OP, you have to stop this. You know your team hates it, and it obviously isn’t getting the results you want, because you haven’t seen any improvements. Please, please, stop.

      Reply
    8. the_scientist

      OMG THIS. I could feel my stomach clenching as I was reading this letter. I understand that sometimes people do need to be encouraged/told to seek out possible solutions on their own so they aren’t running to the boss with every little problem that comes up, but I feel like the Socratic method is not the way to encourage that. I agree with others that this type of interaction is usually incredibly condescending. I actually have a job where I do need to spend a lot of time tossing ideas back and forth with other people- what is this data showing us? How might the roll-out of some campaign or initiative be affecting our numbers? I love that sort of thing and I find it incredibly intellectually stimulating, but it’s not the same as the Socratic method.

      Also, my grad school supervisor did this with me ALL THE TIME and while I hated it, I will begrudgingly admit that it was extremely effective. So there’s definitely a place for it.

      Reply
    9. Not So NewReader

      Thank you for saying this. I saw the caption and I said to myself, “oh, boy, the commenters are going to have a field day here.” I had that same knot in the gut reaction. These types of bosses drive up health care costs because of the synthetic stress levels they create. I say synthetic because there is no need, it’s fake stress. The computer catches fire by accident, that is real stress. Playing guessing games is adding stress that is totally unnecessary.

      Reply
  28. Murphy

    I have a boss who does this. Sometimes it’s fine and it does help me to draw connections I might otherwise not have done, but sometimes his tone makes it feel incredibly condescending and patronizing and in those instances I want to kick him in the shins. Tone matters for a lot here. I would caution you to think about how you’re questioning is making people feel about themselves. If you’re always playing professor then it can make people feel dumb and inferior very, very quickly.

    And in worse case scenarios it can come across as a cat with a mouse, enjoying watching people squirm. I’m sure that’s not your intention, but to someone who’s already feeling down about themselves, it’s not a hard leap to make (I had another boss like this and shin kicking was the least of what I wanted to do to him).

    Good luck!

    Reply
    1. hamster

      Why ? Both my boss and mentor do this to me and i find it enlightening not condescending. Actually at the beginingg if they would just tell me the answer it would have been pointless.
      Sometimes yes, i ask from your know-how of x ( which they have and i don’t ) how do you think i should do y? And they tell me, but then they give me supporting evidence also so then i know also a little of x .
      Basically i feel stupid for asking only once. Then i know :)

      Reply
      1. Kelly L.

        A lot of it is tone–I’m sure it can be done well, but you’d have to be really good at it and nail the tone. Otherwise it sounds either condescending or like game playing.

        Also, situational awareness–knowing when there’s enough time to play games and when it’s just time to put out the fire and analyze later.

        Reply
        1. hamster

          Ouch , playing games part sounds crappy.
          I mean. if people come to me . OMG X client has this HUGE issue , XDSDFFD iz down, what to do . I say honestly have you checked a, b , c , d? If yes do de e f g otherwise let me take a look. I wouldn’t play games. If they do tell me . I did check but i don’t get it. I need help analyzing this piece of info.. HEll i do tell them what i know. I just make sure I’m not training them to use me as a voice-activated-manual

          Reply
          1. the gold digger

            Again. That is so condescending. Sure, maybe the people who work for you are lazy and are using you as a voice-activated manual, but I am neither stupid nor lazy. If I am asking, it’s not because I have not bothered to look for myself.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              But hamster isn’t saying they’re stupid or lazy. She’s just saying she’s asked if they’ve checked stuff. That’s not something an employee should take umbrage at, any more than it’s sensible to take umbrage when IT asks if you’ve checked that it’s plugged in–it’s because most of the time that’s going to be the problem, and it doesn’t make sense to spend time exploring until it’s confirmed that it’s not.

              Reply
              1. the gold digger

                I can take umbrage if I have proven myself to be resourceful in the past. If my boss has never once had me answer, “Why no! I DIDN’T think of that totally obvious solution,” then he can ask if I checked. But if I rarely go to him and when I do, I have already checked every avenue he suggests, then yes, I will umbre. Or whatever the verb is.

                Reply
                1. fposte

                  If there’s a larger context, fine. But in general, if you don’t tell me what you’ve checked, I’m going to ask you what you’ve checked, and I’m going to expect you to accept that reasonably.

                2. hamster

                  I did not insuate you or in general the persion asking is in any way stupid/lazy/unresourcefoul . However experience/etc may make that the bosss has ideeas of resources the person asking has not. It doesn’t have to obvious and of course asking is not a bad ideea. I mean 5 seconds asking – did you think of zebras? you say, yes, nope not zebras. Are totally better than letting the person take that into account and re-do your investigation. I mean my policy for questions is : I am having X Y Z issue and i have checked ( kfjdfvjdf and o;fljgfdl and fdgrt and it’s not lfkj) So the other person doesn’t have to think at the same things. I m just saying tone/bad associations/misplaced pride can really ruin a on-to-the-point-let’s-fix something discussion.
                  Even an very experienced /resourceful person can have an issue that they just didn’t encounter before and the problem doesn’t have a handle so you don’t know how to tacke it .

          2. Kelly L.

            I had a boyfriend once who always wanted his anecdotes to be teased out of him. He couldn’t say “I went to the store and saw Mary.” It was always “You’ll never guess who I saw at the store today. No, really, guess! It’s someone with red hair. Someone you know from college. Oh, come on, guess!” for all eternity. Obviously not the same situation, but when I imagine the same sense of frustration, and add in a boss/employee power dynamic where I don’t feel like I can just roll my eyes and tell the asker to knock it off, yuck.

            Reply
            1. DeskFrog

              Is that why you broke up? Because that seems like a totally reasonable reason to break up. I know people who are like that but i can’t imagine being around them ALL the time. I would probably snap and yell “JUST TELL ME!” eventually. My husband sometimes uses these big dramatic pauses when telling a story and it drives me crazy.

              Reply
            2. Shannon

              My husband used to do that with songs playing on the radio. “Guess which artist sung this song! You know, they were also in a band with another artist you like! Just listen to a little bit more of the song and see if it comes to you.” I played a long for a while, then one day, I just snapped the f out on him. We eventually reached a compromise where he didn’t press any more after I said, “I don’t know,” and I didn’t murder him in his sleep.

              Reply
              1. Kelly L.

                OMG, this same guy would do this with classical music. Guess the composer. I didn’t know, and honestly, didn’t care. He’d get annoyed if I didn’t play along, or if my guesses weren’t at least in the same general time period and artistic movement.

                Reply
                1. Shannon

                  My husband also used to get annoyed, especially when he started saying, “Guess who this is! It’s the greatest band ever!” and I’d come back with “The BeeGees? Blondie?” He’d die a little inside, because he hates disco.

                  I’m with you, I could give a rat’s behind about who sung a song. I’ve still never been able to figure out why knowing who sung what is so important to my husband, it’s not like he’s really into music or anything. Maybe he thinks he’s getting his cool card punched for knowing every 70’s rock band?

              2. Dr. Johnny Fever

                My husband and I will pass something new, like a building going up, and he’ll start asking me questions. “Hey, what’s that? Is it a pharmacy? CVS or Walgreens? Maybe it’s something else – what is it? When do they open? When did they break ground?”

                I keep repeating, “I don’t know.” with each question until I finally snap and shout,”I don’t know, I’m not the one who’s building it!”

                Then he’ll say, “Oh, I didn’t expect you to know, I was just making conversation.”

                20 years of this, people. We’ve done this 20 years. It’s our own inside Abbott & Costello routine.

                Reply
            3. Duffel of Doom

              My mother does this all the time and it makes me so uncomfortable- I *hate* being put on the spot. I’d be beyond miserable if I had to face this at work every day.

              I’d also be job searching.

              Reply
            4. Serin

              “You’ll never guess what I’ve decided about this relationship! Come on, guess! I’ll give you a hint: it involves you putting on your shoes and walking away!”

              Reply
            5. One of the Sarahs

              I hate that, so much. I especially hate it when I feel like my 3 options are to a) play along and want to murder them, b) get passive aggressive and ignore it and then get sulked at, or c) snap and say “JUST TELL ME!” and get sulked at. There’s no way out that doesn’t lead to misery! My mum does this at lot, and aaaaaargh

              Reply
      2. Kyrielle

        At a point in my career where I had over a decade of experience with the company, I went to my boss with a question.

        He replied with “Try Googling it.”

        …yeah, I’m a SOFTWARE ENGINEER. I had reviewed my books, Googled it, you name it. But no, I did not have _enough_ knowledge of it to Google it with the _right terms_ to find the answer. My terms for it weren’t close enough.

        When I told him that, he did a Google search with his chosen terms, and turned up a result, then sent me the terms. Had he started asking me to think through terms, I would have been ready to spit nails.

        It depends not only on tone but on the questions being asked. And the pay grade of the employee, and their knowledge of the company and industry in some cases.

        Reply
        1. OwnedByTheCat (formerly Anony-Moose)

          Right now I cannot import a file into our database. I have spent 3 hours trying.

          I am making a mistake. Obviously.

          I just need someone to go “it’s that line right there fucking you up.” If someone tried to coach me, I’d probably cry. I KNOW what I’m doing. I just need help!

          /rant

          Reply
          1. hamster

            I know you feel. I used to work specifically at our one-project implement a database and interface for it at old-job. At that time, i was a software engineer doing TOTALLY unrelated stuff ( just back -end stuff no databases/visual interfaces. I was also a 23yo noob) . And my boss was a mechanical engineer. And all my colleagues in vacation. Basically i spent a week finding out a thing that probably someone could have told me. Sadly in the life of en engineer /programmer/etc there are moments when no-one will come to fix your stuff. It’s like karate kid or something. On the other hand I would have killed someone coming at me with coaching. Teaching me how to yes, coaching me to be mentally stable , no :)

            Reply
          2. ThursdaysGeek

            You probably already know this, but google Stackoverflow and some words from the error message (if you’re getting an error message). If it’s in-house written software, then I’ll repeat hamster’s advice: good luck. :/

            Reply
      3. Murphy

        Yeah, it’s all in the tone (as others have pointed out). For example, one of the things we do in our job is respond to external letters from citizens. In one of them they asked for information we don’t have. So we wrote what we could and gave a briefing to the person ultimately sending the letter explaining why we didn’t answer the question. My boss called me into his office and said,
        Boss: “Murphy, what was the question in the letter?”
        Me: Replied.
        Boss: “What is the answer to the question?”
        Me: We don’t know it. You know that. We’ve discussed this.
        Boss: “And where is that information in the briefing?”
        Me: Second bullet, page 2.
        Boss: “Is that where it should be? Will [big boss] see it there?”
        Me: %(*$#(*%#

        That’s demoralizing and patronizing. Simply saying, “we should move pertinent info like that up so he’s sure to see it since big boss is new and we’ve found he doesn’t read past the first page” is an actual learning lesson (and a good one for me since I was freshly back from leave and this big boss came in while I was away and I honestly didn’t know his style).

        I would never use the first approach with my own staff and would be pissed if they used it with their staff so I definitely don’t appreciate it from my own boss.

        Reply
  29. Erin

    I’d convey to them a lot of what you did here – that you’re open to receiving feedback, you hear what they are saying, and you are going to modify your approach accordingly. I mean, I’m reading this as you’re a very self aware person open to change and growth, so make sure they know that too.

    A thought on the taking the time to do this when they have a heavy workload: This makes me think of when I have to cover phones, which essentially prevents me from doing other, actual work that really does need to get done. It’s very frustrating. But I look at it as shuffling my priorities – obviously, my higher ups think me answer the phone is a higher priority to getting work done (at certain times).

    If it feels right for you, I might say something like, “I am finding that this team needs to up their problem-solving and critical thinking skills. I feel so strongly about this that I actually put it as a higher priority over other work that needs to get done – this is why I sometimes spend 15 to 20 minutes coaching you on how to solve the problems you bring me. It’s not because I don’t value your time, or don’t understand you have work to do. Building your critical thinking skills will on occasion take priority over the more concrete work on your plate. I understand that if we spend time going over things like this, other things will be then pushed to the back burner – I’m aware of this, and you will not be penalized for not completing something in as timely a fashion. That being said, I have received feedback on my coaching sessions and am finding it’s not as helpful as I was intending, so I would like to reevaluate that system and….” And then discussion opens on how to adjust the coaching sessions going forward.

    Reply
  30. Observer

    I haven’t read any of the responses yet, but I just wanted to say this:

    Also: Try not to see this as being about them having no post-grad schooling while you do. That risks getting you into condescending territory really quickly, and it’s more likely that it’s really just about them wanting a quick answer and being frustrated that you’ve not giving them one.

    This, x 1,000

    No one likes to be condescended to. As a practical matter, if that’s the way they feel, they are a lot less likley to learn anything. And, if you really are condescending (which your letter makes it sound like), then you are also going to be a lot less effective in helping people think things through.

    Reply
    1. M-C

      Not to mention in real life you’ll often find people with mere BAs have better practical problem solving skills than postgraduate teachers..

      Reply
      1. Observer

        I don’t really want to get into teacher or professor bashing. Some people have good problem solving skills and some don’t. I’ve yet to see any correlation between level of formal education and these skills. I do mean none – neither positive nor negative.

        Reply
  31. Shell

    I find it a bit odd that we’re pretty unified in agreeing that the Socratic method is annoying, but the last time this came up from the programming intern (link to follow), we also said that this method is very common and termed rubber duck debugging.

    Perhaps it’s because the last time the intern was the one who wrote in and we were giving her perspective? Whereas this time we’re cautioning the boss not to do it? Or maybe different industries are different, I don’t know.

    Reply
    1. Barefoot Librarian

      I don’t recall that thread specifically, but the fact that it was an intern (still in learning mode) might have something to do with that. The reason we get low paid or free internships is to learn the ropes of a business or the professional world. A bit of instruction is expected – even desired – in that situation. Here we are talking about employees who are, presumably, already qualified and working in their fields.

      Reply
    2. Kelly L.

      It was an intern writing in, though, which means a student, so you can expect more teaching in that role. And there was a lot of disagreement and back-and-forth in that thread! 36 hits on the word “condescending,” which of course would also include anyone who said “it’s not condescending,” but a lot of people did find that boss to be so.

      Reply
      1. Kelly L.

        Additionally, the rubber duck is something you do alone. You go off and think/talk through everything you can think of, and then go back to the boss. You don’t have to sit through a 30 minute grilling by the boss.

        Reply
        1. Shell

          Oops, I shouldn’t type without tea. I shouldn’t have said rubber duck debugging = Socratic method!

          What I meant to say was a lot of people mentioned that talking it through in detail often resulted in an answer to the problem, and if it wasn’t a person on the other end (a boss going through every process in detail a la Socratic method), talking to yourself/a rubber duck/other inanimate thing often achieved the same result.

          So not so much rubber duck debugging = Socratic method, but the process of going “I tried this, and this, and that” is a little similar.

          I would find Socratic method condescending too, don’t get me wrong. I was just baffled that the responses seem so different this time. But I guess the intern part makes a difference.

          Reply
        2. Squeegee Beckenheim

          My rubber ducking often takes the form of writing an email to software support or a superior (but leaving it unaddressed so I don’t send it accidentally) and explaining the problem and what I’ve tried. A lot of time doing that helps me see what’s left that I haven’t tried.

          Reply
          1. Windchime

            I actually do this too, only usually by talking. I have a coworker who I’ve worked with for a long time and he knows that when I ask for his help, I’m usually just going to talk at him for a couple of minutes and by talking about it, I will figure out what’s going on. I’ll try it with the email method and see if that works; if so, I won’t have to interrupt my coworker so often.

            Reply
    3. Shannon

      I think the assumption here is that the employees are not asking about things that they should all ready know and that rubber duck debugging is not an expected function of the job. Also, these are employees, not an intern. An intern is still a student, whereas employees are not.

      Reply
    4. Judy

      Rubber duck debugging is a person explaining to a rubber duck how the program works, which allows the person to organize their thoughts. It’s an individual process not a employee plus manager process.

      Reply
    5. Kaitlyn

      Exactly what came to my mind! And the young woman was counseled by nearly everyone in the comments to listen to her elders and learn from his technique. Gender/age differences making this shift?

      In any case, OP, it seems like you’ve received enough well-reasoned, logical input—Socratically speaking—to understand that, in 90% of cases, with this team, in your current role, your teaching/management style is not having the intended effect. Perhaps it’s time to well-reasoned-ly, logically, knock it off?

      Reply
      1. neverjaunty

        You should re-read the letter; it really wasn’t about the boss using the Socratic method, which is kind of a different thing. So no, I don’t think this is “but it would be OK to do if your staff were young women”.

        Reply
      2. ToxicNudibranch

        There’s a world (perhaps a whole galaxy!) of difference between advising someone to try their available resources before requesting an easy answer and spending 15-30 minutes grilling your employees instead of ever given them a straight answer.

        Asking “What have you tried?” or even “Ok, so you’ve looked at a, b, & c, and d already, yeah?” before giving the answer, or saying “try this resource/next step” are not even close to the Socratic method. They’re normal and productive ways to communicate with co-workers.

        Reply
      3. Not So NewReader

        I see your 90% of cases and raise you to 99.9% of cases. ;) OP, just my opinion, but if you are doing guessing games more than once a month, you are doing it too much.

        Reply
    6. Observer

      As others have said, context is really, really important here. Also, I’m not sure that the supervisor in that letter was using the socratic method exclusively. “Look in the blobit manual.” is different than the question and answer pattern of socratic method. Each one has its place, but they are different and not always appropriate in the same places.

      Reply
      1. Shell

        Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

        However, I can’t even ask my boss a simple question without it being a huge ordeal. Most times when I do, he 1) makes me play guessing games to figure out the answer instead of just telling me/pointing me in the right direction and 2) shames me for needing to ask in the first place. (I work from home most of the time and so most of the communication referenced here happened over email and instant messaging.)

        Examples: I emailed him some code that wasn’t working as expected. Instead of saying “you need to fix X,” he said, “I saw the error just skimming over the code. Can you find it?” and let me flail about trying to figure it out for 15 minutes instead of telling me where to look. When he did point out what I’d done wrong, he added “that should have been the first place you looked.” It was one of those things that made sense once it was pointed out to me, but after poring over the code multiple times my brain just sort of lost the ability to distinguish what was going on, kind of like how it’s hard to catch all the typos when proofreading your own writing.

        All of that sounds pretty similar to the behaviour written in this letter, unless I’m misunderstanding the Socratic method. Again, I totally accept that the intern part can change things, but the pattern is similar, and with the intern being working from home I imagine the flailing-about timeline would be close to the 15-30 minutes mentioned in this letter, or maybe even longer.

        Reply
        1. Kelly L.

          Well, maybe we didn’t focus enough on the “guessing games” part; I do think we were more focused on the “read and understand” note and the rubber duck thing. I’m not sure how much of the flailing time was spent actually being questioned–at first glance, I would think he asked her one question and then she went back to look at it alone for 15 minutes, not that he was asking questions that whole time.

          But again, we were hardly a monolith in that thread.

          Reply
        2. neverjaunty

          I think you are misunderstanding the Socratic method. “Have you looked?” and “If you take a second look at it you’ll see the problem” are not Socratic method. It’s more like talking to somebody who’s playing devil’s advocate at you.

          Reply
        3. ThursdaysGeek

          It might be interesting if two people wrote in about the same problem, but from their respective viewpoints. And if the questions were a couple of weeks apart, we might not notice that they were the same.

          I didn’t comment on that thread, but I thought the boss sounded very condescending. Learning and teaching is important, but it didn’t seem to be presented the best way.

          Reply
    7. Anya

      Yup, it’s odd that we’ve flip flopped. I’m in the minority since I appreciate it when my CD helps me figure our solutions, I’m sure his kind tone has something to do with it, but also because I’m in the business of learning and becoming better at what I do (I’m an art director). Maybe it has to do with culture and ego’s in the work place, but I’m a bit confused as to why everyone seems to feel demeaned, condescended to, and have hurt feelings.

      Granted usually this exercise lasts at most 5 mins with my CD and usually I’m not far off to begin with. I also feel really comfortable giving my opinion to him. He usually says something like “This is a good start, have you tried this…(insert options)” then he follows up with how he would solve it and then asks “Do you think this works?”

      Reply
      1. neverjaunty

        That’s not the Socratic method, is why.

        A lot of people seem to be defining anything other than boss giving the straight out answer as “the Socratic method”, which it isn’t.

        Reply
        1. Anya

          “It is a form of inquiry and discussion between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas.” Sounds like a version of the Socratic method to me. Playing the devil’s advocate is a type of Socratic method observed in law school, we’re missing details from the LW so we can’t be too sure.

          My CD also asks a lot of “Why did you choose to put this element of design here?” MOST of the time, he says “Good idea!” Sometimes he says “That makes sense, but in this situation it doesn’t…blah blah, what if we do this…blah blah”. Is this not the basis of asking and answering questions?

          Reply
          1. neverjaunty

            Again, what you’re describing your CD doing is really not the Socratic method, as the rest of the Wikipedia article makes pretty clear. You asked why people are getting their backs up about the Socratic method at work, and that’s why – because you’re seeing it as your CD’s method of sometimes asking you questions to clarify thinking, during a discussion where he also provides explanations for why things are done, why your answer might make sense in situation X but not situation Y, and so on.

            Reply
    8. Ask a Manager Post author

      The boss in that letter wasn’t using the Socratic method; he was doing things like giving her articles to read that addressed the situation and asking her to spend more time looking for the answers herself before coming to him. (And she was an intern, so definitely more in learning mode anyway.)

      Reply
      1. fposte

        It’s interesting, though, how these differences matter in seemingly close situations but aren’t necessarily obvious.

        I think some people are reading the responses as saying a manager should just give a straight answer when asked, period, and I don’t think that’s true (or what you were saying). There are definitely times when it’s okay and even advisable for a manager not simply to give the answer when asked. This just isn’t one of the times when it’s being enacted in a sufficiently rewarding way.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Yeah — and I think, too, that’s it’s relevant that the letter comes across a bit off-base about what the role of a good manager actually is, and how the OP’s time is best spent. It reads a bit to me (and I suspect to others) as “I love learning and teaching, and so I’m going to make that a primary thing I do as a manager,” even though that’s not really the job, and in fact in this case is probably making the OP less effective at her job rather than more.

          Reply
          1. mskyle

            Also, I think you have to give advice to the person who’s writing in! The other LW couldn’t change how her manager chose to interact with her; today’s LW can choose to change how he interacts with his team members. If today’s LW’s team members wrote in, the advice to *them* might actually be very similar to the advice to that other LW.

            Reply
    9. katamia

      I thought of that letter, too. I don’t think I commented, but I remember reading the letter and cringing at the thought of working for that guy, too. It does seem like a culture thing–my background is in humanities, and UGH to that method. But it sounds like it’s common enough in programming that it’s accepted there, and while the OP here doesn’t state their industry, I don’t get a programming vibe from the letter.

      I also don’t remember there being as strong a sense of urgency to what the intern was doing as there is here. It’s one thing to try to coach someone when you have time, but if people are feeling overloaded and stressed just from the workload, that makes the time being spent on this line of questioning worse.

      Reply
      1. hamster

        yeah, probaby it’s the industry style or my understanding of what socratic method really is. I m like when going to someone with something that eludes me i already feel bad and what to be the person who knows stuff so many times if the answer is correct but mysterious to me i ask “how did you come up with that” “cool, i never would have thought of x , what made you search in “xxx” part and not “yy” ” sometimes is just ” i ve been though this before” other times is “xzzz is a clue” and i ‘m like aaahaaaa!
        Just call me a robot.

        Reply
    10. TechIntern

      So I’m the OP from that question and I’d like to share my (obviously biased) perspective on this.

      I think the advantage to my boss’ method was that it got me out of the habit, learned in other work fields (I used to work in various nonprofit and social services jobs) of coming immediately to him when I didn’t understand something, and started teaching me to research things on my own. In programming this works because often the boss does not know how to do something any better than I do. It also works because when something is clearly a matter of project requirements, he will give me a straight answer or tell me where to look for one.

      Where it breaks down is when something is not at all clear to me and he continues with the Socratic-type method even when I’ve become so frustrated with the issue I get overwhelmed.

      Aside from the employee’s experience level (I.e. intern vs more seasoned employee) I think a huge issue here is what other methods the OP would like their employees to use to solve these questions. When the question is “how do I get X plugin to send Y information to the database” the answer can usually be found on stackoverflow or a tutorial, even if it takes me some time to piece together, and the stakes are low. When the questions is something like “should we prioritize meeting this deadline vs meeting xyz project requirements” that requires information the employees don’t have and/or is a judgement call best made by a manager, this sort of questioning is at best unhelpful and at worst disrespectful of the employees’ time and expertise.

      Another thing I did not mention in my original question to Alison is that my boss is from a different culture and is very blunt, to the point of sometimes being insulting. That’s a semi-separate issue from the frustration with his method of answering questions, but it didn’t help my sense I was being talked down to. OP, please watch how you come off and if you are getting feedback from your employees (even behind your back) that this method is not working, try something different, because it seems this is not working well for most employees right now.

      Reply
      1. Jen S. 2.0

        I mentioned this upthread; it seems that a large part of the difference was that the previous poster was asking for help before — and often instead of — researching it herself, and that was when she’d get further information instead of an answer. In her update, she mentioned that she’s started looking it up. She also was an intern and not a seasoned employee, so that made a difference, as did her field of programming.

        Whereas here, A) it’s not clear that this OP’s employees haven’t already done legwork, and B) this OP seems to be Socratizing with experienced, busy employees who aren’t getting paid top dollar to sit around playing guessing games, and C) there also seems to be Socratizing on issues that really really really don’t require it, and to an extreme degree, and for a set of not-great reasons (it’s what we did in grad school (…you’re not in grad school any more), they need to learn to think critically (…not your job and not on this much of the company’s time), and this is how I like to manage (…yeah, but if it’s not working…)).

        Reply
  32. Mando Diao

    A lot of people learn the hard way that their managers don’t want repetitive questions, until the one time they decide that the issue is important.

    I make weekly coupon codes for my company’s featured products. The discounts are almost always the same, but I always ask my boss about them anyway, since I’m not going to be flippant where money is concerned; once in a while there’s a product whose pricing won’t allow for the usual % off. So I ask, even if it’s annoying, and even if it seems like I should already know the answer. Managers don’t remember how they speak to employees who run on assumptions/repetitive consistencies, but boy, we employees will jump through hoops (including asking seemingly boneheaded questions) to avoid being yelled at. OP, what if there’s one time when the answer would be different? I bet you’d be upset that no one asked about it.

    Reply
  33. Barefoot Librarian

    I have two graduate level degrees and work at a university (not as teaching faculty but in the library), and this letter made my eye twitch a bit. I feel like your employees might view this kind of couching as patronizing. They aren’t your students and their critical thinking skills are their own business unless a lack thereof is interfering with their ability to do their job (and if they can’t do their job, you address that on an as needed basis). I get that you have good intentions, but this would piss me off too.

    Reply
  34. animaniactoo

    Okay, I’m going to relate this to my parenting of my children and trying to get them to think more critically:

    If you can get there with one or two questions, then go for it. If it’s something that you have to go down several rabbit holes to get to because their level of thinking isn’t there yet – cut it out. When you’re spending 15 to 30 minutes to get there, what you’re dealing with is too many unconnected dots and you’re wasting your time, theirs, and increasing the hell out of their frustration level over something they KNOW they don’t know (yet).

    Once they’ve regularly got those smaller dots connecting and they’re not coming to you with those kinds of questions, you can work on the next set.

    Also, if they’re on the wrong path completely, telling them that at the outset is a lot more likely to help them make the connection that they’re on the wrong path in the future. Because it will feel easy and a relief, and because everybody makes this kind of mistake throughout their lives because we’re human and it’s just a kindness not to drag that out and make a big deal out of it.

    Reply
  35. DatSci

    This does sound like it is coming across as quite condescending; and I agree, “graduate school” isn’t the only institute of education which uses this method. I got it in grade school, high school and college as well.

    I can’t help but think that these critical thinking coaching sessions are better saved for another time, like a one on one or performance feedback meeting rather than taking up to 30 minutes in the moment every time a question comes up. I’d frame it as, “The answer you’re looking for is xyz, let’s discuss it in more detail at our weekly one on one meeting.” Then at that meeting you can go through the critical thinking process and coach your team members on how they cam implement it themselves (rather than come to you with these questions in the future). This would keep their schedules on track and allow a more appropriate time/place for critical thinking coaching.

    Reply
  36. Anonymity

    I saw this from more of the LW’s perspective, I think.
    I do a decent amount of training of new hires on entry level processes and additional training with more advanced staff on more advanced processes.

    I definitely get some great people – minimal training required because things just click, they ask questions when they’ve tried to figure it out and are at a loss for what to do next, they take nudges in the right direction to find the solution and apply that going forward so there are rarely repeat questions or even tangentially related questions, because they can see how A applies to B and since A applies to C in this other way, that means B applies to C in THIS way.

    But I also get a lot of people who ask questions all. the. time. on processes they’ve been doing for months. Repeat questions that I have answered for them over and over again, sometimes in the space of the same shift. People who will not look for answers at all but just email me immediately if they hit a snag; one of these is very blatant about ‘I don’t get paid enough for this/it’s not my job to think for myself.’

    So I have some sympathy for the LW – if she’s being inundated by questions that have already been answered or could be figured out with a few minutes’ consideration, that gets aggravating. Particularly if she’s also swamped.

    I do like the suggestion above to try and catalog the repeat questions. When the workload finally lightens up, you then have a list of items that need additional training to fill in the gaps in knowledge.

    Reply
    1. Roscoe

      Honestly, I can’t see how swamped she could be if she is spending 15-30 minutes to answer a question. I’m sure it could be annoying if they are asked the same thing over and over, however this is not the way to address that.

      Reply
    2. neverjaunty

      But again: that’s not the same thing as the Socratic method. “We covered this in training last month” is not the Socratic method. “Have you tried what’s in the manual?” is not the Socratic method. “Wakeen, this is the fourth time we’ve gone over this” is not the Socratic method. The Socratic method is a way of teaching via debate – essentially a kind of playing devil’s advocate.

      Reply
  37. Bob

    I do this with junior team members but only when I can quickly help them connect the dots. “Thinks about process X you already know how to do and how it’s basically the same as what you need to accomplish here.” Otherwise, I just give them the answer and then very briefly explain how they could have figured it out themselves.

    Reply
  38. ancolie

    The Socratic method and satire are like the nursery rhyme girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead.* Both are much, much harder to do well than many people seem to realize and both are awful when done poorly.

    The Socratic method inherently suggests or reinforces a master/young grasshopper dynamic. To me, using it to guide someone else often emphasizes the power differential between you in a really distasteful way — it’s not simply manager and managee; it can feel extremely patronizing and/or condescending. Admittedly, someone patronizing/condescending to me is my “Marty McFly’s chicken”, so I readily admit I may feel much more strongly about this than most people.

    But! I have a potentially helpful suggestion for situations where the answer isn’t super simple** but instead more a troubleshooting/solution nature. Ask your employees to briefly say what they’ve already done or tried that hasn’t worked so far. It saves time going through redundant suggestions, shows they aren’t just reflexively asking for the answer instead of trying themselves, and reduces the chance they feel insulted if you start with the most obvious choices (you can’t know they tried them if they don’t tell you they did, but they may ASSume you will somehow just know they already tried them).

    * when she was good, she was very very good but when she was bad, she was horrid.

    ** like the capital city of Kentucky or something.

    Reply
    1. Ad Astra

      You know, I think the master/young grasshopper dynamic is what bothers me so much about the Socratic method. I don’t like strict hierarchies at work or anywhere else, really, so constantly feeling like my manager is trying to teach me how to think rather than help me do my job would be infuriating. Direct communication is usually the best way to go at work, and the Socratic method is intentionally indirect.

      Reply
      1. ancolie

        Yesyesyesyesyes!

        I loathe strict hierarchies because they feel like rigid class/caste structures, with higher levels being considered INNATELY BETTER in almost a moral/ethical sense. Uuuuugh.

        Reply
    2. Ultraviolet

      I think this is a really good comment, especially the master/grasshopper point. The young grasshopper really has to enter into that dynamic willingly (like, say, going to grad school) out of belief that the master really has that much to teach them. There’s no way to impose the grasshopper role on someone and have it work out, and it’s patronizing and insulting to try. I’m definitely picturing a few specific people when I say that….

      Reply
  39. Employment Lawyer

    Do this.

    1) Give direct answers for minor things, for speed reasons, except as provided below. If you need to, restrict access to blocks of time to encourage self help.

    2) If someone routinely asks the same thing multiple times, or bothers you with minor questions, then you should instruct them on problem solving. “I’m going to tell you how to figure this out on on your own, because this is a skill you need.” or “I’m going to show you how to use the help function to answer this, because I need you to be able to do so without asking me.” Or, if appropriate “I’m going to help you figure it out but not tell you directly any more, because you often forget when I do that.”

    3) If you must use it at all, save the Socratic method for when it’s a larger conceptual issue. It’s still helpful in some situations if you need someone to really think something through on their own.

    That said, the class of “people who think they’re really good at teaching with the Socratic method” VASTLY exceeds the class of “people who are good at teaching with the Socratic method.” And I am most assuredly including college professors in that statement; to put it bluntly, most of us ain’t no Socrates. So you might just want to stick with #1 and 2.

    Reply
    1. jmkenrick

      > save the Socratic method for when it’s a larger conceptual issue.

      Like many people in this thread, I was also taught the Socratic method in school, but I’ve been surprised to see some of the examples people list. My understanding of the Socratic method has always been that it’s a tool to think through more nuanced questions, often ones without an inherent “right” answer. That the point is to challenge and question some of the underlying assumptions we make without realizing it.

      To that end, I think it can be a great tool, and I’m surprised to see so many people dislike it and associate it with being condescending. Honestly, I’m inclined to think that maybe there are a lot of teachers out there doing it really poorly.

      It doesn’t seem like it would be useful for most workplace questions, however.

      Reply
      1. Violet Fox

        There are a lot of teachers, and a lot of people in general, that seem to more use it as a sort of 20-questions game, or a way to make people try to figure out basic facts for themselves.

        Reply
  40. Xarcady

    When I go to a high-up with a question, it means that I don’t know the answer.

    Either I don’t have access to information that I need to get the answer, or I have multiple answers and need input on which one is the best–there might be factors involved that I am not privy to, or I have an answer that is way, way outside the box, but am not sure of the repercussions of that answer down the line, and need someone with a broader knowledge of the situation to bounce the answer off.

    For example, I have a quick solution to the problem of teapot spouts falling off, but it will cost a lot of money. I have a slower solution that will solve the problem at a much lower cost. The missing piece of information for me is, for this client, do we go with speed and darn the cost, or do we go with the least expensive method possible? Both my solutions are good, but either one could be very wrong under certain circumstances.

    It’s not because I hit a stumbling block, immediately gave up, and went to a high-up for help. It’s because I’ve gone as far as I can go without further input.

    It’s possible that when the OP heads down the rabbit-hole for 15-30 minutes, the real problem is that the staff don’t have the information they need to solve the problem. No method of teaching is going to help with that.

    Those are the questions I’d be looking at, as a manager. Why are people heading down the rabbit-hole? What info do they need that they don’t have, in order to make a decision? Are there patterns? Or is it the same few people, over and over? Because it is possible that you have just one or two people who get lost or confused when faced with certain types of problems.

    Reply
    1. JoJo

      To be fair to the OP, there are plenty of people out there who can’t be bothered to even try to figure out a solution or get more information on their own. Being interrupted ten times a day to answer questions about things that the asker could have easily figured out on their own gets old fast.

      I ran into that problem at Oldjob. When I transferred to another department, there was a lot of chaos because nobody knew what I knew. People do need to learn problem solving skills.

      Reply
  41. J.B.

    I’m just realizing I need to change my approach with my kid’s math homework :) She keeps asking for the answers to everything and I’ve been doing more of a socratic-y questioning (although to be fair the questions I ask do have quick answers!) and she gets mad. I think I’ll try to adopt “what have you already tried” more often.

    Reply
    1. Aussie Teacher

      My Dad did this and it drove me insane! When it’s 9:30pm and I just wanted to finish my maths homework and go to bed, don’t explain how to do the problem twice, walk me through it again, and then give me 3 more similar problems to make sure I understand the concept! Just tell me (BRIEFLY) how to do the damn question!

      Reply
    2. Not So NewReader

      It might be doable to talk her through one problem and then make up a problem for her to try on her own to reinforce what she figured out with the first one. But do not let her flounder more than she already is. What you are actually teaching her is that she can’t do math.

      And yeah, hug her and tell her you love her. Understand that all the questions were like a bunch of little dog bites to her.

      Reply
  42. That Marketing Chick

    If you really have that “just a bachelors degree” mentality, you may be coming off as condescending. I have to admit, since I “just have a bachelors degree” (although I want to get my Masters even though I am almost 50), I bristled when I read that.
    Watch how you’re perceived, not what your intention is. It sounds like they are not perceiving it the way you intend. It doesn’t matter what you intend if it’s not perceived that way – YOU have to be the one to change.

    Reply
  43. Claire (Scotland)

    Speaking as a teacher, I think it’s important to recognise that the Socratic method is just one tool. It is not the only tool, nor is it automatically the best tool. It can be useful in some situations and a waste of time in others. A good manager, like a good teacher, needs a much bigger toolbox.

    The fact that you are having to deploy this tool so frequently, OP, suggests that it isn’t having the desired effect in developing your staff’s problem solving. So what else do you have?

    Reply
    1. OP

      That’s really why I wrote in! Yes change has to happen, and it is going to happen. I’m looking for ideas on what else I can do.

      Reply
  44. Bend & Snap

    Reading this made me tired. If my boss used this method every time I asked him something I’d pull my hair out. It can absolutely be a great coaching method but using it doesn’t mean you never give answers or that it’s appropriate for every conversation.

    I’m also giving the post-grad comment some serious side eye. A lot of smart people do just fine with a bachelor’s, or even with no degree at all. Degrees don’t mean that someone is smarter than their peers, and they certainly don’t mean that people aren’t capable of learning.

    Reply
  45. Sara M

    OP, you’re getting a lot of criticism here. I wanted to say: kudos to you for recognizing that this might be a problem, and reaching out to Alison to ask for help. I think the comments speak for themselves, and I hope you’ll take them to heart. You can change and learn new ways to manage. Good luck!

    Reply
    1. Ad Astra

      Yeah, I’d also like to emphasize that OP sounds very self-aware and asking Alison for help is a sign that she’s capable of identifying when her method isn’t working and seeking solutions. Those are all good qualities for a manager to have, and I bet Alison’s advice will really help OP get the results she’s looking for. So, OP, if you’re reading these comments, don’t get discouraged! We are criticizing the heck out of the Socratic method, but your positive qualities do come through in the letter.

      Reply
    2. Not So NewReader

      I agree. The method is hated, OP. Hated. Please get books on leadership and all the various things that go into being a leader. No where in the list of leadership styles will you find “Socratic method”. No where.

      I am concerned about your dependence on this tool. It should be one of hundreds of tools in your management tool kit. This means you can use this tool maybe 2-3 times per year, if that. You should be using all those other tools you have in your tool kit.

      I think that the core issue is how you view your job. You are not a professor. You are a leader in the business world. Your employees are not your students, they are the food on your table and the roof over your head. If they fail, OP, so do you. There goes your food and your roof. Their failure is your failure. Your boss will not play 20 questions with you. Your boss will say, “Your people do not know what is expected from them and they do not trust your leadership.” And when you hear that you will know you have to change what you are doing.

      Reply
        1. neverjaunty

          1) If they ask you a question, just answer it, if that’s the most efficient way. “We always deliver those via UPS.”

          2) If they ask you things they SHOULD know, the first time or two, tell them, but point out where they can get it. “We always deliver those via UPS. If you aren’t sure, those are listed in the shipping manual.”

          3) If they keep treating you as Google, take time to sit down and go over the problem. “Fergus, if you’re not sure how a product should be shipped, you should consult the shipping manual. I understand sometimes you may have a question it doesn’t answer, and I’m happy to help, but you need to check the manual first.”

          Reply
          1. M-C

            Excellent summary :-).
            I’d add get more info about what your job should be from say reading AAM regularly – you’ll get exposure to a much wider variety of methods than your one, and also see how people react to them and get the subtleties. AAM is a precious resource because it’s not just managers stroking each other’s egos, which is usually what management “resources” consist of.

            Reply
        2. Ultraviolet

          I’m sure it’s been a difficult read. The suggestions for alternatives aren’t plentiful either. I think most people interpreted your question as “Should I keep using the Socratic method despite this feedback?” and just answered that. I’m guessing a lot of people will check back on this thread though, so maybe people will see this comment and reply.

          As for alternatives, I like neverjaunty’s suggestions in the comment above this one. And Alison has a post from a few days ago on how to get your employees to approach you with solutions rather than problems. I think a lot of the strategies from that post could be adapted to your situation.

          Do you think you could tell your employees to finish some tasks without asking you questions just for a week or so, to see how they handle it? Maybe they’ll learn that way that they really do have the necessary information and ability.

          Reply
        3. Violet Fox

          If they ask you a question, answer it in a straight-forward way.

          If you get asked the same question a lot, make sure there is easy to find and access documentation for it, so that people can reference it when they need it.

          If it turns out that some of the problem is that their training is lacking, or not updated, work on getting them continuing training.

          I honestly think you are trying to make things harder then they need to be, and trying to make “teachable moments” where there does not need to be.

          One of the things you have not answered is what sort of questions you are getting regularly.

          Reply
  46. Sunshine Brite

    I think part of this too is remembering that their workload is heavy. When that happens people naturally feel stressed, often chronically stressed (even if it’s positive stress that some thrive on). This questioning method pushes an already stressed mind into a different mindset while not removing any of the stressors that they’ve already been thinking about. For me that would feel overwhelming sometimes even with my masters degree or annoying or any of these other thoughts and feelings that people have been discussing. It’s not offering any sort of reprieve for the staff that’s already stretched.

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      My good boss and I have workloads that are pretty awesome. We routinely ask each other questions like “what is today’s date?”. And we both answer each other’s questions. We understand the situation. We are maxed out, half brain dead and we need each other. So we just answer the damn question and life goes on.

      Reply
  47. Elizabeth

    Aside from what everyone else has said about this method, it sounds like you could nip a lot of this in the bud if you trained your staff to come to you with the what they’ve tried already and what their potential solutions are. You’ll get a far better sense of their problem solving skills if you know up front that they tried X, Y, and Z, and they’ll be far less annoyed that you assume they haven’t given any thought whatsoever to a solution.

    Reply
  48. A Teacher

    Also someone with two graduate degrees and a high school teacher. I use Socratic Method very sparingly, its not the most effective teaching strategy and it drives most of my students crazy. I do have a 3 before me rule–and that is just because when I’ve told you multiple times, its on the screen and on a rubric I handed you, ask a few others for their perspective before asking me again. That lets them figure out if they really need to ask me, and if they do fine–they get an answer and a “why” its the answer. I don’t ask probing questions to get them there. No one has time for that.

    Reply
  49. Chris

    If my supervisor used the Socratic method, I would probably think she didn’t know the answer to my questions. Personally, I like to save coaching for 1:1 appts with my staff, and quick questions get a quick answer. If the same thing keeps coming up, we’ll do some coaching on it at the next 1:1.

    Reply
    1. katamia

      As a former tutor, the Socratic method was one of my go-tos when I didn’t remember an answer or needed more time to work through something.

      Reply
      1. Kelly L.

        Hee! I’m now imagining Socrates coming back to haunt Plato and being like, “Kid, I didn’t do that because it’s the best teaching method either. I just couldn’t remember the Zeus-damned answer myself.”

        Reply
  50. ex-prof

    I find it amusing when people say they should have been a professor. What they tend to mean is they want to stand around pontificating all day. I say this as a former one!

    Truly teaching is a different process. Good observation on coaching here.

    Reply
  51. JoJo

    I have mixed feelings on this one.

    On one hand, at Oldjob, I was constantly pestered by people who wanted to “pick my brain” over things that they could have easily looked up themselves/didn’t even try to figure out on their own.

    On the other hand, I’ve been in the situations where all I needed was one piece of information or a simple clarification, and had to play twenty questions. It’s very frustrating. If I knew the damn answer, I wouldn’t be asking you! Of course, I’m the type who tries to puzzle things out first.

    Reply
  52. hbc

    I’m unclear about what types of problems/questions these are. If it’s just factual, send them to the right resource. “That kind of data is on the MSDS sheets, remember?” If they come back again with a similar question, “Was that MSDS sheet missing from our database?” Next time, “Are the MSDS sheets hard to access, or is there something not clear about these being a good place to check for that type of information?” (That’s for each person, of course–you don’t ding the eighth person to ask the question because it’s the eighth time you’ve heard it.)

    If they’re procedural or thought exercises (which presumably you don’t have off the top of your head either), why not ditch Socrates and talk them through your thought process? “Okay, you’ve got two orders and not enough stock to fill both. First I’d check the notes in our system to see if either customer is in a special status–no point reserving the stock if one is on a credit hold or something, right? If that’s clear, fill the order for the bigger customer, and contact the smaller with the offer for a partial shipment. If we’re going to make someone mad, it should be the little guy.”

    Use some of the spare time you’ve freed up from playing Greek to look at if there’s a reason why people are coming with questions. If they’re too busy to work their way through a decision tree, you need to hire more people, or you need a simpler system, or you need to just consider it your job to do their thinking for them since they don’t have time.

    Reply
  53. Callie30

    I have a co-worker that does this with me. I wear many hats in the organization I work for and don’t have the time to go through the ‘Socratic Method’ for simple questions. I agree that it’s helpful in certain situations (if someone repeatedly makes the same mistake), but most of the time a simple answer is needed to move forward on a project.

    It’s also important to look at one’s own management style and consider what is ‘apparent’ to you versus your staff. For example: Has the supervisor communicated the necessary information for a project to be completed? Is the question something the employee CAN answer? If multiple employees ask questions or for clarification on a regular basis (on things that may be obvious to the supervisor), it might be the management style that needs tweaking. I have a superior that is an awful communicator and essentially does this when I ask questions. It is very condescending and I hate asking questions as a result.

    If OP does decide to keep utilizing the Socratic Method, it should be in situations that warrant it – mistakes and questions being asked repeatedly, etc. – and at a time when there is time to take 15/20 minutes. It may not seem like a lot of time, but 20 minutes is nearly 5% of the typical work day! That’s not insignificant!

    Reply
  54. AnotherFed

    OP, you’ve stated that your employees are not thinking critically or problem solving well enough, which tends to imply it’s not an RTFM problem. I’m actually in favor of at least some level of questioning and walking the employee through the problem, especially for entry level employees, who don’t necessarily have the experience to understand the problem and effects of various solutions. I agree that you need to tell the employees that these skills aren’t where they should and that you’re going to be working on them. Then, when they come to you, it’s helpful to start with “what have you already tried?” and get them to give you a summary of where they’ve looked, what strategies they took, and/or if they thought about applying the strategies used to solve a similar problem they had last week. If they keep coming to you with similar issues and/or no attempt to problem solve, then you need to work on changing that or replacing them with people who will do better.

    Reply
  55. Chris

    OP, you aren’t a teacher, a professor, a guru, or the Lord of the Manor. You’re a manager.

    I have two master’s degrees. My second one, a degree in history, often functioned in a semi-Socratic way. Our discussions would be more or less student-led, while the lecturer only dropped in a comment or two to guide us along. Not formally Socratic, but very organic. And this worked for history, when we had time, and all enjoyed the pondering.

    This difference here is that you’re at work, not discussing academic articles in a classroom. When your employees have questions, they need a friggin answer. Either tell them the answer, or tell them how to find it. Anything else, and you come off as smug and patronizing.

    I do think some commentators are being overly harsh about the grad school statement. I didn’t necessarily get a superiority vibe, but you need to consider whether you’re putting off that vibe to your employees, because NOTHING undermines a boss/employee relationship like the boss’ assumption of superiority in life, rather than an assignment of responsibility. And this can be entirely unconscious, which is why you should carefully look at your own behavior

    Reply
    1. OP

      I would be surprised if my staff even know I have post grad education. I never talk about it and have never included the designation in my email sig or business cards.

      Reply
      1. Violet Fox

        It’s still very possible to put off that sort of vibe without specifically mentioning the degrees ever.

        Reply
      2. M-C

        “have never included the designation in my email sig or business cards” !!!?! The fact that this might have occurred to you at all is not a good sign, OP..

        Reply
      3. AGirlCalledFriday

        I have an advanced degree, know tons of other people with advanced degrees… I certainly don’t think it makes myself or anyone else smarter or more capable than someone with on the job, focused training. The issue I took with the comment is that it comes off like you might think that having a grad degree is something special, and it’s really…it’s just really not that special.

        You are not inherently more qualified to *teach* anyone. In fact, unless you specifically received graduate degrees in education, you are DEFINITELY not qualified to teach anyone critical thinking. The fact that you are trying to do this, yes, comes across as condescending and I believe that’s what many posters are responding to. The mentality comes across to me as not a very mature one.

        However, what does come across as mature is the understanding that this method isn’t working, and being willing to reach out to receive advice and feedback. I think it’s great that you are doing this! However, I do think it’s important that you don’t skim the negative commentary – it will reinforce how colossally BAD your approach has been. It’s not personal attack on yourself – it’s an attack on your methods.

        Reply
        1. Mookie

          This. Having been a graduate student qualifies you for nothing, bar being a student. The working world is full of former and current graduate students. You, OP, are not a teacher, were not trained as a teacher, have no qualifications in teaching, and apparently no interest in teaching or mentoring, either. It would be helpful to approach your problem not as a deficiency in willing and able students (employees are not your students and your job is to make them productive and useful employees, not critical thinkers), but as a very green and inexperienced and possibly undertrained and overwhelmed manager.

          Reply
  56. OriginalYup

    One of the problems with using the Socratic method as a management tool is that there’s no *you* in the conversation. I have a great boss who’s knowledgeable and experienced and just knows what the heck he’s doing. So it’s incredibly valuable to me to hear him say, “This is how we handled problem X in the past. Depending on factors Y and Z, you can get the following results.” He’s not instructing me in way that doesn’t require any of my own thinking, but he is sharing with me the enormous benefit of what *he* knows, versus what I would come up with on my own through the Socratic method.

    So this is something for you to think about across the board in a long-term way, and also in the moment in a micro way, e.g. “thing is broken and I know exactly how to fix it.” As a manager/worker/professional/etc., are there areas where you can help your team develop their skills and knowledge, as a group and as individuals, by simply sharing information or advice with them? This is how apprenticeships work in some ways — watching and shadowing a master at work, so you can copy their actions and then adapt them for yourself.

    Reply
    1. Mando Diao

      This reminds me of what I hated about my own grad school experience. The student-led discussions felt like they contained more half-remembered undergrad stuff than legit graduate-level ideas. I wanted someone with a PhD to teach me. I didn’t want to keep talking about things I already knew.

      If OP gleans anything from this convo, it’s that grown adults hate the Socratic method.

      Reply
      1. OP

        I think that was pretty clear given the feedback from my staff. What I was hoping to get from this convo was ideas on what else I could do.

        Reply
        1. neverjaunty

          OP, do you realize that you have just done the opposite of how you expect your employees to learn? You went to someone more knowledgeable (AAM) and asked flat-out for the answer to your question; in the terms of your letter, wanting “spoon feeding” on what else you can do. You didn’t go to your manager and expect her to engage you in Socratic debate so that you could generate the answer out of your own critical thinking.

          This isn’t a criticism: you should think about why it is that you (correctly) chose a problem-solving method that you believed would be effective, but which you look down on in your employees. There’s some reason for that contradiction, which I’m guessing was not an affirmative decision by you to say to yourself “I’m going to skip critical thinking and be lazy and just ask”.

          Reply
          1. moss

            Very good point. OP did not ask for new ways to manage or there would have been hundreds (I know this site) of suggestions.

            Reply
        2. Beth

          Alison’s book on management has some good advice on making sure you and your staff are on the same page, I’d start there if you haven’t already. What sort of research/practice have you done to improve your mange net philosophy and techniques?

          Reply
        3. Mando Diao

          Why are you resisting the notion of just answering their questions? It might be annoying, but you’re making a manager’s salary, and the assumption is that you have knowledge to share. Answering questions is part of your job, apparently. It seems like you want to relieve yourself of this aspect of your job by laying down the expectation that your employees should already know everything you know. If that were the case, they wouldn’t need a manager and you’d be out of a job. You want other ideas: we’re all telling you to just answer the questions.

          Reply
    2. Kira

      “One of the problems with using the Socratic method as a management tool is that there’s no *you* in the conversation.” Yikes, that is such an eloquent and concise summation of what I hate about it, along with debate strategies oriented solely toward–not quite winning, but making the opponent (or, often, “bystander”) look like an idiot. Both are rhetorical tools not only designed as a display of superiority, but as a way to appoint oneself the impartial and all-knowing whatever: “your experience points are crushed by my SWORD OF LOGIC!!!

      Reply
  57. Lisa

    a few ideas for the OP:
    Consider studying Situational Leadership II methods where you learn to identify how to adapt your leadership style for your employee’s development level for the specific task in question.
    Make time for 1-on-1’s with every one of your direct reports – at least 30 minutes once a week per person. Many people find that this opportunity for the employee to have unstructured time with you and the chance to build rapport will reduce ad-hoc questions during the week.
    Learn to read your employees – sometimes tell them what time it is rather than how to use a sundial.
    If you get the same questions over and over – you need to provide guidelines or training. If the same employee asks the same thing, you need to address their retention and/or reasoning. But these are coaching matters.
    How long have you been in the workforce I wonder – have you had bosses in the past or is this a first-job (albeit in management) after grad school?

    Reply
    1. OP

      I have been working for 15 years, this is my 4th year at my current company and 2 years into managing this department. I love the teapots analogy used in certain posts. Yes my company makes teapots and my department is in charge of teapot R&D. We create new teapots and make existing pots more awesome (read cheaper :) )

      Reply
  58. Rachael

    I was a lead in an operations department for wires, securities & loans. I found that the best way to handle this issue is to ask them directly how much time they have. If it is something that is critical (an upcoming deadline), for goodness sake, I would answer right away. If they had time I would guide them to their answer by prodding them with subtle hints (one of the reps was gunning to be a lead and I was coaching her so that she can be in my position). Of course, on projects, it is easier to do this method and I would use it more often then. But, you do have to remember that a person can only critically think so much before they run into technical barriers (if they need to learn a tool before they can use it). It takes time to figure out what to do and everyone is different.

    Reply
    1. One of the Sarahs

      Yes, yes, yes! And something I did that people told me they liked, when I managed was to ask directly if they wanted me to show they how I found XYZ when they were less busy. I feel like sometimes things can feel either/or, so either tell them the answer and they never learn, or coach them right now, and there are lots more options than that (and, as every says, use 1:1s and coaching for major issues rather than trying to deal with them on the spot when it’s not necessary)

      Reply
  59. Stephanie

    Oof. I had a boss that did this. It felt pretty belittling and demeaning. We also were in a high-stress, deadline-heavy environment and it felt exasperating to have to go through 20 questions when I just needed a straightforward answer about the TPS reports so I could get them out in a couple of hours.

    Minor questions, I would just answer them. If it’s a pattern from a few employees who are just relying on you to answer everything, then work with them.

    Also, if these employees are bachelors level, is there a chance they’re newer to the workforce? One of the things I struggled with at first was learning to work in an unstructured environment. In school, the path to success is a lot clearer and projects don’t have much more than a school year’s time span. Some of these employees might need help learning to work through the ambiguities of the professional world.

    Reply
  60. Geegolly

    We use this method with very new employees as a way to help them tie the theory they learned in school with the work they are actually doing. The work looks different but the same principles apply.

    However, doing this long term is more frustrating then helpful. Not just because of the amount of time it takes up but because you are making assumptions about their level of knowledge which if not correct mean you are asking them about things they already know and wasting their time until you understand exactly where they got stuck.

    Try training your staff to tell you how they got to the point they did where asking you was the best option. This can tell you where they still need help. Then you can quickly give them the resources they need to find the answer themselves or give them the answer and tell them what they missed in the process so they will recognize the situation the next time. Critical thinking is great but sometimes a mental checklist is more produtive.

    Reply
  61. Tinker

    So, thought I have for the OP: If you like the Socratic method so much, why upon encountering a problem in your job that you did not know how to solve did you write in to an advice columnist whose established style involves giving relatively concrete answers? Wouldn’t you be happier asking that question of someone who would be likely to steeple their fingers and say “Sooooo, what do we do when we are doing something at work and we find that it does not give us the results we want?”

    I suspect the results of that exploration are going to be very similar to the reason why it is that your present approach to communication isn’t working well with your staff.

    And, funny enough, I actually think Alison is a great example of the sort of approach that is likely to be more effective. The answers here generally contain a response both to the specific question asked and to the underlying principles involved, and the cumulative result is that seeing many questions answered over time provides an education in how to handle these problems generally.

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      Thank you for saying this. I got half way down the comments and I wanted to say, “no one is speaking to you in this manner, OP, because it’s not something to do, that is why.”

      OP,Tinker is absolutely correct. Your answers are the foundation for their knowledge base that they work from. The reason why they seem to be off target is because this is the result the Socratic method produces. It produces people who are unsure and constantly second guessing themselves. Your people are mirroring your leadership. If you really want to change start by apologizing to them and praying they don’t resign on you.

      My rule of thumb is “if people ask me the same question several times, that means I am not doing a good job explaining the answer”. Your people are not defective, OP, they are just doing what people do given the givens.

      Reply
  62. BananaPants

    Oh, Letter Writer. I’m reading some degree of superciliousness in your letter so I think there’s a good chance that your reports are feeling it. Regardless of you thinking this is the Socratic method and that you’re coaching them on proper problem solving, I can guarantee they view it as having a manager who’s full of herself and seems to enjoy putting them on the spot and wasting their time with a game of 20 questions when they’re just trying to get a quick answer and get back to work. Your company is paying you to manage the team, not to play professor.

    I don’t want to imply that you hold it over your reports, but consider if you might be unknowingly making them feel like you look down on them for not having graduate degrees. You don’t need to go to grad school to do the job that your direct reports are doing, or your employer would require a graduate degree as the minimum educational qualification in hiring – so put that distinction out of your mind for now.

    I’m not a manager but I’ve mentored plenty of interns and new hires. The type of work my group does is very specialized and has a steep learning curve. If I think they’ll be able to figure it out on their own in one or two steps, or with one or two questions, I’ll point them toward the right resources and/or talk through it briefly. If it’s more complex, I just give the answer (and if they want to go through how to get there, I’m glad to schedule a session to sit down and go through it together). Either they’re on the right track and will make the connection quickly, or they aren’t and are just going to get frustrated if I start firing questions at them to try to nudge them to the answer. Doing so would be a waste of their time and mine, and doesn’t really help build their confidence in problem solving. You have to walk before you can run, after all.

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      I sensed a disconnect in OP’s letter, as if her whole department could fail and she would remain employed. That is not how that works.

      Reply
  63. Chelle

    My last manager did this and it drove me CRAZY–because this is usually how it would play out:

    Me, working in a new space: “Where do we keep X here? I’ve checked–”
    Her, cutting me off, in the sort of sickly sweet voice you’d use on a five year old you disliked: “Hmm, where do you *think* we keep X?”
    Me, after taking a deep breath: “Well, I would have thought it was in place Y, but I looked there and it isn’t. I also checked this cupboard and asked Coworker, but she didn’t know.”
    Her: “Oh. It’s in this cabinet.”

    She did this to everyone, frequently in front of other people, and we worked in an extremely fast-paced environment where being quiet and quick is paramount, ie, not lots of time to waste on stuff like this. I only brought questions to her in the first place once I’d exhausted everything I could think of–and if she had just given me the answer, I would have remembered it just fine without feeling demoralized.

    I have a pretty strong reaction to this, because of her, but OP: I know you’re trying to help, but my manager thought she was, too. Instead the average employee tenure under her is about six months because she is so insufferable (this is just the tip of the iceberg).

    Reply
  64. Interviewer

    OP, how much of your workday are you spending questioning your team in this manner? Even leading this type of discussion once or twice a day with a team that has indicated they are under pressure, I can’t imagine this is the best way to spend your own time. Wouldn’t you get behind on your own projects & tasks?

    You view it as coaching, but you are getting incredibly useful feedback on why this is a bad idea – not just here, but from your team, as well as the behavior modeled by your boss and appears to be working well. Others have given great examples of why this method may not adapt as well to the workplace. I think you have to be more direct or even leading with your questioning, and more often a meeting-type setting where they can be prepared with data. We have done post-project review meetings to see what worked & what didn’t, and prepare for the next project – I can see that type of collaborative discussion being useful when asking questions to get at the answers.

    My advice is to give them the answer, but tell them where you got it or who has the info. That’s a really good way to train people, and I use it all the time.

    Reply
  65. aebhel

    OP, the Socratic method was the norm in grad school because one of the things grad school is supposed to do is train you how to think. Your job, as manager, is not to train your staff how to think. It is to give them the tools they need to do their jobs effectively. Sometimes that means making sure that they work problems out themselves, but the Socratic method is basically never going to be the best way to do that. Point them toward the resources they need, then set them loose–or just answer the question. Do not ever make a fellow adult sit through 30 minutes of ‘and why do you think that is?’ just to get the answer you want.

    This isn’t a grad school vs. no grad school thing (speaking as someone with a graduate degree, even). It’s a teacher vs. manager thing. You are not a teacher. You are a manager. Your job is to manage.

    Reply
  66. Cath in Canada

    When I took a two-day coaching course a couple of years ago, one of the first things they taught us was that you should always ask someone “is this something you’d like to be coached on?” You’re not supposed to coach people against their will – it should always be for something that they themselves would like to work on.

    (Admittedly, that hasn’t stopped me from dropping the occasional coaching-type question to aid discussions with my husband, but I keep it to a minimum and don’t go through the full coaching process!)

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I do, think, though that’s more about life than work, since it’s reasonable for a manager to decide what an employee needs to be coached on (assuming it’s related to their job).

      Reply
      1. Cath in Canada

        It was a course run by my employer and was specific to workplace coaching, but I guess their approach might not have been typical!

        I guess a different interpretation would be “I’ve noticed that you have recurring problems with [X] – is that something you’d like to be coached on?”

        Reply
  67. Navy Vet

    I can no longer find the comment I wanted to reply to because my browser locked up and shut down. (boo, hiss)

    Please, when talking about or speaking to your employees remember that intelligence and critical thinking are not attributes only associated with a Master’s degree. That level of degree is very often not financially attainable by most people. (Not without obtaining substantial debt at any rate) If your logical conclusion on why the Socratic Method is viewed negatively is, “well, they just don’t have the education I do”, you need to take a look at how you view your fellow human beings.
    I cringe when I hear or see people using formal education level as a basis to judge their critical thinking, intelligence and over all worth. You need to be careful with that line of thinking. It’s demeaning and insulting.

    As someone who had a boss who used the Socratic Method extensively and in a condescending manner, I’m here to tell you they are probably not learning. (Even though I really do think you are sincere in wanting to coach them.) They are thinking “Just pick what **** **** shade of blue you want for this chart so I can get on with my day.”

    What you should do is ask yourself why they are coming to you with these questions. There are so many reasons an employee will go to a manager with a question. Personally I would only ask my manager questions when, 1. I have exhausted every avenue I am aware of and cannot find the answer 2. Need his/her input on a decision 3. It’s time sensitive and I know that my boss already has the answer in his/her head.

    Just keep in mind you have left academia and these are working adults, with responsibilities, bills, families etc, and for the most part they just want to come to work, do their jobs well and go home. If they wanted further education they would go ahead and get their higher degree.

    As a side note – At ex job my desk was close to the HR director’s office. (She had zero inside voice, so I heard everything she said). I once heard her tell the company president she had screened an applicant for one position or another and “He seems fairly intelligent despite the fact he only has an associate’s degree.” I “only” have an associate degree. It took me 16 years to get said degree. I worked on it part time while serving in the Navy (yes in combat), and working full time. You bet hearing that comment colored my perception of her.

    As a separate bit of advice, it definitely comes across that you think people with lower degrees inherently have less critical thinking skills. Try to make sure you don’t give your employees that impression.

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      The whole thing about degrees cracks me up. I know people with MAs and PhDs that can’t balance their check book, do laundry or even know how to keep their kitchen stocked with food.

      There are many aspects to intelligence. A degree means one has read A LOT of books in a given area and/or they know how to pass a test. That is all it means. It does not expand out far enough to “prove” intelligence, because there are many types of intelligence and many ways of demonstrating intelligence.

      If you follow Socrates long enough, OP, you find a thing called Socratic humility. We do not know what it is we do not know. I have to add, other people know ALL about what we ourselves are missing.

      Reply
  68. JMegan

    I once asked a psychiatrist for directions from Building A to Building B, and he responded with “Well, how would YOU get there?” And frankly, what I felt at that point was not that he was amazing and that he was doing such a great job coaching me, but that he was a bit of an idiot who didn’t understand what I was asking. Super frustrating. And another data point for “sometimes you just need the answer.”

    But good for you, OP, for recognizing the problem in your method, and asking for help! It might look like a bit of a pile-on here, but I think you’re getting some good feedback as to why this method doesn’t work with your team.

    Reply
    1. ThursdaysGeek

      “Well, since I don’t know where Building B is, I would ask someone for directions and then walk in the way they pointed. You apparently do not know where the building is either, although you work here. Therefore, I will ask someone more knowledgeable for directions. Good bye.”

      Reply
  69. Squeegee Beckenheim

    I have a coworker in my department who works on the same kind of projects as me but is senior, so I’ve gotten a lot of my training from him. He looooves the Socratic method. For a long time I thought he thought I was stupid and was condescending to me, but then I observed him with other people and realized that’s just how he is. I’ve finally learned to work with him by stating upfront what I’ve tried and what assumptions I’ve made, but it’s still annoying for certain kinds of tasks. For example, I don’t want to learn how to assemble something by trial and error. I want to watch you do it, and then repeat the process. But because he learns best by figuring it out for himself, he assumes everyone else does as well. He’s trained non-technical people in our technical specialty and I feel like his approach is turning them off and making them defensive. On the plus side, eventually I’ll be doing this training and I’ve learned from him some ways not to do it.

    Reply
    1. Ad Astra

      But because he learns best by figuring it out for himself, he assumes everyone else does as well.

      Ooh, yeah, I’ve dealt with far too many of these people in my life. I am not tinkerer. As a child, I did not take things apart and put them back together to see how they work. As an adult, I don’t like re-inventing the wheel. You tell me how you did it, I’ll imitate it, and then I’ll let you know if I have any ideas for improving your process.

      Reply
  70. Solidus Pilcrow

    OP, I think you may benefit from doing some root cause analysis of your own as to why your employees are coming to you with questions. Is it truly a lack of critical thinking or something else?

    Are they on deadline and need an answer fast? Would finding the answer on their own take too long? For example, they could take 45 minutes to access a database and slice and dice the information or get a quick answer in 5 minutes by asking someone directly.

    Are these questions reference type information? Are there reference resources available? Do they have access to those references? Are the references current and accurate? (Why bother with looking it up if you have to recheck the info with Jane anyway? Just asking Jane in the first place is more efficient.) Are the references well organized and searchable (see the point above about finding the answer taking too long)?

    Also, keep in mind that sometimes the *only* solution to a problem is to ask for information. I had a job writing proposals in response to RFPs/RFIs/RFQs — often on tight deadline. The RFPs/RFIs commonly requested information about headcount numbers. These numbers changed monthly and I was told to ask Jane for the latest ones. Jane complained that I kept asking for this information every month. You could lead me down a question path about obtaining these numbers all you want, but ultimately, my answer would be to “ask Jane every month” because I was never given access to the database that contained the numbers nor the training needed to use it.

    Reply
    1. hamster

      My old company would call this an automation failure . I mean in Jane’s place i would have done an automated task of running the report that computed the number and e-mail you the result of the 1st of month. Anyway i worked many years in data management and optimization at a workplace where they made me log my time by hour. Their motto was if i had to do something the same way more than once, the task should be automated or in any way documented/procedure created to eliminate the risk of human error and better free my time for NEW clients and tasks. They shouldn’t have given you just db acess, but an interface where to get that info easily. Then both you would do your job easy, jane would be happy .

      Reply
      1. Solidus Pilcrow

        Yeah, we gave suggestions for automating or exporting every month, but were shot down for whatever reason (this was a while ago, I don’t remember all the details). My point being, the only solution I was ever given was to ask for the information. And it was irksome to have the person I was required to ask it from complain when I used the only avenue available to me.

        Reply
  71. Ultraviolet

    I can sympathize with the OP when they say grad school has trained them in this type of interaction. But actually, I think constantly being questioned and tested and having the limits of your ability/knowledge exposed for judgment is one of the things a lot of people find stressful and tiring about grad school. Employees who didn’t actually sign up for it are unlikely to appreciate it. If a grad student appeared unhappy about engaging in those processes, people would question their ability. Be careful not to question a non-student’s ability on those grounds, even subconsciously.

    Another difference between grad school and the work world that I think is coming up here is pace. One of the most common warnings to people transitioning out of grad school is that the pace of most workplaces is much faster. Half-hour conversations like the OP describes are a highlight of grad school but can be a burden on employees whose workload isn’t designed to accommodate them. It seems inevitable that some employees have sometimes had to stay late to make up time spent talking rather than producing, and unless those conversations were clearly valuable, they’ll resent it. (Another difference between grad school and work is that you’re allowed to resent staying late at work all the time.)

    And don’t forget that most professors have very little training in management (or even pedagogy, for that matter). Even to the extent that you should be coaching your employees, emulating your professors’ coaching is not necessarily a good idea.

    Reply
    1. Ultraviolet

      PS: Be careful that you’re not thinking of your employees as disappointing students. When you’re teaching (and maybe especially when you’re a TA?) you get students who just want you to tell them the answer or “how to get an A” and that can be pretty frustrating and demoralizing. It’s hard not to think bad things about those students. But remember, that’s because their job as students is to figure out those things and your job is to help them figure it out. When students are assigned to produce a “deliverable” it’s usually just a way to help them figure things out, or assess how well they’ve figured it out. But for an employee, figuring things out is generally not a goal in itself–it’s almost always in service to getting things done better. And the manager’s job is to help the team get things done, which only sometimes is about helping employees develop skills.

      Your employees will definitely get frustrated if they sense you’re disappointed in them because they’re not living up to expectations their manager shouldn’t even be holding them to.

      Reply
  72. Amiga

    The Socratic Method is not always an effective tool for everyone. We all have different learning styles regardless of the level of education. I recently found that I am a visual-spatial, musical, and intrapersonal learner. I need to visualize what I’m learning and relate it back to something I already know or be shown how to do something. Music helps me remember things and I need time to reflect on whatever I’m trying to learn. The Socratic Method works for verbal-linguistic learners and unfortunately, this technique is persistently used (since Socrates’ time) while many people don’t benefit from it.

    I went to law school and professors use the Socratic Method religiously. I had to adapt but it wasn’t easy. I can only imagine how stressful it would be to face that in a work environment when you’re focused on doing good work, making money, and not getting fired for “sounding stupid”. I agree to just give the answer, and them maybe work back to help them remember how to do something if it’s a consistent pattern. Maybe create manuals so they don’t have to keep coming to you?

    Reply
  73. Clever Name

    I think this question is the other side of the coin of the question from a new programmer who was frustrated that their boss never gave them a straightforward answer when their boss wanted them to learn to troubleshoot things on their own. I was really pleased that the OP listened to all the advice and realized what was going on and worked on figuring stuff out on their own.

    Reply
  74. Student

    Not all jobs require critical thinking skills. Not all people are willing to develop their critical thinking skills.

    Chances are, if this department has been functioning acceptably but all the staff have bad critical thinking skills, this department’s function probably doesn’t require a lot of critical thinking. Maybe they just need a manager who has critical thinking skills and can effectively direct them.

    Another thought: asking people to make judgement calls also involves asking them to take responsibility for the outcome of those judgement calls. Have you assured your team that you will back them up even if they make mistakes? Or do you try to push the hard calls and the full risks of those calls onto them instead of taking them on yourself, then undermine/blame/backstab them when they make a call contrary to what you would have personally done in hindsight?

    Reply
  75. bopper

    My boss was talking to us about her leadership styles…first step is “directing” (telling the person what to do), then “coaching” (like the Op is doing), then “supporting”, and the final awesome level is “delegating”. She said that she was in delegating and that means she is at a mature level of leadership and we are self-reliant..
    Sounds great, except that we ARE self-reliant and very competant…and usually before we go to her we have tried everything in our power to do…so when she delegates back to us…it doesn’t solve it…So we told her that this may not be the best thing…all we learn is not to bother bringing issues to her since they are just going to get dumped back on us

    Reply
  76. Schnapps

    Not sure if this has been said, but what about setting the expectation that your employee comes to you with potential solutions?

    Reply
  77. Jessie

    I’ve had two managers in the past who used this method poorly and one who used it well. Although that’s a small sample to go from, my hunch is that most managers who try to do this as a general way of working don’t do a good job of it.

    The biggest issue I had was when a manager tried to do the “figure it out for yourself” thing when their employees are trying to meet a deadline (especially when they were given short notice of the task in the first place.) “Hey, I just found out we need to send up a Qwerty report on all of the teapots we’ve made in the last year, and it’s due in two hours. Do you know what a Qwerty report is?” That is a TERRIBLE time to be all “Well, why don’t you use your resources and try to figure it out (if you happen to know what a Qwerty report is.)

    I had a manager who drove me nuts because he tried to do this method (thinking he was coaching), but what he was actually doing was withholding information that only he had. We’ll call him Bob. Let’s say Bob has been coordinating with Jane in another department about a particular project. He then hands off the project to me. I would ask Bob for information he’s already received from Jane and he would tell me to get it from Jane. I would then have to go bug Jane to send me documents she’s already sent to my department.

    The other risk you run if you do this to often is your employees might start to get the perception that you’re just trying to hide your lack of knowledge about something. I say that because I’ve seen people do it, where “work it out for yourself” was well-known to be code for “I really don’t have the technical background needed for this management role and I’m trying to hide it.”

    Reply
  78. Stephanie

    I really wanted to chime in on this one. I had a manager who used this kind of method on me, and I found it intensely frustrating. One day, however, it clicked that she was grooming me for additional responsibility by trying to involve me in the decision-making process and improve those critical thinking skills. I then took it upon myself to, whenever possible, bring a potential solution with the problem.

    It might have been a lesson faster learned if I understood her intentions, but it was one of the most valuable professional skills I have ever learned. OP, while you may be over-doing it, or perhaps being insensitive to the immediate needs of your staff, you have the right goal! Between Alison and the rest of the commenters, you should have the tools you need to improve your approach. Please know: I think your goal a very worthy goal as I have benefited from such instruction as well.

    Reply
  79. anon attorney

    I have not read 300+ comments so apologies if this has already been discussed, but I have two words for OP: Situational Leadership. If you aren’t familiar with this model then I strongly recommend reading up on it. It gives practical guidance on when, why and how to select different explanatory and problem solving techniques with subordinates and will help you develop some greater flexibility. When I was a leadership development trainer I found managers really responded to this model – we were trying to get most of them out of instruction mode and into coaching, but it will work the other way too!

    Reply
  80. Ellen

    There is someone at my workplace who has been given a semi-mentoring role toward me and one other team member.

    The other team member comes to him with a lot of questions (he has a specific type of expertise that she is being trained in), and he will lead her down a rabbit hole of condescending questions, delivered with a tone of derision and impatience. There’s a definite feeling of “don’t you know this already?” to all of their conversations, despite the fact that he is supposed to be teaching her specialist skills. When she is not around he speaks about her with utter contempt. I avoid coming to him with questions if I possibly can, because what is he saying about me when I’m not around? (It turns out that he complains to the other team member that I don’t come to him with enough questions, haha. But I prefer that to being treated like an idiot and ridiculed behind my back for the questions I ask.)

    This letter reads like something he would write, so I’m incapable of being objective. He would likely say that he was using the Socratic method, but it strikes me more as someone relishing a power differential than actually trying to teach.

    OP, I will just echo what other commenters have already said – the fact that you are crediting/blaming your higher education level for what is essentially a clash in communication styles is probably coming through loud and clear to your staff. Not everyone is going to get the best results from what *you* personally found most effective, and that fact has very little to do with who went to grad school and who didn’t.

    Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        It’s just right above! (She had accidentally posted it as a reply to someone else, along with another comment saying she hadn’t meant to, so I moved it to a stand-alone comment.)

        Reply
        1. Katie the Fed

          I know – I had jokingly replied to her comment of “not sure how [posting it in the wrong] place happened” and I was using the Socratic method on her. Trust me, it was funny in my head.

          Reply
  81. Katie the Fed

    OP –

    Something else has been bugging me a little bit about this. I get a slight sense in reading your letter that you don’t think your employees are all that bright. The way you talk about their schooling and their skills – it gives an impression that you don’t think they’re all that smart. The problem is – they can pick up on that, and I suspect that might be driving some of the animosity toward you.

    I get it, and I’ve been there. At the risk of sounding like an asshole myself, I was a gifted kid, was really good in academics, etc. In one of my first quasi-leadership roles a decade ago, I was dealing with people who I thought just weren’t that smart. Some of them weren’t great writers (I had a habit of equating bad writing with poor intelligence), some were just a little slower in responding to tasks, etc.

    They totally picked up on it. They thought I was condescending and a bit of a prima donna, and they were right. I wasn’t ready yet to be in a leadership role -I had no training and was in over my head. I was used to being the go-to person on everything and I didn’t understand why they weren’t operating on my level. It’s because they were newer to the jobs, had different backgrounds, etc. They had a lot to offer but I missed it because I thought the right kind of intelligence was my kind.

    One thing that might help is seriously thinking about what they ARE good at. They might have poor problem solving skills but I’ll bet most of them are really good at other things. Try thinking about those qualities when you think about them and when you interact with them. I’ll bet it will help in your interactions.

    Reply
    1. Dr. Johnny Fever

      This is something that bothered me too as I was reading.

      OP, keep in mind that unless your direct reports succeed, you cannot succeed. It’s not possible to be an excellent manager yet have a subpar team. If is your role to provide the foundation for your team to excel, shield them from distraction, remove their barriers, and manage their performance.

      I echo the suggestions to use trend analysis to determine the types of questions used. You may find formal training opportunities to review with your staff to cut down on some confusion. If you aren’t talking to each team member 1:1 on a regular basis, do so. This is a more appropriate for items that may require additional discussion and perhaps Socratic review.

      Stop using the Socratic method for every question and give direct answers. With your answers, direct the questioner to the source material. Over time, the simple questions should die down.

      For those questions that are more complex, ask more concrete questions about actions taken. It’s a good idea to ask the direct report what their instincts are to handle the situation, and build from there when a direct answer isn’t available. Make sure your critical inquiry is linked directly to the issue at hand and practical application, not based in theoretical concepts.

      Reply
  82. newreader

    The LW stated that “most often they do know the answers but are just not making the connections…” Is part if the issue wanting them to be more self-sufficient or confident? I had a supervisor once that expected staff that came to him with questions to have at least one or two potential solutions of their own to offer, He handled it in such a way that it wasn’t demeaning or condescending. I found it helpful as it made me think through the question before approaching him and often I arrived at the answer on my own. I only had to go to him for true questions where the answer wasn’t obvious. And he would just give a direct answer in situations where an analysis wasn’t needed.

    I also once supervised an employee that often came to me with very thoughtful questions: “I’m not sure how I should process X. I could do it as A for reasons B and C, or I could do it as D for reasons G and H.” When appropriate we would talk through the reasons in more depth and arrive at a decision. That built her knowledge base and confidence for future similar situations. But other times It was appropriate to just provide her the answer without any discussion.

    So I agree that not all questions require a Socratic method, but there are times when using that type of method can result in skill building and/or encourage employees to not use the supervisor as a crutch.

    Reply
  83. Mookie

    Maybe I should have just become a professor ;)

    You would have run into the same problems, it sounds like. It’s great you want to develop better managerial skills, though, and given your love of uni and interest in practical applications, you might think about taking some courses in it.

    Reply
    1. Mookie

      I mean, I’m like this. I need the structure of a course in order to approach a new field, otherwise I’m overwhelmed. Managing people and developing a productive, collaborative staff takes real skills, knowledge, practice, and heaping helping of humility, but it’s going to work differently for different people. If you’re locked into a university mindset, approach it that way. Be a student. Learn your stuff. Admit your weaknesses, and don’t pretend the problem is that the people you’re managing “only” have a BA and aren’t analytical enough for your liking. Your liking isn’t going to matter, if people like your boss readily get results and you don’t.

      Reply
      1. Mookie

        Also,

        Plus, they are uncomfortable with me knowing what they don’t know, or being wrong in front of me. That was some feedback I received directly.

        you’re not practicing what you preach here, exactly. This feedback is very direct and speaks volumes about you as a manager. Taking a page from your book, I won’t tell you what those volumes say, but it’s something you’re going to need to think on, figure out, and solve.

        Reply
  84. Observer

    Another thought about all of this. Several people have mentioned the possibility that you are looking for characteristics that are not necessarily necessary in their role. And others have mentioned (as I have) that your methods may not be the best way to get what you are looking for.

    You write:
    They also find it stressful because they are having to think on their feet and remember facts and details.

    Are these, in fact, important qualities? Do their jobs require them to “think on their feet”, as opposed to thinking critically, making connections and taking responsibility? Do they really need to remember all of those facts and details, or are those things better looked up in a database, reference source etc? Unless the answer is an emphatic yes, you need to really think about the downside of stressing people out by making them do things that really are not important for their jobs.

    If these really are important, are you sure that this is the best way to get them to do this? Even when well done, the socratic method is not necessarily the best way to get this kind of result. And when it’s not well done – see the quote about the “little girl who had a little curl”.

    Lastly, the fact that you are getting into discussions of 15-30 minutes to “flesh things out” tells me that you are probably not doing this all that well. If they really mostly have the knowledge they need and are just not connecting the dots, then one or two well focused questions should get them going.

    Reply
    1. aebhel

      Yeah, that stood out to me as well. I am not good at thinking on my feet and responding quickly to questions, even if I do know the answer. Fortunately, that is not even slightly a necessity for my job. If I wanted to be a lawyer, that would be something to work on, but I don’t.

      Academia in particular I think trains people to believe that being able to respond quickly and accurately to rapid-fire questioning is a universally valuable skill, but it really isn’t. It’s not even necessarily related to solving problems effectively.

      Reply
  85. Ultraviolet

    OP said the team “really needs to improve their critical thinking skills and problem-solving ability” but didn’t explain why. I think OP should take a step back and ask herself (perhaps Socratically): what problem would be solved by improving the team’s skills in those areas? Maybe another solution is actually more appropriate.

    Reply
  86. AcademiaNut

    I think a big part of the problem is that the OP is seeing the situation from a professor and student perspective – she’s always been the student, and has now moved to the professor role. But that’s very a very different dynamic than manager to employee.

    My experience with academia is that extensive “Well, what do you think…” type instruction is generally restricted to students, particularly more junior ones, from people who are much more senior that they are. It occurs as part of the process of teaching them how to work through problems. It’s also time consuming and inefficient from a production perspective, but it’s tolerated because the whole point of being a student is learning.

    Once someone is no longer a student, using those methods comes across as highly condescending, even when the questioner is the junior. It would be seen as implying that the questioner is not a competent academic, still needs to be coached in basic skills, and doesn’t know when it’s appropriate to ask questions.

    Sometimes the question is something the questioner could work out for themselves, if they took the time and effort. But if you’ve got a paper to finish, or a proposal to write, that’s not necessarily the best use of a couple of days of work, so you go to someone who is an expert in that area, and they can give you what you need in five minutes, or tell you where to find the answer. For something more complex, it becomes an interesting discussion, with both sides asking questions and contributing information. And if someone asks a straightforward question you know the answer to, you answer in a clear and direct manner.

    Being a manager is not the same as being a PhD supervisor, or a lecturer. The professor-student relationship is one where the junior person is specifically there to learn from the senior; that’s the whole point of the relationship. In a job, the whole point is to get the job done, competently and efficiently, and both the manager and managed are assumed to be competent professionals, even though there is a hierarchical arrangement. The employee is hired to do a job, and the manager to ensure that the jobs are done well and efficiently; it’s not a student-teacher relationship.

    Reply
  87. Not So NewReader

    OP, I hope you see how many people here saw the Socratic method in school and really hated it.

    I saw it in the college that I went to for my last two years. It was a nightmare. Students and professors were in a constant state of meltdown. Everyone was bickering with everyone. Age discrimination ran rampant because no one had time to deal with the real problems. Questions were used as showmanship, one-upmanship, and to derail projects. Questions were used like weapons. In my opinion, my degree is not worth the paper it’s written on. Did I mention I went to a highly ranked school? My point is, OP, not everyone sees value in having degrees and there are many reasons for that. Not only do they not place a high value on getting one for themselves, they do not place a high value on yours, either.

    I have been both a subordinate and a boss. I can tell you from both sides of the story that what people want is FAIRNESS, above all else be fair in everything you do. Instead of dreaming up more questions to ask your people to think on, just ask yourself, “What is the most fair thing for me to do as a boss?” in every instance through out your day.

    Reply
  88. OP

    Allison,

    You made a comment further up but there was no Reply link. You indicated that one cannot teach critical thinking, and can only teach problem solving to some degree. Can you explain why that is?

    Reply
    1. Beth

      Speaking from my mangement experience, problem solving typically requires some critical thinking skills but not all critical thinking is intended to solve problems. For my student staff I work on developing critical thinking skills related to the tasks (ie problems) they are working on with the intent to have them able to work as independently of me as possible – this means setting up clear expectations both about goals and about how much information and support I can provide. That’s not to say that I don’t support them by giving them answers when they ask, but that I want them to feel empowered to take many of the possible steps on their own and to be able to self-evaluate and self-regulate as much as possible based on individual roles and individual ability

      Reply
    2. aebhel

      I would say that you *can* teach critical thinking, but that it is not your job as a manager to do so, and making that the focus of your interactions is going to take up valuable time that could be spent much more productively–particularly if your staff has a heavy workload.

      Reply
      1. Dr. Johnny Fever

        Critical thinking and critical inquiry is something that is addressed via education, not within the workplace. Minds are rather malleable in younger years to adapt to a myriad of thinking patterns.

        Within the workplace, the focus is on results, meaning solving problems. Once a person hits the workplace, the expectation is that critical thinking is already there and ready to apply to problem solving. Adult minds are malleable, yet less so; learning new thinking patterns is much harder as an adult.

        A company is not interested in teaching employees the skills they need for the job, but is highly invested in how employees use those skills to drive results (and therefore revenue)

        Teaching doesn’t make money in the global economy. Your job as a manager is to drive results and make money.

        Reply
    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      It’s not the kind of thing you can teach with quick coaching; it takes serious investment of time, which is something you can’t reasonably do as a manager in most contexts. It’s a skill that you need people to already have when you hire them. It’s similar to good writing in that way, for a job that requires good writing. You can’t reasonably invest the time it would take to teach someone to write eloquently; you need to hire for people who already have that skill.

      Your job as a manager is to get results. You can do some short-term coaching toward that end, but long-term intensive coaching usually doesn’t make sense unless there are truly extenuating circumstances.

      Reply
    4. hbc

      OP, you’ve pretty much gotten hammered, so I appreciate that you stuck with it. But….

      If this is your communication style when you’re not trying to teach, I can see why people are getting frustrated. In this particular post, you don’t bother to provide any background to help your question be answered. Are you asking because you have disagree for reasons A and B? Are you simply intellectually curious about an HR experts’ perspective? Do you instinctively feel that critical thinking is teachable but want to see someone outline their counter-argument to stimulate your thoughts? The reason for your question may be obvious to you, but it’s not to others, and giving that background helps gets you better answers.

      Basically, from what I’m seeing, you’re not extending yourself at all to identify how you can best move forward. I’m betting that’s what your staff is feeling and seeing too, regardless of your intentions (which I know are good.)

      Reply
      1. stevenz

        I would also add that there are many many questions that come up in the workplace that do not lend themselves to “Socratic” methods. They are rarely abstract concepts that require deep thought and insight into the eternal workings of the mind and soul, but are by their nature practical and relevant to a particular set of circumstances.

        Reply
    5. Sarah

      Not to pile on, OP, but I think the point is more that it’s not your place to “teach them to think”.

      If you insist that the problem is in how they think, then you either have a genuinely terrible team or you’ve ruined their potential with your lack of respect.

      Most people operate on good will; they want to do a good job. If you wanted them to learn and retain information you’d build them up with respect and patience. There’s nothing respectful about haranguing someone for 15 minutes because you think they really do know, but they just haven’t “thought it through”.

      Besides, it doesn’t sound like you get any satisfaction out of “teaching” them, and they don’t seem to get anything out of your lessons. So you’re not teaching them anything except that they want to avoid you.

      You indicated you want them to be “self sufficient”. That sounds like you just want them to leave you alone.

      Reply
  89. CADMonkey007

    OP, you’re looking for clear suggestions so here are a few for you:
    One idea is to rephrase your questions as directives. Instead of “what did we do last time we encountered this situation?” or “where do you think this information might be?” simply say “I recommend doing the same that we did for project X, because Y” or “That should be covered in chapter Z of Y manual, make sure you always check that first” and let them piece it together from there. This way you are giving helpful information, but also being clear you expect them to do the legwork.

    Another idea is OP should just set the expectation of what employees should do/try before coming to OP with questions at all. Maybe its 5 min on google, or check this manual, or come up with a few possible solutions for feedback. Make a point to ask what they’ve tried already, and if necessary simply say “go back and try X, Y, Z and come back if you’re still having problems.” This will still frustrate people at times, but it’s ok to set a boundary here. I think, however, it is important if you do this that you follow through on your end to be helpful if they put in the effort on their end. Which leads me to…

    Never be dismissive! If employee says she tried X, Y, and Z, and is still stuck, don’t dismiss her to try X again for the 500th time, or jump to the assumption “she probably didn’t do it right.” There have been many times when I think someone is asking a stupid question, but upon some digging I encounter that it really is a strange loophole or unique scenario that needs my input.

    Reply
  90. Kapers

    If you feel they are coming to you too frequently with problems they should be able to solve on their own, I’d question whether it’s possible they do not have sufficient training or resources they need to solve these problems themselves. In which case, this is not a failure of their critical thinking skills but of the training and resources available to them. Are you the only person who has the information they need? Perhaps they see your method as a barrier to that information, a hoop to jump through.

    I agree with others here that some employees may sense condescension where you don’t intend it. That they have commented they don’t want to be wrong in front of you is a huge red flag for that. If they come away from conversations with you feeling shamed or talked down to, you are not going to make much progress with them anyway.

    Maybe your last line was a joke, but please consider that if you switch careers to academia you can practice your method ALL THE TIME and nobody will be upset with you that they can’t get their work done efficiently.

    Reply
  91. stevenz

    My boss uses the Socratic method (but she’s no Socrates!) Same problem – I need an answer, or she legitimately needs to tell me something I need to know, but we have to go through this process to get to it. Time consuming, etc etc as the post says. But it’s worse than that. I find it manipulative and humiliating and I sometimes think that’s the reason she uses it. I have very keen critical thinking skills – I live by them, I have taught them at the graduate school level, I don’t respect sloppy thinking and decision-making. However, to really use critical thinking you need some amount of *information*. If you’re not getting that information from your boss, how can you puzzle something out? After you have the answer to your question, you have an additional store of information on which to base critical thinking in the future, with one’s own preferred methods of analysis.

    Reply
  92. Not So NewReader

    OP, you work in a busy environment but you expect people to take 15 minutes to a half hour to figure out an answer to a question?

    I am not clear why the focus on critical thinking skills. And I am not sure why just answering the question is not an option. Basically the format is answer the question and then state the reason why so they know for next time. Eventually, they collect up a bunch of information and they are able to extrapolate what to do in New Situation. It takes time. You have been working with them for two years. They should know by now. I used the answer and reason method with a group and they were turned around inside of 12 months. At that point they began teaching me! And that is what happens when you lay a good foundation as basis for learning more- they show you things that you never picked up on.

    Keep things simple and straightforward. That is part of your job as a boss, to ease the way for the work to be accomplished.

    Reply
  93. M. S.

    When I was in IT tech support I had a new person to train, I used this method.

    If it was critical, We’d fix it 1st THEN I’d show her how I got there, But most of the time it wasn’t critical, so I’d point her towards the issue. I’d tell her, “I’ll give you XX time to figure it out, If you haven’t gotten it then, I’ll walk you through it.

    She loved it. It gave her the confidence to debug and track down issues on her own. She’s done the same thing with teaching other

    Reply
  94. M. S.

    When I was in IT tech support I had a new person to train, I used this method.

    If it was critical, We’d fix it 1st THEN I’d show her how I got there, But most of the time it wasn’t critical, so I’d point her towards the issue. I’d tell her, “I’ll give you XX time to figure it out, If you haven’t gotten it then, I’ll walk you through it.

    She loved it. It gave her the confidence to debug and track down issues on her own. She’s done the same thing when teaching others how to do support :)

    Reply
  95. Bunny

    OP, you really need to be careful about how and when you use this method in the workplace. It can work well under the right circumstances, but I *balked* when I read both that you have a busy team with a high workload and that you’re sometimes spending up to 30 minutes on this personal bugbear of yours.

    If I’ve gone to my manager to ask them a question, it’ll be because of the following reasons;

    1- I need a judgement call that I feel goes over my head, or I don’t feel confident making it given how close the two answers are and how serious the potential consequences. In this case, I am not asking my manager because I lack critical thinking skills. I am asking my manager because It Is Their Job To Make The Tough Calls. Because then I can be confident knowing that I have their back-up if thing go wrong. Because then I know that they know that they’re the ones making this decision.
    2- I know, or suspect, I’m missing a piece of information that they would have. Such as if I’ve got to deal with a big contact who I’ve never spoken to before, and want to check if the manager can recall anything specific about the contact that I might want to be aware of. Or if I’m concerned something might be brushing up against a regulation somewhere and want to check in on the person who is supposed to know those regulations. Or if I’m suspicious that a client is asking me to do something outside my remit and want my manager to confirm that before I say no.
    3- I have reasoned and worked through and considered and debated – probably with my co-workers – and the answer still evades me. And I just need to answer so I can finish that task, because it needs to be done imminently if I’m to keep up with the workload in front of me.
    4- I am fundamentally overworked and stretched too thin due to a failure by my employer to properly cost out how many man-hours a job will take, to the point I do not physically have time to spend on searching for the answer. I just need it. I’m generally also at this point going to be so tense and stressed out by the specific task that the *worst* thing you could do, if you want me working at peak Me, is condescend me through a process I’ve probably already done half a dozen times before coming to you. Sometimes you can go blind to the key details when you’ve looked at something too long, and you just need a fresh pair of eyes to take a look instead.

    When I need to sound out something I am likely capable of figuring out myself, I tend to do so with my peers – my co-workers. If I’ve asked a manager for help, it’s for a reason.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

You can find the site's commenting guidelines here. You can report an ad, tech, or typo issue here.

Subscribe to all comments on this post by RSS