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How do you answer questions effectively?

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Mid-Level Software Engineer [IC2] at Yelp7 months ago

There's a lot said about asking great questions, but I'm wondering what guidelines apply to the other side: Providing great answers. How can it be done in a way where the answer resonates the most with the asker and the relationship is built up?



  • Rahul Pandey
    Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    6 months ago

    A few qualities of great answers:

    • Go beyond answering the question, but share the underlying context around the question. As the person asking the question who probably has more context, perhaps there's another phrasing of the question which makes more sense?
    • Share more about the roadmap or upcoming changes on your team, so they feel like they have an "inside look" rather than just a isolated back-and-forth.
    • Make the question asker feel welcomed, and invite more feedback/questions.
  • Alex Chiou
    Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero, PayPal
    6 months ago

    I love this question! Here are some thoughts from me:

    • If it's a great question, thank them!
      • If they have taken the time to write a very polite question with relevant context attached concisely, give them props! The idea is that you want to encourage this behavior so more of it happens.
      • The asker may have anxiety if they're earlier-in-career and/or new to the team. Thanking them for asking the question is a powerful (and likely unexpected) act of kindness that will help reduce that anxiety and make them feel more welcome on the team (which will empower them to ask more questions and learn faster!).
    • Lead with the core point
      • The 80/20 rule applies to answers as well: There are going to be some points of your answer that are more impactful than others.
      • You will see me do this with a lot of my answers in Taro where I will bold a singular sentence at the top of my lengthy response. It helps the asker understand the core thing to remember and sets the stage for the nitty-gritty details of your response.
    • Explain The Underlying Principles
      • By default, an answer is giving someone a fish. You want to level that up to "teaching them how to fish" as much as possible, so they can become more independent and ask less questions in the future (saving you and everyone else on the team time in the long run).
      • Here's a really basic example: Let's say someone asks you how to fix some particular IDE issue. You know there's a great internal wiki on debugging IDE issues at Yelp, so you look it up and find the fix. Don't only share the fix, share the wiki you used as well - This empower the asker to "self-serve" for future IDE issues.
    • Look For Patterns And Act Multiplicatively
      • If you have been asked the same question 3+ times, you should see if there's a way you can create a permanent, more scalable resource to address that problem in the future. Often times this will manifest as a wiki or an FAQ section somewhere.
      • You might even be able to solve this problem with code. I remember when we ran into build issues at Meta, the build tool would automatically suggest commands to run to debug the issue.

    More resources on communication and building relationships: