9

I'm giving a class for a new co-workers group. There are 9 students (or new co-workers), and one of them (let's call him Bob) has a lot of questions, of which many are really good (70%) and the remaining questions are out of context.

I have responded to almost all of those questions (95%), but Bob seems to be very insistent, and sometimes I have to respond with a higher voice tone. The problem with raising my voice is that I don't want Bob to think that I have something against him.

I'd like to know how (if there is a way) to deal with someone who asks too many questions without my falling in despair. And, how do I keep the group in order under these conditions?

  • 1
    Welcome! Could you give a specific example of one of these occurrences? Doing so really helps us understand your question and your situation. – Catija Aug 14 '17 at 21:33
  • Could you add what the down side of Bob's activity is? You haven't really said what the difficulty is, other than you have to answer a lot of questions of dubious relevance. – user3169 Aug 15 '17 at 1:49
  • @user3169 There are probably time constraints. – user2921 Nov 1 '17 at 14:31
12

It sounds like you're describing a short-term situation (new-employee orientation?) rather than an ongoing one like a semester-long college course. I took a similarly-structured class a few years ago and saw the instructor handle a student like that very well.

The setting was a seminar that met for a couple hours every day for a week. The instructor had distributed a syllabus for the week, and then at the beginning of each session gave an overview of what we were going to cover on that specific day. This established scope -- we have two hours to cover X, Y, and Z. Here are examples of how the instructor handled different types of questions/interruptions:

  • For things that would be addressed later in this session: "that's a good question, which we'll get to in about 15 minutes". This tells the student there will be an answer but doesn't slow things down.

  • For things that would be addressed later in the week: "we're going to cover that in depth on Thursday, but (one-sentence summary of the answer)". This gives the student something, because holding your question for days can be frustrating, and like the previous one tells the student when to expect more detail.

  • For things that are relevant and not on the syllabus: first try the short answer, which might be enough. If the student presses for more detail or has followup questions: "I'll need to spend more time to give you a proper answer and I want to make sure we cover everything on today's agenda, but I'll be happy to discuss it with you {after class, over lunch, etc}". This shows the asker and the other students that you respect everybody's time (we're not going to bog down on this right now) and also that you're happy to help in a different setting. Alternate approach: "We don't have time to get into that now, but {some accessible source} covers that in a lot of detail." You can use this when you think the asker can do his own research if you point him in the right direction.

  • For things that aren't relevant: "I'd like to keep us focused on {current topic}, so let's not get into that now". If the student really cares he'll follow up outside of class and you can decide how to handle it then, but often it seems this is enough to convince the person that it wasn't that important (or that he should figure it out on his own).

Because you are teaching coworkers rather than students who'll be gone in a week, you might want to plan for some free-form discussions either during or after the class -- for example, unstructured lunches with the students during the class (when anybody can talk about anything), or periodic deeper-dive sessions on aspects of whatever it is your group does. I once worked at a company where the chief software architect gave a casual weekly talk (with plenty of Q&A) on whatever part of the software he thought people should know more about.

A final thought: at several companies I've seen good results from assigning mentors to new employees. This isn't just for early-career people or recent graduates; even experienced people need to learn the ropes of your organization, product, process quirks, etc. The mentor acts as a way to channel most of Bob's questions to that one person, which provides relief for everybody else (like you). Of course, it has to be organizationally ok for the mentor to spend time providing that guidance -- the mentor won't get quite as much of his own work done during the new person's ramp-up time, but if the mentoring provides a net benefit to the organization it's worth it.

7

I am Bob....literally. I have been diagnosed with ADHD, I manage med free. I have always done very well in my career and in school, however, I also am intense for a lot of people. I do ask tons of questions, most are good, I am sure a lot are off in left field to some.

The way that works for me that I have learned with age & mistakes (I am betting I am "old" Bob versus your Bob), is write it down. I have been asked to not ask questions during a lecture or teaching. It's okay. You can do that. You can allow only very specific clarification questions pertaining to this exact moment, such as a word definition, or a further detail on an item, questions such as "Now is this before or after...". Just limit questions during the talk to things that need a "right now" sort of clarity. But all other questions should be jotted down to be addressed at the end of the talk. I can't speak to whether Bob is self-aware enough to know he does this, so there are 2 ways to approach that. If you think you can kindly address him alone on this after a class, then that is fine (I've had it happen to me & I felt bad I put the teacher in the position to have to do it, but wasn't offended). Or you can simply tell the whole class that you are having some trouble squeezing in everything that needs to be covered, so due to time crunch, from here forward, this is the format. If Bob persists after telling the whole class, you will have to tell Bob directly. His busy brain might have been thinking up a new question while you told the class. ;)

And FWIW if Bob asks a lot of great questions, you telling Bob they are great questions only feeds the cycle. It feels good to be told you have input to offer, even by way of questions & he might use that to validate that he is of value. He is a new hire and likely wants to be seen as eager. If that may be true, also hold off on complimenting the question. Your well meaning (and appropriate) compliment may, in fact, make the situation worse on the whole.

1

The best response might be "That's an interesting question, but a little off-topic. Let's talk about this after class."

That gives the student some good feedback, but doesn't let him derail the class. If he's asking because he's genuinely curious, he'll approach you after class. And if he's asking just because he's impulsive, he will forget the question, but you won't be giving him the immediate attention that he seems to be craving.

I can almost guarantee that after a few rounds of this, he'll scale back his public inquisitiveness, without feeling shut down or demeaned.

-1

We can ask Bob to stay after the class and take up all questions at one go, a face to face conversation, but with this approach, the other mates are going to lose the responses that you are going to provide, which may result in the same questions to be asked in the coming classes by someone else.

The other way is, for the questions within the subject limits we can answer them, where as for the out of context questions, you can simply say,

"we will take up that question in [so and so] topic as it is out of context here"

(or)

"We can discuss this question and have a deep dive on it in [so and so] topic.

  • 1
    Welcome! We prefer answers to cite some personal experience with this situation or cite sources that support the solution and include an explanation of why your solution would work. We also require that answers reflect the culture of the person asking or at least note what culture you're from so that that can be considered – Catija Aug 15 '17 at 0:08
-1

Well, I would, first of all, ask Bob to stay after class and express how much I value his participation, in fact, I value it so much that I want him to organize a 5 min round of questions at the end of the class with his class mates.

or if you don't want to address him personally just tell everyone to hold their questions until the end of the class.

  • 1
    Welcome! We prefer answers to cite some personal experience with this situation or cite sources that support the solution and include an explanation of why your solution would work. We also require that answers reflect the culture of the person asking or at least note what culture you're from so that that can be considered. – Catija Aug 14 '17 at 23:06

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