How to get someone to answer your questions

I learned a wonderful trick today that completely resonates with me, and I wanted to share it. Perhaps I should start a new program management category for this kind of thing, seems like I've been writing about it a lot recently.

The problem: You have a question. You need an answer. You know the person or group of people who can answer the question. You ask them the question, but you never hear back... you might have to continually checkin every few days or weeks, you might have to cc their manager, etc... but that's an awful lot of work just to get the answer to a question.

The solution: Send the mail to the person or group of people, but rather than asking the question, state what you know is the wrong answer. “I think the way it works is Foo, right Bob?” You'll be amazed at how quickly someone will take the time to correct you, particularly if the question was aimed at more than one person, since it's an opportunity for that person to prove their knowledge in front of others (which is just human nature).

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Of course, it's not without consequences... you need to have a thick skin (or be willing to grow one), and be willing to live with the consequences should you use this trick so frequently that others start to think you don't know what you're talking about.

[Updated later in the day to correct a stupid typo]

Comments (16)
  1. Anonymous says:

    Awesome, devious tip from KC Lemson about how to take advantage of technical people’s egos to get the information you need….

  2. Anonymous says:

    Mo-ing » Today’s link (again)

  3. Anonymous says:

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  4. Daniel P. says:

    That’s a good one, sure to work 100%!

  5. Chetan says:

    Great! I am sure someone would have thought of the following also.

    To get the name of someone whose name you forgot (and should not have, in just a few months), ask for the e-mail address when you see him/her suddenly. And you’ll usually get an "official" one like 🙂

  6. C-Rock says:

    Usually when I forget someones name I just steal their wallet, but this sounds WAY more friendly.

  7. JD says:

    Nice trick!

    Though I think I have too much ego to use this trick myself!:( 😉


  8. Amanda.Murphy says:

    Woot! Good one.

  9. Chip says:

    I’m so bad remembering names I never use them, even when someone addresses me by name and I know theirs. Sure, it makes me look like a jerk, but at least they’re never sure if I’ve forgotten their name!

  10. Larry Osterman says:

    NO FAIR!

    You’re not supposed to tell the super secret program manager tricks in public.

    Especially when they’re ones I fall for all the time.

  11. Jon Galloway says:

    Devious. That could be especially effective when combined with the other technique you recently mentioned (

    "Here’s the wrong answer. That’s how it works, right? If I don’t hear back by Friday, I’m going to assume it’s correct. Thanks!"

    Like the Crane Technique: If do right, no can defense (until Karate Kid II).

  12. Andrew says:

    I would think the obvious consequence is when the targets of your tricking (and all their friends) find out that you’ve been tricking them. YMMV, but all of these "little boy who cries wolf" tricks have long term consequences that far outweigh their short term benefits.


  13. KC Lemson says:

    I have no intention of actually using this, but I think it’s hilarious. What I meant by ‘it resonates with me’ is that it makes complete sense – I have seen time and time again that people are very willing to spend the time immediately to correct someone else’s error.

  14. I do hope this trick isn’t too widespread. I know myself well enough to know this trick would work VERY well on me.

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