Asking the right question–getting the right answer….

February 21, 2012

Courtesy of Fotopedia

I was inspired by this HBR article called When the Help You Get Isn’t Helpful (if you haven’t signed up for HBR’s blog feed, do it now!)

Here are the passages that resonated with me:

We’ve been programmed to respond quickly, but perhaps not thoughtfully, to questions. While we may genuinely want to help, we don’t have the time to probe, brainstorm, and engage in dialogue to explore the core issues of a problem…

…The most dysfunctional consequence of this pattern is that colleagues who genuinely need advice on an issue will stop asking for it. When the input they receive is repeatedly wrong, they unconsciously begin to dismiss the value of others’ input…

As librarians, through practice and experience, we are trained to thoughtfully ask questions in order to get to the right answer (known in geeky librarian circles as the Reference Interview).  I have noticed a difference in information seekers over the past 15 years–the need for “immediacy” (perhaps also known as the Google effect) has grown and it is more difficult to get to the true answer as quickly as your patron expects. As the person trying to help, you have to be tactfully tenacious in seeking and providing the answer.

The “dysfunctional consequence” is something that, as librarians, we need to keep in mind as a cautionary tale.  People will stop asking for advice; if they feel that the input is repeatedly wrong, they will begin to “dismiss the value of others’ input.”  This is why the reference interview is so important.  This is why you need to show your patrons that finding EXACTLY what they want is important to you.  This is why you need to be in touch with both verbal and nonverbal cues. The librarian needs to keep at it: keep asking questions, offering solutions based upon feedback, and show that you are as interested in the answer as they are.  Most of the time, patrons (even the reluctant ones that say “that’s ok” when the answer isn’t what they wanted) appreciate it when you continue to search and offer solutions honed to the continued feedback. 

I often have “repeat” patrons.  Having helped them in the past by continuing to come up with the resources they need even if it hasn’t been instantaneous, these patrons know I have their best interests at heart.  They value the relationship and keep asking, even if the answer doesn’t come at the click of Google search speed.  Research (defined as “careful or diligent search”, derived from the Middle French recerche, to go about seeking) is most often a process, and we should make sure that we take the time to ask the right questions and offer careful and thoughtful answers, in order to maintain our value and deliver the RIGHT answer to the patron.

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One Response to “Asking the right question–getting the right answer….”

  1. I could certainly relate with the “Google effect”, nowadays people would want to get the answers to their questions. I learned to ask again “Is that really what you think?”

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