By "knowledge question", I mean any sort of question intended to check whether the listener already knows the answer or not. For example:
- Are you familiar with how an operating system works?
- Do you know how to vote?
Unfortunately, in certain contexts, these sorts of questions can cause offence because those being asked either
A: Don't know the subject but feel it is common knowledge and so they should know about it
B: Do know the subject and feel they are being patronized
This creates a problem because it is often difficult to tell which way a person is going to go in taking offence, especially if you don't know them very well. Therefore, I can't simply modify the question to "Of course you are familiar with how an operating system works, right?" as this will comfort B but offend A. Similarly, skipping the question entirely will comfort A but offend B.
I work in technical support and usually deal with this situation beginning any conversation with a short script explaining that I try not to assume any knowledge on the part of those I am talking to and that they should ask me to skip stuff if I am going too slowly. I think this is quite clumsy, however, and not always appropriate in less formal situations so I am wondering if there is a way to ask this kind of question more neutrally.