This may be a Programmers Stack Exchange question, but I don't think so, because I don't believe there is an accepted term for this in the industry, so I turn to all of you for suggestions.

Say I'm at work, and a co-worker doesn't know what to do, and comes up to me to ask a question.

If they are explaining the question, and half way through, they suddenly realize what the answer is, we call that "Rubber Ducking" (because all I do is sit there and nod my head like a rubber duck in a bathtub, and by explaining, they have to think about the problem correctly).

If they finish explaining the question, and they don't have that moment of clarity, but I know what the answer is, then I'm being an "expert".

If I can see how they should have figured it out for themselves, and I make a suggestion like "In cases like this, I usually find it helpful to ask myself ...", then I'm being a "mentor". Ideally, they get half way through answering the question and they once again have that moment of clarity, and they've not only answered the question but learned how to figure it out themselves next time.

The question for all of you is: What do you call it when they ask their question, and you realize that the problem is too complex for you to figure out the answer, but you see a few ways forward, so you start this conversation consisting of questions, suggestions (feelers, really), stories, etc., all attempting to get them to have that moment of clarity when they answer their own question? It's sort of an enabler, or a brainstormer, or something. I'd love a phrase or a word for this. I'd prefer that it makes it clear what I am talking about, but I'd accept a term that I can use in interviews that would trigger the interviewer to ask me what I mean by it, so I can describe the situation like I have above.

7 Answers 7



one that facilitates; especially : one that helps to bring about an outcome (as learning, productivity, or communication) by providing indirect or unobtrusive assistance, guidance, or supervision [M-W]

The 'in the right direction but not necessarily all the way' sense is included under the verb:

facilitate: to increase the likelihood, strength, or effectiveness of (as behavior or a response)

I consider the noun to sound quite pretentious in use, and am only prepared to mention it as I have fond memories of the send-up Rimmer once gave it in 'Red Dwarf'.

  • That's the term I was looking for, actually. I agree that it sounds pretentious, but and I won't always use it, but it best describes what I was trying to accomplish. Commented Aug 2, 2014 at 2:13

co-thinking, collaboration

… the “Art of Thinking and Deciding” together is a very rare competency for teams at all levels. … a way to take different perspectives into account and to arrive collaboratively at a suitable solution. It’s time to shift our focus from group votes of “yes” or “no” to co-thinking and collaborative decision-making where we can synthesize the talent of our teams to make great choices. (root pdf ~40B)

  • That's a good term. Not quite what I had in mind, but I thank you for it, and I'll use it. Commented Aug 2, 2014 at 2:09

How about sparring partner? It's not entirely the same, but it might do the job.

  • That is actually a very good term for something I also do with co-workers. Thanks, and I'll use it in the appropriate spot. Commented Aug 2, 2014 at 2:10
  • @GuySchalnat: I really appreciate your polite comments! Commented Aug 2, 2014 at 3:38

Perhaps something like 'guided analysis' or 'semi-structured analytical dialogue'?

  • I think this is slightly different than what I was going for, but like all the other terms here, it has it's uses. Thanks. Commented Aug 2, 2014 at 2:13

I have had some training in the process of guiding people towards their answer (note, explicitly not the answer I think it should be!) through the use of facilitating discussion, advising on the use of thought techniques etc. In that training this process was called "Coaching".

  • Coaching is also not quite what I had in mind, but it is also a good term that I will use. Thanks. Commented Aug 2, 2014 at 2:10

You're prompting them, in all senses of the word -- you're inspiring them, you're reminding them, you're cueing them toward that next link in their chain of reasoning.

(By the way, the term rubber ducking arose from the use of an actual rubber duck. I keep one by my monitor for that purpose. He's also my avatar.)

  • You are correct. I am prompting them. However, it is probably a bit general. But I bet I will use it when I can't think of anything else to call it. Commented Aug 2, 2014 at 2:12

You can use the word catalyst to represent such situations.

As per the definition Catalysis (/kəˈtælᵻsᵻs/) is the increase in the rate of a chemical reaction due to the participation of an additional substance called a catalyst (/ˈkætəlᵻst/). With a catalyst, reactions occur faster and require less activation energy.

In this context, you or the person to whom the answer seeker is asking the questions is the catalyst because due to your involvement answer is found quickly.

  • That's a good word for an old question. I'll use that one as well, and I bet, some other readers will too. Thanks. Commented May 16, 2016 at 15:13

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