Unfortunately a lot of people are afraid to ask questions, they see it as a weakness . . . afraid of looking silly. Successful people are successful in part because they’ve learned the art of asking questions. By asking questions you will improve your competencies, effectiveness and your likability. Scientist asks questions to learn more; doctors ask questions before they prescribe a cure, and sales people ask questions to help you buy.
Let’s take competencies; it’s the earliest form of questioning we’ve learned – Why? (It’s not a question. It IS the question) At five years old we were so curious and had a thirst for knowledge. Then at fifteen we thought we knew it all. By the age of 21 we’ve mastered the technique, “cooperate and graduate”, do what we need to do to pass the next test, get a job, do what you’re told, don’t make any waves and my favorite, “sit down, shut up and color”. Next thing you know you’re in a rut and can’t get out.
If you’re working on a project with others, ask questions about their processes or procedures. As you move up in your career you will undoubtedly get to a point where you are leading others doing things you may know nothing about. Don’t be afraid, ask. It tells leadership you’ve got initiative, you have an eye for the bigger picture. It lets subordinates know you’re not full of crap; you’re humble, not pretending to know something you don’t have a clue about.
Have you ever left a meeting having been given an assignment or project and when you report back to your supervisor or the customer they look at you incredulously and say, “What the H-E double toothpick is that? That’s NOT what I’ve asked for.”? The #1 reason we fail – at anything in life (marriage, relationships, projects, work) – is due to poor communication. Just how effective is it to spend time, money and effort on a task or project only to realize there was a “misunderstanding” and now you have to spend more time, money and effort redoing, or worse undoing what has been done. Even if you think you understand or you are the person giving instructions and you think the other person understands, don’t be afraid, ask. When you see an increase in productivity, projects that come in on time, under budget and with the desired results, you’ll be glad you asked.
Finally, you will have greater success with others if they like you, trust you, respect you and believe you care about them. A great way to increase your likability is to ask them questions. “Wanda, your customer feedback ratings are always 10’s. What is it you do to be so consistent?”. “Ron, I like that your projects are always on time and under budget, what’s your secret?”
Sometimes saying no can be done by asking the right questions and not making the other feel rejected or shot down in flames. Instead of saying, “Nope, don’t like it. I don’t see it working.” People with success in mind might ask instead, “How will Ken’s staff support the ongoing preventive maintenance requirement? And what are the ramifications if this fails?”, “How will this add value to our current operations?”, “What is the ROI in time and money?”, “Is it worth it?” Here you’ve given them an opportunity to discover on their own. You’ve given them respect, listened to and validated their thoughts and ideas without embarrassing them.
Asking questions says you care, you’re interested, are thoughtful and considerate. It demonstrates your intelligence. Stupid people don’t ask questions, mediocre people don’t ask questions, and lazy people don’t ask questions. Any questions?
Founder & CEO
Leader Development Institute