This is the introduction to another upcoming serial titled Ask, which is available electronically on kindle here. After writing it for the collection, I realized it could stand alone as it’s own post. I hope you like it.
While writing one of my more recent articles, Measuring your worth, the moral to that specific entry was to ask your people how they value you. Even though I wasn’t looking to create this as another serial, it did dawn on me that I have a number of articles with a similar moral: to just ask.
I feel very strongly about this most basic of communication skills, asking questions, which is why I have questions at the end of almost every article, every week. It’s not because I need the answers, but it’s important to ask the questions in one direction or another – outward or inward.
Asking questions is the way we start learning about the world. If you’ve ever been around a four-year-old, it’s easy to see this at work. Children learn early that an unending string of questions helps them figure out how to get information and how to respond to that information once they get it. More importantly, it’s one way we build relationships. There is a question, an answer, often discussion, and both people learn a little. Perhaps the asking of questions, hopefully not as many or at the same lightning speed of a four-year-old, is still associated with the same negative connotations of being too young or inexperienced.
For some reason, we don’t do it as much as we should, and I’m as guilty as anyone else. It took for me to end up completely out of my comfort zone to finally start asking questions about my new profession after almost 20 years in one I knew well. It might be that there’s an expectation that we already know all the answers, which is convenient for the people above us.
Another convenience I’ve always disliked, when I asked questions about a policy or procedure, was the response “go read the instructions.” I’ve tried them a dozen times, and there is value in reading, but each time I’ve read whatever that guiding document was, I usually had the same question. By then, though, I had no interest in going to that same person again. If he or she didn’t give an answer the first time, I probably wouldn’t get much when I returned.
Perhaps the reason people stop asking is because those we ask don’t want to take the time to answer. Either they’ve shot us down in the past, or give the perception that they will, so people don’t approach with their questions and a new unhealthy habit is born.
So, like in a post not in this collection, The answer is yes, it’s about our willingness to not just ask questions, but to also take the time to answer them if we can. This doesn’t mean we should always hand the information out, but we should be guiding those asking towards finding the right answer on their own, or showing them where to look. Believe me when I say you’re losing a chance to interact in some way if you dismiss those questions. There’s a big difference between telling someone to look up the answer and showing them where to start reading, pulling up the website with the information, or opening the book with them. The intent is obviously the same, but a little interaction goes a long way.
If you conveniently turn one person away by adding no value, you’ll be turning five others away when that one person tells his peers. Just like in Tell Me Something Good, the post, not the collection, the value is not always in the question, but the response, the connection, and the relationship that can come afterwards. Once questions stop coming your way, you’ll have no real value to the organization as other communication stops altogether.
We hear at every briefing, meeting, and class that there are no dumb questions, or the only dumb question is the one not asked, which is completely true. Unfortunately, we don’t listen time and again, and we don’t ask the questions we need to. This is especially true as the class gets closer to lunch or the end of the day, when we ask for questions in the traditional setting. It’s like we’re engineering the questions out of each and every presentation.
This is why we need mentors. Specifically, you need a mentor. If nothing else, mentorship creates a relationship where it’s safe to not have every answer, where you can let your guard down and talk about the basics, frustrations, and conflicts without being judged in a classroom setting. Hopefully, you’ll get a realistic answer and someone to open the book with you instead of the company line or “have you looked it up?”
So, I’ve organized this little serial into sections. Ask your people, Ask your boss, Ask yourself, and lastly, Ask for help.
Ask these questions, perhaps not always to answer them, but to consider them. When someone comes with a question, take the time to do the same. Stop what you’re doing. Connect, communicate, and mentor when you can.
As with the previous small collection, Don’t…, your copy here will update when I add new articles with the similar moral, and specifically those titled as questions. Sooner or later, this will become it’s own book-length collection. I hope you enjoy watching this one grow.
– What question have you been wanting to ask but are hesitant to?
– Have you gotten an answer and wished you’d asked earlier?
– When that last person came asking a question, did you take a minute to consider it and give an answer?
Have a great week out there.
My good thing: The calendars are coming.
You have about 2 weeks left to pre-order here.
I’ll start mailing them out after my vacation.