The importance of asking questions

Yesterday, my ten-year-old expressed frustration that her older sister was entering a regional film festival in which her own elementary school wasn't participating. My response? Ask the teacher why. At the end of the day, she was thrilled to announce that her teacher had never heard of the festival, and if she and her friends were interested in entering, the school would be happy to provide support.

This great news came shortly after I guest-lectured at a local university where no-one bothered to ask questions. The class was attentive enough and answered questions I asked correctly; they just had nothing to say at the end and I have to admit that I was disappointed.

Some are afraid to question authority, or insult an expert. Others are afraid of looking silly or stupid. What I'm trying to teach my daughters, and anyone else who will listen, is that asking questions in the classroom, in the workplace, and in life in general is extremely important to build learning and reputation.

Here's why:

People know you're listening

Using questions to reiterate what you've heard and confirm understanding tells leaders and colleagues you're listening. Being able to add a point of view and delve further unleashes richer context that will help you succeed. As a communication professional, that context is invaluable when helping an organization or leader tell their story.

You're more than an order taker

If you want to be seen as a professional with an opinion versus someone simply taking and delivering orders, questions are important. I use a standard template for every briefing I have with clients. Questions like:

  • What does real success look like?
  • What do you want employees to be aware of, understand, do and believe?
  • Who is your key audience and who are the influencers?

...show your internal partners or clients that you are here to help them solve a problem with your expertise, versus simply to take notes and write what they've asked for.

You won't have to wonder what if...

Those that don't ask questions tend to be defeated and often fear the worse. By asking, you'll definitively know whether your instincts were correct or whether another scenario was possible. You may also get more context on why a negative answer was given to contribute to your understanding of a situation.

I remember in the 90's when I read an article that talked to the difference between a man's and woman's salary on a similar role being explained by the fact that a man always negotiated while a woman accepted the first offer. When I interviewed for my first role dedicated to Internal Communication, I used this fact to negotiate higher on what I believed was already a great offer. Instead of getting upset, my boss told me he admired the fact that I negotiated and although he couldn't get me the higher salary, he was able to add a signing bonus to the offer. Negotiations are simply asking questions about what is possible and I've been committed to negotiating effectively ever since.

Whether you are sitting in a classroom or a boardroom; whether you are interviewing for a new role or being briefed on a new organizational initiative, remember that asking questions can make the difference between blending into the background or standing out in the crowd.

Do you have a situation where asking a questions led to a great outcome or when you didn't ask and always wondered what would have happened if you did?

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