How to ask questions without looking stupid

Sometimes we hold ourselves back from asking questions for fear of looking stupid or demonstrating that we don’t know something that we feel we “should” know. Imagine how dangerous it can potentially be for a business if the senior team are pretending knowledge or understanding they don’t have or are restricting their options by not asking others for their contrbution and thinking. That’s why these suggestions by Jodi Glickman Brown may prove useful:

1. Start your question with what you know. Do your homework first. Get enough background information to put your issue or problem in context. Give the other person an idea of what you’ve completed to date or what you know already and then proceed to explain what’s outstanding, where or how you’re struggling, or what you need help with.

2. Then, state the direction you want to take and ask for feedback, thoughts or clarification. Form an opinion on what you think the answer should be. Don’t just ask, “How should I reach out to the brokers?” Instead propose a course of action and get your boss’s feedback: “I’m thinking of sending out a mass email to the brokers but I’m not sure if that’s the most effective format…what do you think of that approach?”

3. If you don’t know the direction to take, ask for tangible guidance. Instead of asking “What should I do?” ask specifically for the tools you’ll need to make that decision yourself, such as a recent example of a similar analysis or a template for a given task. Or, ask for a referral to someone who has worked on a similar initiative or project in the past.

In the vast majority of cases, you’ll get a lot further in your career by asking the tough, smart questions.

So, my questions to you are:

  • How many times in the last week have you not asked a question when to do so, would have been useful or helpful?
  • What stopped you? And what assumptions might you be making?
  • How can you start practicing the above approach in a relatively risk free environment?
  • When will you do it?

Original source: Jodi Glickman Brown Great on the Job.

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