Crafting Your Questions

Business people raising hands in seminar

Last week, we discussed three common pitfalls that new hires must avoid. Among them was an aversion to asking questions. It may seem like shyness is the only roadblock to speaking up, but there is clearly more to the story.

While we have been asking questions for as long as we could speak, this act is often saddled with stigma. Many people feel that questions only serve to highlight their own ignorance and see questioning as an imposition on others.

Questioning, on the contrary, is not only a sign of self-improvement, but it is an important and often neglected skill. As with any skill, your ability to question must be honed.

Still, you do not want to inundate your colleagues with unnecessary or poorly thought-out questions. So, how do you ensure you are making the most of other peoples’ time? Take the following steps to improve the quality of your questions:

Identify your needs

If you have the time to think through a question, make sure you are getting the most out of the opportunity. Explore the issue you are having and make sure your query meets your needs. One email with a clean bullet list of questions is much easier to answer than a string of avoidable follow-ups.

Review your notes

If you have been diligent about keeping notes, you may find many answers you have recorded and since forgot. Review your notes to see if you already have what you need at your fingertips.

For this reason, always remember to keep your notes maintained and accessible.

Seek out documentation

You should always ask about reference materials when taking on a new position. These references may be user manuals, standard operating procedures, or cheat sheets. Knowing where to find these tools can save you a lot of trouble down the road.

Select a format

Decide what is the best way to ask your question. Typically, you will do this in real time (chat, phone or in-person) or by email. Each way has its strengths and weaknesses.

Real-time questioning will allow you to explain and clarify points as you ask a question. It will also get you a quicker response. However, poor timing can result in you interrupting someone’s workflow.

Emails give you time to craft and edit your question before sending it off. They also give the responder time to review your question at their convenience. However, questioning via email tends to be slower, and you must get the most out of each message to avoid constant follow-ups.

Express gratitude

As always, remember to maintain your professionalism. It is easy to overlook minor expressions of gratitude if you are in a rush. However, you should always spare time for a “thank you” to avoid coming across as demanding or entitled.

Above all else remember that questioning is your gateway to self-improvement. It is also a skill that should be exercised properly. So, do not be afraid to speak up if you need guidance; just make sure you are asking clear and informed questions.

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