Kudos to Ken Blanchard, author of the One-Minute Manager for his now- famous line,
“None of us is as smart as all of us.”
In today’s ‘open conversation’ culture, most of us avoid pointing out what we don’t know. All too often, when we hear something we don’t understand, or someone uses an unfamiliar acronym, we let the moment pass.
By not asking a question-in the moment- we create an illusion of knowledge and miss important opportunities.
But, when we ask for an explanation in the presence of others, we define ourselves as interested, curious and confident – all traits of successful leaders.
Of course, you don’t HAVE TO speak up in the moment. Google allows us to retreat to the privacy of a computer and get up to speed. But in a world that strongly values collaboration, one of the simplest ways to get smart, gain confidence, encourage honest and open conversation and develop leadership skills is to get comfortable asking questions. After all, asking questions is just another form of public speaking. And, like public speaking, it requires practice.
The act of asking questions says a lot about you as an employee and peer. The result is worth the effort. Here’s why.
1) You’re Engaged
By speaking up your peers will see you as interested and engaged. Innovation happens in collaborative groups-groups that often self-select. By asking questions, perhaps you’ve moved yourself up on the list to get picked for the team.
2) You’re Curious
Asking a good question says that you’re listening carefully, thinking and want to know more. When you question an expert to explain their idea, it gives them a chance to show off their knowledge. Curiosity leads to conversation and conversation leads to new ideas. Think of your questions as idea starters.
3) You’re Brave
If you don’t ‘get it’, chances are you’re not alone. By speaking up, there’s a good possibility that you’ll have grateful colleagues who didn’t know the information either.
4) You’re Humble
By asking, you’re admitting that there’s something you don’t know. Once you ask, then you know, and then you’re smarter. To be seen as a person that’s informed and humble will serve you well.
5) You Value Others
The flip side of asking questions is listening for the answer. Quietly listening to others shows respect and builds trust. Welcoming the conversation that comes from asking questions tells others that you appreciate their insight and point of view.
Now that we’ve addressed the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of asking questions, let’s look at the ‘when’ and the ‘how’. These are the factors that often define the impression we leave with others.
1) Wait for a pause
No one likes to be interrupted. If necessary, write your question down so you won’t forget it while others are speaking.
2) Be specific
The more specific you can be, the greater the likelihood you’ll get the information you need. That information can be used to clarify a point or generate ideas.
3) Listen to the response
Seems like a no-brainer, but often we are so invested in our question that we forget to listen to the answer. After you’ve asked your question, take a breath. A breath is punctuation between the question and the answer and focuses your attention back on the speaker. If you have a follow up question, don’t let it distract you from hearing your colleague.
4) Have a friendly debate
Once you get your answer, you may not agree with the information. Engage in a friendly debate by talking about facts, not feelings. Follow up with “What if…” questions to encourage new ideas.
Asking questions invites conversation and strengthens relationships with colleagues. It’s also a significant contributor in developing executive presence.
When you ask thoughtful questions you are seen as self-aware, thoughtful and respectful. And who doesn’t want that?