Asking Questions Doesn’t Make You a Fool…

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By, Jackie Lackey

The Chinese Proverb reads, “He who asks a questions remains a fool for five minutes. He who does not ask remains a fool forever.” This concept, however, can be difficult for a generation who has been rewarded for answering questions correctly rather than asking the right questions (thank you standardized testing). It’s unfortunate as one could argue that asking questions is the single most important habit to move you forward in your education, career and life.

Insecurities and intimidation of feeling like a fool often seal our mouths closed when they should, in fact, be just the opposite. Well-intended questions do not make you look weak or ignorant or unsure. In fact, asking questions should give your peers the feeling that you are a good listener, are attentive and interested in the subject and are searching for the best way(s) to create solutions. As an employer of creative talent, a lack of questions from any team member can be disappointing at times as it could show an absence of concern or shortage of critical thinking skills needed to properly service a client. But, in a world of endless task lists and deadlines, questions are often a barrier to just getting it done.

I challenge anyone to change that mindset and learn to appreciate the art of asking questions for yourself and for the teams in which you are part.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1.  Am I willing at this time to make the investment required to make a positive difference on this topic?
    Executive Coach, Marshall Goldsmith encourages this one simple question to help prioritize anything you may have floating around in your head – a question that will lighten your load and increase your happiness. I believe most people find great reward in making a difference and this question can be applied to anything in life – personally or professionally. If you are not willing to invest the time needed to make a difference, then do something different.
  2. Am I failing better?
    Contributor for Fast Company, Karyn Mullins says, “You cannot be so afraid to make mistakes that you never truly take risks in your career. However, you should also be learning from the mistakes you do make and the times you’ve failed. Look critically at your mistakes and see if you’re failing better, or just failing. “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better,” said writer Samuel Beckett. When it comes to accomplishing your goals and getting where you need to be in your career, this is good advice to follow.
  3. Am I doing something that scares me everyday?
    We’ve all heard the common adage, “the greater the risk, the greater the reward.” It is only by tackling obstacles and overcoming fears can you fully master something. In both your personal and professional life, accepting challenges is rarely a mistake and often leads to bigger and better things! Do not fall into the over 70% of the American workforce who Gallup deems is disengaged in their J.O.B.

The Right Kinds of Questions:

There are a number of situations in which you should be asking questions, but rather hear your parents in your head saying “God gave you 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason…” So you just listen and keep quiet. While listening is imperative to asking the right questions, you must not be afraid to ask.

Inc Magazine’s Jeff Hayden gives 5 great tips on how to ask great questions:

  1. Limit the actual question to one sentence. Feel free to state the problem or issue in detail, but limit your question to one sentence. “How can I do a better job?” “What steps do I need to take to get to the next level?” “What would you do if you were me?” Sticking to one sentence helps ensure your questions are open ended.
  2. Provide options in the question only if those truly are the only options. But, keep in mind those rarely are the only options. The odds you’ve already thought of everything are pretty slim.
  3. Don’t shade the question. You may think you know the answer. Great. Keep that to yourself. Make your questions answer-neutral.
  4. Follow the same principles for follow-up questions. Stay short. Stay open-ended. Stay neutral.
  5. Talk as little as possible. You already know what you know. Great questions are designed to find out what the other person knows. So stay quiet and listen. You never know what you’ll learn when you ask the right way.

Creating new habits is a process and takes practice. Begin everyday committed to asking more questions. Instead of telling someone something, ask a question. Intelligent questions stimulate, provoke, inform and inspire. The right questions, without a doubt, will move you forward!