Do you remember in elementary school when the teacher used to tell everyone that there is no such thing as a stupid question? Well… they were partially right.
Your intelligence is not measured by your answers, but by your questions. You better ask the right question.
We’ve all been there, you don’t understand something and need to ask a question. This was extremely relevant to me when I started my first job straight out of college. How do you ask your question?
The naïve answer: just ask, I was taught to ask questions!
The right answer: prepare yourself to confidently ask the question. How? Think deeper.
For purposes of explanation, let’s assume the question you ask is relating to work. Everyone has a finite amount of time, and they are theoretically being paid hourly (even if you are salaried). When you ask somebody a question, you are taking up a certain amount of their time AND your time. This means that double the time is being used. Upon first explanation of a concept, you may take notes, absorb everything, but naturally, may forget some things. This is only natural. Depending on what you are asking, you may not understand a complimentary component of the system you are asking about.
The Capturing Stage
When most people capture a question in their brain, they will think a little and then ask away. This is usually not right (depending on the environment and nature of the problem). I’m going to present you with a new way of capturing and processing your questions.
- Write down your question(s)
Capture your question using some sort of text editor or notepad to capture your thought. This will place emphasis and let your eyes physically see your thought. At this stage, you may realize you can easily solve the problem or thought by yourself, rather than quickly blurting out your thought.
- Analyze your question(s)
Use wire framing software and map out your question. Put anything and everything you come up with on this software, you can
- Be Specific
Have you ever asked a very broad question and received an answer to something you didn’t specifically ask? I know I have. Be specific and address you primary concern. Lay out your question easily and make it concise.
- Research and document your thought process
By documenting your research and thoughts, you may arrive to a conclusion that connects the dots.
- Dig deeper and repeat
Most people only research the surface. Try using advanced searching techniques and symbols to find what you’re looking for. Make connections that aren’t apparent, and instead between the lines. You will come to conclusions you didn’t even think of, and you will fill in the gaps of later learning. Use the internet creatively, your answer is usually right in front of you
The Reasoning Stage
This stage in incredibly important, it is taking all of your insights and documentation and cleaning it up to make one concise presentation for the person you are going to ask.
What you must do is present the problem and the reasoning you have taken in an attempt to solve the problem FIRST. This allows you to show the other person that you have made an attempt to learn or solve the problem already, and this will only benefit you.
- It will show that you are not asking unnecessarily. You are exposing your reasoning and thought behind a process to let the other person know that you are thinking critically and making an attempt before asking the question. This is basically just not being lazy.
- You will be given feedback. Similar to a case study, which analyzes your way of thinking, by reasoning out a problem in one way, it will tell the other person your thought process. They will not only give you an answer to your question, but also guide you through the process to answer the question.
Be sure to run through the presentation of your problem through your head ahead of time.
Now that you have gone through the process of attempting to solving your problem and researching everything, you still have a question to ask. The person that you are asking will be grateful that you have went through the process before asking them. It shows them that you value their time and are willing to do everything that you can to get it done.
Ask them the question in a concise and specific manner and show them your thinking process and ask them to figure out what you are missing.
So why bother going through this entire process?
Refocus takes time. When you interrupt someone while they’re working, they don’t only lose the 5-10 minutes it takes them to answer you. They lose that time, plus the time they need to regain concentration, which can lead to frustration.
Self-Teaching. By going through this entire process you will be able to discover something without the help of others, you will also have taught yourself more during the process. When somebody doesn’t know an answer you may be able to help them.
Case Study Thinking. Case studies are about the process, not the answer. It shows that you have the creativity and aptitude to actually reason through something long and hard where somebody else would quit. Why do you think companies hire outside consultants to take a new look into something, when they live in that world?
This is too much effort for my question
Yes, this may not apply to everyone and everything. This is a process that I use every day when I ask myself a question. It is about the process rather than the answer. A simple question one day may become a deeper question another day, it will continue to build and you will be prepared.