Do you feel like you’re good at asking questions?
Dr. Michael Marquardt, Professor of Human Resource Development and International Affairs at George Washington University, identifies four reasons why we don’t ask questions when we ought to.
- To protect ourselves from the danger of looking stupid.
- We’re too busy and good questions take time to grow.
- Our culture discourages questions.
- We lack the advanced question-asking skills.
Lets unpack each of these a bit more.
The danger of looking stupid
None of us want to look uninformed or weak. The classic example of this is the man driving a car who is lost. He won’t ask for directions, even when it’s clear that he’s lost. Been there, done that.
How often do you ask questions in large groups? It feels extremely hard to be willing to ask questions when hundreds of other people are watching. The same thing happens when your boss gives you an assignment. Do you ask a bunch of questions or proceed with incomplete instructions?
If you’re not up on the latest pop culture TV show or movie, do you ask questions to gain knowledge from true aficionados? The risk of being “not in the know” is too high to allow us to do that.
Who among us likes to ask how to use some new technology device and open ourselves up to a sigh and a condescending eye roll? I know – I’ve thought of asking a question and then get concerned that I’m opening myself up to others saying, “You know what Dean didn’t know about?”
Better to be silent than appear uninformed.
We’re too busy
Have you ever attended a meeting and wished the person who kept asking questions would stop?
Conversely, have you ever groaned when someone at a presentation asks, “Are there any more questions?”
We all get annoyed when a little kid keeps asking questions. The continuous “why?” questions might start out as fun. But after a few rounds, we get tired of answering this endless stream of questions.
It’s the same when we’re meeting someone for the first time. We might be genuinely curious about them, but asking too many questions feels like an interrogation or an interview.
Let’s face it, Americans have a “bias for action.” We salute people who are quick to take action. There’s a reason why the cowboy or the lone inventor tinkering in their garage is a staple of American folklore. Those people just took action. We even talk about “act now, ask questions later.” American society is hardwired to do, not ask.
Our culture discourages questions
Many of us are accustomed to top-down cultures. The person at the top knows more than I do, so I won’t question them. Smart people have thought this through, so my question is not welcome or relevant.
We sometimes fear that if we ask a question, we’ll get an answer that we don’t like. The answer might depict us as a part of the problem or indicate that a favored project has gone off course.
Think back to your school days. Was it “cool” to ask questions in class? I think we often called the person who asked the teacher a lot of questions a “brown noser.”
We lack the skills
It’s a common refrain that schools need classes on listening. Yet nearly every school has a speech class.
Listening is the way to hear (and process) what others say, so we can pose better questions. Good questions require us to be present and actively listening. We have to stop, listen, reflect, and then formulate an open-ended question to gain more information and open up meaningful dialogue.
Asking good questions takes work and practice. On top of that, it takes awareness that questioning is a skill to be honed. A skill that we can improve, with effort.
What rewards would you need to receive to do so?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dean Waggenspack (www.3LeversCoach.com) is a Career/Life Coach with over 30 years of business experience, as well as four years of experience teaching High School students. He focuses on helping individuals Navigate 21st Century Job Search and writes a weekly blog on careers. He lives in Dayton, Ohio.
Dean would also be a great coach to help you improve your questioning (and listening) skills.