Questions, Questions, And More Questions
-Do cats get scoliosis?
-Why do lightbulbs burn out?
-What are bricks made out of?
-How do 2-way mirrors work?
-What does the barometer reading mean?
-How often do volcanoes explode?
-How do batteries work?
-How do airplanes fly?
-Why do you listen to weird music?
Yesterday was a snow day so my sons were home from school. The questions above were some of the questions I remember from yesterday…there were hundreds. Some I was able to answer, some I directed them to look up on the internet or in their books, some I was unable to answer but curious about as well so we “investigated” the answer together. It was a fun day of learning things that the boys were curious about. Not what someone told them they should be interested in and that’s always more fun.
It got me thinking about how infrequently people ask really great questions or any questions, for that matter, in the workplace. There are “low-level” questions – which are question based on not fully understanding the material or looking at it in an extremely granular level and how it impacts individuals and there are “high-level” questions where thoughtful leaders and employees are trying to bridge connections that other people might not see or trying to determine how to use the information gained to drive stronger/better results or improved understanding for improved performance.
In order to ask really great questions we have to be really good….listeners. Yep…we have to listen, marinade in, and digest the information we are getting then ask thoughtful questions to be able to action/understand with full competence the information received and how it fits into the larger landscape of a task or your job as a whole.
In the words of William Shakespeare’s King Lear “Nothing will come of nothing”. If you don’t seek answers that will deliver knowledge, growth, increased understanding of a topic/subject/directive – you will not gain knowledge, growth, increased understanding of that topic/subject/directive. I love when my team members or colleagues ask me well structured questions as it usually leads to a fun conversation and a collaborative one as well where lots of ideas, thoughts, opinions, and facts are shared and learned. I find that people who make thoughtful inquiries are audacious and courageous in their drive to succeed. Smart people ask smart questions – sometimes they ask a lot of them. And a lot of time the difference between a smart question and a perceived surface question is simply presentation. Frequently the the context of the question will determine the answer you receive.
I always tell my team that I only get nervous when people stop asking questions. When they become too complacent to want to learn and grow or (gasp) – they think they know it all. That is what, as a retail leader, makes me nervous. Just like I hope my sons will keep asking, learning, and being curious about everything as that is how they will ultimately find their passion, what excites them and stimulates their minds, what compels them to want to find out more information about more topics – I always hold that hope for my team and my work colleagues. The most successful people I know are the ones that ask the most questions. Why? Because they know what they don’t know and they will utilize their resources to gain the knowledge they are lacking.
Outside of the normal pedestrian platitudes there are lots of great questions you can ask to find out more about people. About what they do. About what makes them tick and excites them. What they are passionate about and driven by. As I mentioned before – you have to first be a great listener. You have to commit to being as genuinely interested in others as you believe yourself to be interesting to others. Being interested, sincerely interested, in others will help build trust, rapport, and the foundation for a supportive and collaborative working relationship.
We are all a resource to someone if we establish ourselves as credible partners for them. How do we do that?
-Ask thoughtful questions of others (don’t waste time with platitudes)
-Admit what you don’t know but help find the answer
-Have a sense of humor about yourself – admit your weaknesses
-Praise others and share names of experts
-Be inclusive – surround yourself with a diverse group of thought leaders and speak about topics that are of interest to all
-Be a good listener (third times a charm – there’s a reason I keep saying this)
-Be audacious/bold/courageous/confident in what you do know
-Act naturally, speak naturally (avoid buzzwords – speak like a human being)
-Don’t be critical or judgmental of the questions or interests of others
We have incredible amounts of information available to us on the internet but there is a human aspect to learning that is lacking when that is our go-to source. Asking questions of people helps up to build networks, connections, support systems in the real world. It encourages relationships and collaboration in the workplace and in life. It compels us to stay sharp and current on topics that are constantly evolving through interactive dialogues. Questions allow us to learn about topics from different perspectives and from a variety of view points. Seeing passion from people who are leaders in their areas instills a passion for topics that otherwise would just be blandly presented information. Nothing will replace learning from peers, leaders, or even strangers. We should be constantly seeking knowledge through thoughtful questions that make us smarter and better.