“If you don’t ask you don’t get” as the saying goes. Let’s reshape that into “if you don’t ask you don’t add value”! I believe that asking questions is a high value add skill but also a skills gap in many companies. I want to improve my skill to ask questions, so I did an experiment to find out how to improve. A 3 year old asks 300+ questions a day…How would I compare against that and could I push myself to get to 300 a day? That’s what my experiment was about. Well, 5 days later I know that my average is 105 questions a day and here are the 5 lessons I learned. Everybody should use them to improve their question asking skills. Try them, you will improve, let me know how you get on.
- No preparation = poor questions
Who does not know the feeling after a meeting “ah, I should have asked xyz, instead of abc”. Why is that? Maybe back to back meetings with no time to prepare or we thought its an easy meeting that does not need preparation or we thought that preparation is a task for the meeting organizer only… Do a 1 minute run though of the meeting ahead and ask yourself what the 3 key questions are for that meeting. That quick prep will set you on track to ask even better questions during the meeting than the ones you thought of.
- No sleep = poor questions
No sleep = no energy = no brain power = no concentration = no focus = no curiosity = no good questions = not being noticed by your bosses as a key person that needs to be involved in this new project. Asking lots of questions is a big mental effort for the brain. Your brain will only be fully functional if you allow it to rest enough (and hydrate enough and eat well…see The secret to asking many good questions.
- No time = use a cheat sheet
If you don’t have the time to prep every meeting, then use a cheat sheet of basic questions. Have it always on page 1 of your notepad (or as sticky note on your laptop..). Know those meetings everybody leaves thinking “that was a waste of time..no one even asked a question”? Well, a question cheat sheet is an easy way to break the silence. If you cannot be bothered to write a cheat sheet, use this one here.
- No structure = use 3-S rule: simplify, specify, standardize
Simplify your question; Specify your expectation; Standardize to make it easy to answer your questions. I have a tendency to explain or ask things in a very complicated way. The result: I confuse people. If I prepared my questions with the 3-S rule I can avoid confusion and get 5 times better answers in half the time (see here fore more).
- No training = average performance
Asking questions is like playing sports. If you don’t practice you don’t improve and you don’t know which tactics work etc. Forcing myself to ask many more questions than I usually do was the practice I put it. This way I could try out what works and what doesn’t. In the end the quality of the questions asked depends on the training you put in.
I also realized that asking questions has a lot of unexpected side effects I never thought about. It is an excellent way of
- developing people by asking questions instead of telling them what to do
- building an engaged team by seeking their input instead of telling them what to do
- gaining respect of your peers because you ask what no one else thought of
- becoming a trusted advisor to others in the company, i.e. they will seek your input because you know which questions to ask
These were my insights from only one week of experimenting with questions. Learning never stops and I am even more curious than before to see what else I can discover. This experiment made me more curious..mission accomplished!!