When heading into a new job, we can sometimes be too afraid to ask questions. Hays’ Michael Jones is here to tell you why it’s an essential skill you need to master.
Since my first day at Hays, I have learned many lessons on success and failure, from how to take a moment to enjoy a recent victory, to how you bounce back and learn from a situation that doesn’t go as planned.
There’s one key thing, however, that I wish somebody had told me from the get-go. Something that would have saved me a lot of time and deliberation during those scary first few weeks, and something that would have catalysed my career progression and professional development since then.
I wish I hadn’t been afraid to ask questions.
Why don’t we ask more questions?
There are, I think, many reasons why we’re afraid to ask questions, but for me it all stems back to my childhood.
Like most kids, I was pretty inquisitive and, wanting to learn more about the world, I’d be forever asking my parents to explain things to me. My questions would either be answered with a clueless ‘I don’t know’ or a frustrated ‘just because’. So, from a young age, I was taught to stop asking questions.
At school, asking questions in class wasn’t the ‘cool’ thing to do. Either that, or we were afraid of looking stupid in front of our peers by asking something obvious. Unfortunately, these fears have followed us to the workplace, especially when starting a new role – a time where we are already swamped with new-job nerves and self-doubt.
Another factor at play here is that it is often seen as nosey or rude to ask too many questions, as if we’re prying or being improper. As such, I found growing up that conversations between two people often stayed quite general and you certainly didn’t probe too deeply. After all, you have to be careful not to offend by asking too many questions.
So, we have three pretty major influences that we have to overcome and ignore in order to become more inquisitive again: we have to learn that it’s not annoying, embarrassing or rude to ask questions. In fact, in many professional situations, it’s actually critical to your success. Here’s why.
The case for asking more questions
They say that knowledge is power and, personally speaking, I know that I feel much more confident when I know what I’m talking about or doing. The best way to gain knowledge is to seek it from others.
When starting a new job, it’s important to ask other people questions, in order to learn and acquire all the information you need to succeed. It also shows your new boss that you’re interested and enthusiastic.
Trust me, I train hundreds of new recruits every year and I will welcome all questions, no matter how silly they seem. In fact, when somebody pipes up and asks me something, I can often see the visible relief on the faces of the other new starters, glad that somebody has the guts to ask this question.
It’s clichéd but true – there’s no such thing as a stupid question.
Not only that, but when somebody interjects to ask me something during a training session, I know that they are actually paying attention. Plus, it helps me realise where I may be being unclear in my explanation, and how I can personally improve this explanation for next time. Just like you, I want to keep learning.
What about when you become more comfortable in your new role? Should you stop asking questions then? Absolutely not.
When completing an important task or working on a big project, it’s important to clarify objectives and fully understand what’s expected of you. If you don’t, you run the risk of wasting time, missing the mark and disappointing your boss. I’m sure you know what happens when you assume.
Another important thing to remember is that experts never stop learning so, even as we progress and become more senior, we should never stop asking questions.
The world around us is always changing so it’s important to keep informed and up to date with the latest developments and goings-on. It’s important that a leader stays connected and on top of things to provide direction and support to the team, and, if you don’t keep up, you run the risk of getting out of touch. This could lead to people losing faith in your abilities or, worse still, having others overtake you.
The art of asking effective questions
So, what have I learned about the art of asking effective questions?
- Ask open questions. If you need more detailed information or an alternative explanation, ask open questions. These types of questions could begin with ‘tell me’, ‘describe’, ‘explain’, ‘how’ and so forth, and demand an open answer.
- Also, use closed questions when needed. On the other hand, if you just need to get simple yes or no answer, opt for closed, to-the-point questions such as: ‘are you’, ‘will you’, ‘can I’, ‘should I’ and the like.
- However, avoid asking too many closed questions. This will limit the amount of information you gain, and prevents the conversation from flowing.
- Ask for an example. If you are struggling to get your head around a concept or understand how it will work in practice, ask for an example or case scenario. For instance: ‘Could you give an example of how this has been implemented before?’
- Use reflective questioning. This is a great way to check your understanding and clarify what you know in your own mind. These questions could start with: ‘Can I check I have got this right?’
- Ask one question at a time. Sometimes, we can ask multiple questions in one go, which becomes confusing to the other person and means they’re likely to only answer the last question you asked. This results in you losing important information or having to backtrack and repeat yourself.
- Don’t ask a question, and then try to answer it yourself. For example: ‘What do you want me to do? I think I should do X or Y.’ It might not be either of those options and it can be very frustrating for the other person trying to answer you.
- Take notes: It’s important to take notes so you can refer back later. They say you only remember 25pc of what you listen to, so that’s a staggering amount of information that will be forgotten.
By focusing more on asking questions and becoming more inquisitive, I have gained so much more knowledge, which has helped me to become better at my job, more confident in myself and develop a stronger personal brand in my organisation.
I hope this helps you to overcome any fears you may have around asking questions, so you too can achieve success, not just when you start a new job but throughout every stage of your career journey, too.
Michael Jones is the head of internal recruitment and training for Hays UK and Ireland.
A version of this article originally appeared on Hays’ Viewpoint blog.