When I worked in corporate America and would hear, “this is the way we have always done it” or “we do it this way just because” it never satisfied me. I would keep asking questions.
I ask a lot of questions.
I like to know the whys. It helps me see the bigger picture and fine tune the details. I can then properly assess situations, see possible challenges, adapt for possible changes and afford the opportunity to improve my performance to provide better service to others. It also helps me understand the entire situation so I can then properly explain or train others.
It can be annoying – but it is me. It is how my mind works. If you think it frustrates or annoys others imagine being inside my head having to know the why and not understanding why people don’t see the importance of it.
But as I aged I realized that not everyone thinks or communicates like I do. They should…just kidding…kinda.
The transition from annoying to empowering came when I learned how to communicate to others how I communicate.
For example when my ex-husband was diagnosed with cancer and the oncologist came in to explain the course of treatment. He initially introduced himself then quickly ran through the experimental treatment including the three doses of chemotherapy that would be used and the timing of each one.
It was a lot of words I had never heard before and to say it was overwhelming was an understatement. When he did the “Okay we will begin in the morning,” attempt to leave I stopped him. I told him that I was scared and didn’t understand what was going on and to help me support my ex better I have to understand the process going into it or I’m going to be a basket case and bug him and nurses endlessly with questions throughout the process.
It took him back for a moment but when he saw me with pen and paper in hand I think he knew I was serious.
This lovely man utilized the whiteboard in the room and detailed the entire process patiently answering each of my questions along the way. The next day when I brought our son in to visit his dad we could both explain the process to him in a way that he understood. He picked it up so well he began to tell the nurses when certain medicines were getting low in the IV and that his dad would be needing the next step soon.
I made it clear that I was not challenging him or expecting miracles, I just needed to know what to expect in order to continue to encourage and support.
In a professional world it can be difficult asking questions because you do not want it to be seen as possibly challenging your boss or co-workers.
I learned to preface my questions with, “I am not challenging you, I am trying to wrap my mind around this and sometimes my mind work the way I want so I have to ask questions until it clicks. I want to make sure that I support you fully in this process.”
This way I took full ownership of the questions and made sure that it was coming from a positive position of support and understanding. Of course there were times that my bosses might ask if there are any questions and when I raised my hand they did an eye roll. I would just smile and tell them I didn’t want to screw this up.
Actually, people I worked with got used to my process and started to incorporate it when talking to me.
It wasn’t that they knew I was the one that asked all the questions – it was that I listened, learned and applied the answers. I didn’t waste time with meaningless questions. I had a point, a purpose or reason. The bottom line was to understand in order to improve. What boss or client is going to disagree with that bottom line?
I also took a lot of notes and keeping them on hand so that way I was not asking the same questions over and over again. If a similar situation came up I had a great resource and better understanding moving forward.
It is one thing to ask for help, it is another to not utilize it going forward. This is where you have to make sure that you listen and apply the answers to your questions. If you do not then you are just wasting their time over and over again. This is not only unproductive, it is disrespectful of them.
Even now when giving a workshop if I get a question from a participant I will ask clarifying questions of them prefaced with a positive statement. It might be, “I just want to make sure I get a full understanding of your situation” or “I want to be clear on your question to make sure that I answer it for you.”
My communication style has not changed over my career path no matter what the position or industry. What has changed is my ability to own that style and let the other party know the why in order that we have a more comfortable and fruitful exchange.
Be sure to engage those you are asking and thank them for assisting you. Asking questions is a great way to open the doors for better understanding, improved skill set, greater knowledge and the ability to serve as a resource.
Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW