While I’m a big proponent of people asking questions, there are a few considerations that I’d like to address. These considerations are not about looking (or sounding) “stupid” or otherwise inhibiting the necessary free flow of information. These points are about the appropriateness and reasons for asking a question or series of questions. This article will go over several of the considerations that should be taken into account in order to avoid an unnecessarily uncomfortable conversation for either party. We’re all on the same team–right? So let’s frame these conversations accordingly.
Considerations When Asking Questions
When asking a question, honestly consider why you are asking it–Are you trying to look smart in a group (yes, that happens)? Are the questions meant to put someone else in the hot seat (that happens too)? Is it relevant to your role, and appropriate for the current context? In short–are the questions appropriately sourced from a thirst for knowledge or legitimate need for the requested information?
Does the other party understands why the questions are being asked–While sometimes the reasons are obvious, occasionally the relevance is unclear. In that case, it is possible that a very legitimate question may come off the wrong way. While empathy is sort of an interpersonal communications 101 thing, it is too often an afterthought. Someone asking a question should think about how the other person might receive it and reword it as necessary.
Google can be your friend–I don’t discourage asking questions, but there’s also nothing wrong with doing your own research in advance. For example, it might make sense to understand a technology or a solution from a deployment neutral perspective then ask questions that relate to the deployment or configuration specifics in your organization. This can streamline the conversation and save time that might be quite valuable to the party you plan to ask.
Ask, ask, ask—I truly mean it. It is often said, “The only dumb question is the one that was never asked.” For one on one contexts, questions are a way to quickly understand a solution and fill those knowledge gaps. In a group context, others are probably wondering the same things you are. It is just important to ask questions that for the right reasons and make sure that they are articulated in a way that will produce the best results.
So let’s think systematically through an example. Maybe a co-worker comes to you and in a frustrated tone asks something like—“Why in the world is the EMR system configured to talk to the Imaging System through a 100Mb/s switch?”
The individual asking this question may have a legitimate reason for asking it. Maybe they happen to be doing a system upgrade and need to fully understand the system prior to moving it to a new platform. Perhaps, they’re in the middle of the process and just discovered this. That would certainly account for the tone and frustration.
But what did this tone do to the conversation? Perhaps the person that is being asked had some part in that previous implementation. The problem is that this probably put the responding party on the defensive. If the person asking isn’t simply on a rant, what they really need to understand is limited to that necessary to best complete their task.
A better way to approach this might be to communicate the reason for the question and take steps not to place the responding party on the defensive. For example the co-worker might have alternatively said, “I’m working a conversion for our EMR system and need to understand some of the particulars about our current configuration.” Then he or she might follow that up with, “The way this is connected seemed odd to me and I thought I should fully understand the background before making a mistake with the new system.”
By approaching it this way it demonstrates a legitimate reason for asking offers a level of respect for the response they’re about to receive. The person responding to this question may respond with some additional background information, and even share what they could have done differently or how they’d recommend approaching this with the new system.
I never discourage questions even when they seem irrelevant. Too many people seem to lack that thirst for knowledge that keeps really good techs moving forward. I find curiosity a bit refreshing. I don’t always have the answers and I’m perfectly willing to tell someone when I’m not proficient in a given area. I simply think that from a pragmatic standpoint, we all need to think about how to frame these types of conversations in order to achieve the desired result.