We were in a training session recently with one of our larger teams. During this session, we began to discuss a complex legal process that is typical to our business. Fifteen minutes into what I felt was a good discussion, a young lady held up her hand. “What are we even talking about?” she asked.
It then occurred to me that this discussion was amongst our most senior team members. Meaning we were using terms which those of us with years of experience knew well. Yet, it was foreign to someone with little experience in our industry. I then asked who in the room had no idea what we are talking about. Virtually every one of our young managers, those with only one or two years of experience, raised their hands. This allowed us to start our conversation over, this time defining the legal terminology as the discussion progressed.
Thankfully in this example, one person took the initiative to raise her hand and ask a question. Otherwise, the entire discussion would have been a waste of time for those in the room who most needed to learn the information.
Young professionals often struggle with the right time to ask questions. We all know the adage “there is no stupid question.” We also know this is not a true statement. There are a lot of stupid questions. We hear them and we roll our eyes. No one wants to be the person who asks the unintelligent question. This can cause feelings of embarrassment.
It’s also common to believe asking questions will be a waste of other’s time. We may hold back thinking the senior person who may know the answer is too busy or has better things to do than answer our question.
But asking questions is a must. Not asking questions will only increase the odds of a negative result. The key is to know when to ask questions that are necessary and purposeful.
When is the right time to ask questions? I suggest using LEAD to determine if it's an appropriate time to ask a question. LEAD stands for Learning, Expectations, Advice, and Decisions.
Learning: Remember sitting in a classroom where you were confused and didn’t understand the material? What did you do? Asked your instructor a question of course. It’s the same concept in business training. Training programs are useless if the material is not comprehended. In a learning environment, there is very rarely a stupid question.
Expectations: Every position comes with expectations. When given a task to do, it’s necessary to clearly and accurately understand the expectations required. This is only accomplished by asking questions. The greatest mistake any manager can make is to perform a task without understanding the expectations of the customers, bosses or co-workers.
Advice: We all need advice. It may be how to handle a situation. Perhaps it’s the best way to approach the work task. Maybe it’s a recommendation or idea. In every situation, asking for advice is asking a question. When you need advice, asking is necessary.
Decisions: Whenever there are significant implications for a decision, it is imperative to ask necessary questions to make the best choice. When I have a decision to make, and that decision will have implications upon the business, financial impacts, personnel or other important matters, I gather people around me and start asking questions. This allows me to make better decisions.
Asking questions is imperative to success in business and career. But it's crucial to be aware of the time and reasons for asking questions. It’s important to know when and under what circumstances questions should be asked so they are meaningful and serve a purpose. Use LEAD; Learning, Expectations, Advice, and Decisions, to know when to ask questions. Then feel free to ask away.
Brian T. King is the founder and owner of multiple firms encompassing design, construction, real estate, and manufacturing, and currently president of the integrated Design-Build firm A M King. Brian shares his passion for mentoring young professionals, rising managers and entrepreneurs at speaking engagements around the country, on podcasts and via his blog.