Workplace Communication: 4 Reasons to Ask More Questions

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Workplace Communication

Questions are rarely as single-purposed as simply a plea for information followed by an answer. In fact, unless you are reading the FAQ page on a company website or speaking to someone in support services for a product, most of the questions that you ask in a day perform a multitude of functions.

There is a world of difference between “Can you tell me where I can find the gluten-free linguine?” in Whole Foods and “Why didn’t you take the bins out?” to your spouse. They are both questions, but the intent is purely information request in the former, and … well I’ll leave you to decide on the latter yourself.

In the workplace, questions can function as team-enabling communications. They can also operate as trust-building levers between teammates. Here are some of the reasons that you should ask more questions at work:

Workplace Communication: 4 Reasons to Ask More Questions

1. Questions give others permission to “own” a problem

“Can you tell me how you would go about doing X?” invites another person to give an opinion.

If that other person is far more experienced in the problem area that you are, you might actually be asking him or her to offer to handle it for you. Or, you might be asking them to coach you. The actual ask behind the question is up to you, and much of this lives in the subtleties of the relationship that you have with the person of whom you are asking for help.

Either way, you’ll learn something. You might learn that person is not interested in helping you. You might learn that they are more than happy to help or take the problem off your plate completely. One thing you can be sure on is that the answer will inform not only the problem in front of you, but it will tell you something about your co-worker too.

2. Questions Encourage Alternative Thinking

“Can we do this any other way?”

Even if nobody on your team jumps up with a “Yes … and here’s how,” alternative immediately, this sort of question will have the whole team thinking and challenging their own assumptions on how things are currently being done.

This sort of question is often met with silence. Don’t take that as a bad sign. Silence is the sound of people thinking.

3. Questions Provoke Critical Thinking

A question such as “What are the consequences of doing X rather than Y?” demands that critical thought is put into not only the outcome associated with doing X, but the opportunity cost of not doing Y. There is a lot going on in this question, and it is demanding that the situation be throughly checked and examined from multiple possible outcomes.

A good team consists of people who think critically and challenge one another’s assumptions. While these sorts of questions may lead to unrest and defensive arguments initially, it’s up to the team leader to demonstrate that questioning one another shouldn’t be seen as criticizing one another—it’s just weeding out assumptions in order to make strategy as watertight as possible.

4. Questions Demand Reflection

“Why did this work?”

“Why didn’t this work?”

All to often we can accept a success with relief and fail to really explore the details of why something worked — this makes it harder to replicate. Success and failure both leave clues, and questions lead us to discover them.

With the failures we are in such a hurry to forget and move on that we miss out on the learning process associated with the postmortem. As painful as questioning the reason that a project or idea failed might be, it’s an essential part of any teams history.

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