The importance of asking questions at any level in your career
“If you don’t ask, you won’t know the outcome to what you are seeking.” – Thomas Ma, Co-Founder of SAPPHIRE
How many questions do you ask in your typical workday? 20, 10, 5? Or is it zero? As we settle into a career, we often stop asking questions, not because we do not have questions to ask, but because we are afraid of asking them – we find it a weakness. We worry that bosses and colleagues will think we lack knowledge in our position, or they find us to be naïve or incompetent. Asking questions is a strength and is often how most successful people become successful.
Asking questions is how we learn. According to the Harvard Business Review, it is estimated that children’s dialogues are made up of about 70–80% of questions, while adults are estimated at 15–25%. In an Instagram post, Sara Blakely, CEO and Founder of Spanx, talks about the importance of asking “why.” A big part of Blakely’s success came from asking the question, “Why can’t there be a more comfortable waistband for pantyhose?” and continuing to ask “why” throughout her career.
“When you have the courage to question and challenge the status quo, a whole new world of possibilities appears. It’s the jumping-off point of innovation,” said Blakely.
I have hesitated many times at work to ask a question, worried that it may be a “stupid” question. For example, what does a certain acronym stand for? But I am always glad when I do because often one of three things happen:
- The person I am asking does not have the answer or has a halfhearted answer (aka, they do not know the answer and probably have the same question).
- Others chime in that they have the same question or have follow-up questions to my inquiry.
- I learn something new.
Asking questions and seeking answers is how we become the “expert” and can grow in careers (and life really).
In another example, William Harris, CEO of e-commerce growth agency Elumynt, said, “Recently my oldest daughter said she doesn’t like asking questions in school because she’s worried others might not think she’s smart. I told her that the smartest people in the room are usually the ones asking the questions, not the ones giving the answers.”
Are there better questions to ask than others? Sure! But asking the right/best questions takes practice and research. The more questions you ask, the better you become at asking the best questions. Getting into the habit of asking “good” questions helps you grow in your career. It improves emotional intelligence and shows managers that you have a willingness to learn and openness to change. The article “Good Leadership Is About Asking Good Questions” explores how asking questions invites collaboration, drives new opportunities, builds trust, and can change a company’s culture. If you are eager to find growth in your career or become a better leader, creating an environment where people feel comfortable to ask questions opens doors to new opportunities.
Next time you have a question at work, ask it. If your boss or co-worker has a good answer, ask them how they got to that answer or conclusion. In your personal life, the next time a random question comes to mind, for example why men and women shirts button up on different sides, do not brush it off. Seek out the answer. It may not make you a billionaire like Sara Blakely (or maybe it will!), but you will learn something new, and you will have started your journey of asking questions. Hence, becoming a better colleague, leader, and innovator.
If you would like to explore this topic more, read “Why Asking Questions Is Good For Your Brand And Your Career,” “The Importance of Asking Questions as a Professional,” and “The Surprising Power of Questions.”