I do a lot of work with people helping them to ask better questions. It may seem like such a simple thing…why on earth do people need help asking questions?

The reality is that most people do not do it well, and it is a bit of an art-form to get it right. But as I am coaching people and helping them to ask better questions I get the response, “…but my manager will just get annoyed with me if I keep asking them questions.”

So why do people feel this way? Perhaps they are unsure of the response they will get from their manager. They might feel their manager will make them feel stupid for asking that question. A question about a task can appear as a lack of competence, and no one wants to admit to that.

Individuals obviously have a part to play in building their own confidence to ask those questions, but the manager also has a big role to play in creating an environment where questions are welcomed and ideas challenged. If the basic questions are not asked…”When is the deadline…what are the expectations…who is the client…what level of detail are you looking for”, then big assumptions are made.

A lack of questions in the workplace may indicate an environment that is lacking in trust. Do people ask questions in your workplace? Or does everyone stay quiet – perhaps each individual is assuming that everyone else knows what they are doing, and so no questions are asked for fear of appearing incompetent. A dangerous environment for any workplace which can lead to big assumptions, big mistakes, and big dollars are lost!

One of the first mangers I had as a graduate engineer really damaged my confidence. I was having a conversation with him about a task and he fired at and acronym at me. I can’t event remember what it was now, but I asked what he meant and his response was…”You have just finished an engineering degree and you don’t even know what that means. Unbelievable”. There may have been some other choice words included, but the point is that this manager made me feel incredible stupid. When he expanded out that acronym, I knew what he meant, but I never asked him another question. Trust was broken with that manager.

So what’s the message…Managers, encourage your staff to ask questions, and don’t discourage by your responses to those questions.

The next blog post will focus on how to ask questions, and how to encourage questions.