“The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing,” according to Socrates.
But sitting around quietly knowing nothing is not a very smart way to progress – and neither is hiding your ignorance from your colleagues and boss. Asking questions not only improves your creative thinking, but it demonstrates your listening and comprehension skills. It shows that you are engaged and eager to learn.
Asking any old questions won’t do, though. Asking a great question is as much an art as giving a great speech. To improve your question-asking prowess, first apply the standard ‘question’ words to your own inquiry. Ask yourself the Who, What, Why, When, and How of your question before you deliver it.
‘Who?’ Well, if you’re in a job interview, asking the panel the right question can make an indelible impression. Ask about the challenges of the job, or “What are your thoughts on me as a candidate?” – and save questions about the office cafeteria for your first day!
‘What’ is about the subject of your question. Figure out what you really need to know, and your question will be more incisive. It will impress the recipient and get you the information you need. But be sure to get the ‘When’ right, too – asking an irrelevant question during a high-pressure situation is not likely to get you a good answer or any brownie points with your colleagues.
The ‘How’ is where the real skill of asking questions comes in. Open-ended questions are frequently the most creative and productive, while closed ‘Yes/No’ questions are useful when the matter is urgent or you need a clear, categorical response. The How is also about making sure to listen to the response before creating an effective follow-up question.
But most importantly ask yourself Why you’re asking the question. A good question results in more than a standard, utilitarian answer. It advances mutual understanding. It reveals how the person asked feels about the topic. And it reveals a lot about the asker, too.
We’ve put together a guide to crafting the most effective, impressive questions to ask at work – and included examples of the top queries to try. Learn these principles well and you’re sure to get more satisfying answers when talking with your colleagues and clients.
Go on, give it a try – what’s the worst that could happen?
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