Look Clever, Not Clueless
We’ve all heard that there’s “no such thing as a stupid question.” And as much as I love asking questions, even I have to admit that… well, some questions are smarter than others.
Especially at work! When you have a question on the job, you’re dancing a fine line between looking like a clueless rube and wasting immense amounts of time reinventing the wheel. Use this mantra to make that tightrope walk look effortless!
QUESTIONS ARE GOOD
Everybody has to ask questions at work, whether it’s “where’s the copier?” or “does my boss want a detailed analysis writeup or just a pie chart?” Asking questions is the number one key to learning and getting better at your job. If you avoid asking questions at work, one of two things will happen: either you will have to fake it, and eventually get found out, or you will waste a tremendous amount of time trying to figure it out on your own (and possibly still get it wrong). Both of those outcomes will be terrible for your reputation, and your career!
… BUT THEY CAN ALSO BE NOT GOOD
Most managers are busy, and many do not appreciate being constantly interrupted with questions. In addition to annoying your boss, too many questions might also convince him or her that you lack initiative, know-how, or even basic common sense.
THE SWEET SPOT
The good news is that there’s one simple mantra that will help you navigate this tricky territory, and I learned it from a kindergarten teacher. Here it is: “Ask three before me.” From the teacher’s perspective, she’s telling her students to consult with three classmates before bringing a question to the teacher. At work, this means you should consult three other sources before heading to the boss’s office. See, we really do learn everything we need to know in kindergarten! So, who should be in your three?
The most obvious solution is to check with your colleagues. Teammates are likely suspects, but you might also find out a lot from someone in a different department. Also, make sure to befriend the receptionist. They tend to know EVERYTHING.
But what if there are only 3 people in your entire company, counting you? Move on to…
Whatever you’re working on, it’s likely that someone before you did something similar. Scour the files from past projects to find out how they did it.
If the files come up empty, next try…
You can use Google to find reasonably good answers to almost any question. But it should be your last resort for two reasons. First, if you can use a source that’s specific to your organization, it’s more likely to be useful for you. And second, the Internet is sometimes wrong. (I hope you were sitting down for that one.)
Which leads us to…
WHAT IF THEY’RE ALL WRONG???
Or, what if your sources disagree? Once you’ve questioned your three sources, it’s time to ask the boss. This is how you make sure that your sources, whether it’s Amanda from Accounting or HowToConductAnOrchestra.com, have pointed you in the right direction. Go to your manager, and let ‘er rip:
“Hi [manager], I have a quick question for you. I checked [sources], and it looks like I need to [possible answer to your question]. Is that right?”
For example: “Hi Geeta, I have a quick question for you. I checked the Frankweiler files, and it looks like I need to fill out these six boxes on the Museum Investigation form. Is that right?”
Your boss will love you for finding answers on your own – and also for checking in before charging ahead!
Have you ever asked (or been asked) a not-so-smart question at work? Tell me about it in the comments!
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