I am amazed how many people don’t think to ask for the info they need, how many others are afraid to ask, and how many more don’t know who to ask or how to ask for what they want.
It takes confidence to ask questions. Our world tells us we are supposed to be able to find the answers for ourselves and not bother people, especially busy people like our bosses or clients. It’s easy to get the impression that real experts don’t even have to get full information that they somehow just “know” what to do. But there will always be times when it will still be necessary to ask someone a question.
Most people are anxious in new situations and want to make a great impression. This is especially true when you’re in a new job, offering a new service or in a company that is rapidly changing directions. You may think you should be able to figure everything out on your own and feel uncomfortable asking for input. While it’s important to be able to function with independence, no one is a mind-reader. I’ve seen people spend days and even months worrying about something, yet if they asked the appropriate person for the needed information the obstacle would be removed and it would become easy to move forward.
Does this sound familiar? If you’re one of these “ask phobic” people, don’t despair. You can become more productive and less stressed by learning the fine (and easy) art of asking for what you need.
Start by asking yourself why you are afraid to ask for information. Does the person you want to ask make you uncomfortable? Are you afraid someone will laugh at you for not knowing the answer or get mad at you for bothering them? Do you think it reflects badly on you that you need to ask someone for information? Are you afraid the information that you will get will be something you don’t want to hear? Your answer will help clarify what is causing your anxiety and that knowledge will help you to better prepare for asking your question.
You can develop your “asking muscles” by making it a daily habit to ask all types of people questions in different situations. The more the better. Ask the waitress what’s in the pasta sauce. Ask the barista what the difference is between one type of coffee and another. Ask your cabbie what restaurant he would recommend to an out-of-town guest. There’s no penalty for asking these kind of questions, but it creates a level of comfort and a track record of success that can help you move up to the next level of asking.
Once you’ve gotten comfortable asking casual acquaintances easy questions, encourage yourself to ask questions in environments that you find intimidating. For example, ask your financial advisor for information about the best way to invest in your 401K. Go to your next doctor or dentist appointment with a list of two or three questions and make sure you get answers to all of them. Ask a friendly colleague for a suggestion of where to go for lunch or where he or she bought an attractive piece of clothing or jewelry. These people are likely to respond well to your question, but they may be people you find slightly intimidating.
By playing the “ask and answer” game, you will gain experience in responding to the different ways people react to your questions. This exercise will help you become more confident and more skilled at asking questions.
Once you’ve gotten through the “basic” and “intermediate” levels of the ask-and-answer game, it’s time to go for the big fish.
Below is a list of “uncomfortable” questions that can make a real difference in your life.
- Why did you choose me for this project/job?
- Are you satisfied/happy with the work I have done?
- I’ve enjoyed working with you and would appreciate your referring me to your friends and family.
- So we are both clear about my new job responsibilities, could I have a job description?
- When do you want this job completed?
- What is your budget on this project?
- Have you received my latest invoice, as I need payment to proceed?
- Is there any issue, problem? (Asked of your boss.)
Use your newfound confidence, put the questions in your own words, and ask. With practice, you will be happy and more successful when you are able to ask with confidence. Asking will make you feel more in charge of you life as well as give you the information you want and need. Give yourself permission to ask!