As working professionals, it can be easy to carry a false idea of leadership in our heads. After all, when we see characters in positions of leadership in our favourite films and TV shows, they’re always self-assured, and strong-willed and seem to always have an immediate answer or solution.
When we see this style of leadership all around us in the media, it can be easy to feel like the only way to stand out in the workplace is to have all the answers and never let people know we have questions or aren’t clear on something. However, this couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, committing yourself to ask more questions is one of the smartest moves you can make if you’re looking to stand out in the workplace.
You may be one of the many people whose fear of asking a “dumb” question stops them from saying anything at all. If this is the case, it’s important to work past this mindset and embrace your curiosity as a sign that you are intelligent, brave and creative enough to think outside the box to do your job well.
“Ironically, asking a ‘dumb’ question can sometimes be one of the smartest things you can do in a meeting or work setting,” says Dr Michael Green, chief medical officer of Winona. “You may be surprised at how impressed your manager and teammates will be when you do.”
A question doesn’t have to be long or deeply philosophical in order to be meaningful – in fact, sometimes the simplest questions can have the biggest impact.
“Sometimes it’s as simple as asking ‘why?’” says Max Schwartzapfel, CMO of Fighting For You. “Why are we doing this that way? Why is this going to help us? Why is this the right move and not that? ‘Why’ can be an incredibly powerful tool to unlock ideas and insights that could drive your team forward in ways they’ve never experienced.”
Asking questions in various settings can unlock various opportunities to nurture new ideas, build your professional relationships and empower yourself in your various projects and roles. Here are a few ways asking questions can help you stand out more at work, whether you’re a new hire or an industry vet.
Ask questions during your interview
Whether you’ve been in the workforce for months or decades, you’ve most likely heard people tell you how important it is to ask good questions during your initial interview. In fact, if you’re hoping to get hired by a great company, consider asking questions during your interview mandatory.
“The truth is, while your interviewer may be asking detailed questions, their approach is still limited because they’re focused on what you can do for them,” says Ubaldo Perez, CEO of Hush Anesthetics. “Flip the script on them. Go above and beyond by asking questions that show what matters to you, how the company can help you achieve your own long-term goals and the level of diligence you apply to your work.”
Asking great questions during the interview shows that you care enough about your career to make sure you’re rooting yourself with the right people and in the right company. It also gives your potential future employer an idea of the way you think and your creative approach to your work.
As important as this is, you’d be surprised how many people still say they don’t have any additional questions for the interviewer. The thing is, this doesn’t have to be that difficult. In fact, there’s one question that will serve as not only a great indicator of what your work would look like there, but also a psychological trick to help the interviewer remember you:
“Next time you’re in an interview, start off your series of questions by asking: ‘what would my typical day look like in this role?’” says Melissa Rhodes, CEO of Psychics1on1. “Not only will that allow you to envision yourself there. It’ll also help the interviewer envision you in that role, which will stick in their memory and serve you well when they’re making their final decision.”
If you get hired, asking thoughtful questions during your interview will start your relationship with the company on a strong note, and your managers will remember how insightful, introspective and unique those questions were.
Ask questions during meetings
Whether you’re leading the meeting or sitting in on a company all-hands, being the person to ask questions will help you and your team unlock new ideas, form deeper creative connections and keep the energy flowing during those long meetings.
Often, when people refuse to speak up and ask their questions during a meeting, this creates confusion and a lack of clarity once the meeting wraps up and employees are left to their own devices.
“Asking questions actually greatly improve team morale,” says Rachel Roff, founder and CEO of Urban Skin Rx. “It increases understanding and helps teams create better, more creative solutions together. Even if you don’t reach a solution right away, knowing that you opened up the door to help people think about it more deeply will set you all up for more success.”
Remember your teachers telling you in high school or college that you should always ask questions because someone right next to you might have the exact same one and be too nervous to say it? The same thing applies in the workplace. Asking questions will support others who may still be warming up to their job. It’ll also make you stand out because it will encourage people (both C-level managers and direct reports) to look to you for guidance and inspiration. Truly exceptional leaders aren’t afraid to be the ones to raise their hand and get the support, clarity and thought partnership their team needs.
Don’t forget that asking questions in meetings can sometimes be as simple as asking for clarification or restating what someone said in order to ensure complete understanding. Saying something like, “I understood what you said as x, y and z. Is that correct?” can sometimes be an incredibly effective way of establishing rapport with the person who’s speaking while also clarifying expectations and needs for other people who may be listening or taking notes.
“Questions can be the key to inspiring deep, lasting change,” says Lina Miranda, VP of Marketing, at AdQuick. “Telling people facts and information is important, but questions are the things that can shift perspectives, spark innovation and help your team make lasting changes that will positively impact the entire organization in addition to their personal career paths.”
Asking questions is a sign that you’re paying attention to the needs and ideas being stated in a meeting, and this level of diligence is something that will pay off regardless of how long you intend to stay at your existing company.
Ask questions to clients
Think about the way professional journalists do their jobs; in order to create a factual, impressive article, they need to sit down with their interviewee and ask relevant, hard-hitting questions that will clarify and enhance their story and the narrative the journalist is weaving. Why shouldn’t people take this same approach in all industries?
“As a journalist, my entire creative process is based around the power of asking great questions,” says Matt Miller, Founder and CEO of Embroker. “Over the years, I’ve learned that asking the right questions ensures you get exactly what you’re looking for and then some. No matter what it is you’re trying to accomplish, asking questions throughout the process is absolutely essential to creating exceptional work that satisfies everyone involved.”
Whether you work in marketing, accounting, tech or anything in between, there’s a good chance you’ll eventually be working directly with a client or someone that your organization’s service or product is ultimately reaching. In this case, asking the right questions will ensure they’re as happy as possible with your work and can help you uncover ways to improve for the future.
“We can’t improve if we’re not constantly learning, and we can’t learn if we’re not willing to ask questions,” says Lydia Boychuk, VP of Marketing at More Labs. “When it comes to directly interacting with clients, asking questions about their needs, interests and experience with our products and services ensures we’re constantly able to rethink how we can best be serving them and continuing to ‘wow’ them more and more every time they interact with us.”
Asking questions of your clients and the people you’re serving will also help establish trust and rapport, whether you’re collecting their answers in person or through some sort of virtual survey.
“Think about those terrible first dates where the person you’re with can’t stop talking about themselves and never asks you anything about your interests or life,” says Sasha Ramani, Associate Director of Corporate Strategy at MPOWER Financing. “It’s the same thing with clients. If the client or customer doesn’t feel like you care enough to ask what they like and need, they’re less likely to continue turning to you or fully trusting you to meet their needs.”
Asking questions is one of the most powerful moves you can make if you’re looking to move up in the workplace and make your ideas stand out.
“Asking questions is key to literally everything you could possibly be trying to accomplish in your line of work,” says Cody Candee, founder and CEO of Bounce. “They build community, motivate the people around you and help you tell a story with your work that will stand out and keep you top-of-mind for big promotions and opportunities. Why wouldn’t you ask?”
Robert Haynes, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.
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