Thursday, June 26, 2008

When Asking Questions in the Workplace Is the Right Thing to Do

Asking appropriate questions in the workplace is something that comes naturally to some people and to many others it is difficult to do. If you are in the second group, one reason may be that you’re worried you may look stupid. That fear can be overwhelming – and can actually get you into hot water if you don’t ask a question when you should.

Let’s say you’re an intern at a company and you are asked to assemble a huge written report with lots of numbered exhibits. You’re not sure whether the numbered exhibits should be inserted into the report where they are referenced, or whether all the numbered exhibits should be placed at the end of the report.

You MISTAKENLY assume that which way to do this is so obvious that you’ll look stupid if you ask. So you don’t ask. And you put the numbered exhibits interspersed throughout the report. Then you bring your report to your boss – who is annoyed because you’ll have to take the time now to remove all those numbered exhibits and put them at the end of the report.

Yes, the boss didn’t tell you. But she may have forgotten that interns don’t know standard company policy. Which is why you should have asked. Instead of being annoyed at being asked, your boss might have replied: “Thanks for asking. I’d forgotten you don’t yet know our company policy. What we do is ………”

I’ve talked before in this blog about NOT opening your mouth at work when it’s not appropriate to do so. Now I’m saying that you MUST open your mouth at work to ask questions when you are unsure what to do.

Of course, ask in a polite way. And don’t interrupt your boss in the middle of a conversation with someone else in order to ask your question. Stand patiently to one side while waiting. If your boss is a good manager, she’ll take the hint and ask if you have a question.

Oh, yes, and do NOT say “no problem” after your boss tells you which way to do the report. Instead say thank you – a little thanks goes a long way.

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