Stop it! Stop not asking questions when you want or need to know something!

Look, I know you don’t want to look stupid or sassy. I get that. But I see so many people not asking questions that need to be asked--and the results are way worse than any hit to your reputation.

Asking good questions is never a bad idea.

Why your fear of asking questions is killing your content marketing

A nifty graphic full of question marks from The Word Factory blog

Why don’t we ask good questions?

Sadly, we don’t get taught a lot about asking good questions. I was a naturally curious kid, so I asked a ton of questions growing up. Luckily, my parents and grandparents were patient and curious, too, so I got answers. I’m sure this is where I developed my interview skills.

At school, though, the question game’s rigged, right? We’re supposed to learn, but asking questions isn’t always welcomed in the classroom, and there’s a lot of judgment when you ask a question everyone else knows the answer to. I didn’t understand algebra at all, but Miss Patterson gave me such a look when I asked her to explain it that I stopped asking. I still can’t do a quadratic equation, but luckily that isn’t called for much in my line of work! Thankfully, I worked on the high school paper and the local paper, where asking questions was a job requirement and I was able to hone my question-asking skills there.

I learned that a good question is always worth asking, and now I don’t worry about looking stupid if I don’t understand something. I just ask so then I get smarter.

This is true whether you’re interviewing someone for a content project or sitting in a planning meeting.

What happens when we don’t ask?

When we don’t ask good questions, we get bad outcomes.

  • We get half-baked assignments that don’t make sense from the get-go
  • We get weak writing and reporting because we don’t understand enough about the topic or latch onto the wrong angle
  • We get irrelevant content because we don’t ask the questions our audience would or should
  • We get time- and energy-sucking back-and-forth because we don’t clarify or identify early enough

It’s not dumb to ask for clarity or insight. It’s dumb not to.

How can we fix that?

Learn to ask good questions. Pay attention to the good questions that get asked around you. That could be in meetings, at events, on the TV (well, maybe not these days), etc. What can you learn about what’s asked and how it’s asked? (Answer: a lot!)

I did this and developed standard sets of questions I ask for every project I participate in and every interview I do. I still do it, honing my basic lists so I have a strong base to build more specific questions on. Maybe you can develop a standard set of questions, too.

Then follow this advice:

  1. If you’re asking yourself questions and can’t find the answers, ask someone else.
  2. If you need clarification on something, ask for it.
  3. If you’re wondering why something’s being proposed or done, ask about it.
  4. If you legitimately want to know more, ask for more information.
  5. If you’re concerned about something, ask questions to ease your fears.
  6. If you think your boss, your audience—whoever—would or should ask that question, ask it for them.
  7. If you’re not sure your idea is strong enough or clear enough, ask for input.

I can hear you saying, "But Margot, if I follow your advice, I’m going to be asking a lot of questions. Won’t people get annoyed?" And I say, "Yeah, they might. But I don't care."

I’ve been there—a lot. You ask a question or a few and the other person gets pissy. It’s easy to think they’re irked because your question’s ridiculous or you’re asking too many. And sometimes that’s the case. But most of the time—for me, anyway—it’s because they don’t know or—more likely—didn’t ask themselves that question in the first place. That’s way more embarrassing.

When that happens, I try to walk us both through the query so we can find an answer together. This serves two purposes:

  1. We get the information we need
  2. The other person sees me as a partner, a helper, rather than a challenging pest

What should I do next?

When I analyze what holds back a lot of the content marketers and writers I work with, it often comes down to the critical skill of asking good questions. It seems simple, but the emotion attached to asking questions makes it hard, so most people just don’t do it.

Let’s stop doing that, ok?

Invest some time in getting over your fears and asking more good questions. You’ll feel better and you’ll perform better, too. Remember, in any serious endeavor, there’s almost always an elephant in the room—a huge obvious question that nobody asks. Don’t be that guy. Ask about the elephant.

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