Asking questions is an essential component to learning new skills. You’re likely going to have quite a few inquiries when you start a new position. Beyond your initial training though, if the questions continue, your colleagues and/or superiors might not think you’re cut out for the job. This is particularly concerning for those in the STEM fields, where analytical thinking and a strong sense of “figure-it-outness” are considered fundamental traits.
Of course, it’s important to ask for help, guidance, or clarification when you need it! Sometimes however, we get in the habit of asking others for directions when we can find the answer on our own. Occasionally we just get a little lazy in the “take initiative” department or a little timid in the “get outside my comfort zone” arena.
Before you ask a colleague or your superior how to do something, take a moment to assess why you’re asking and then determine if you should still follow through with the ask.
Here are a few examples:
Are you going to ask because you’re concerned about your own or someone else’s safety? 100% ASK!
Are you going to ask because you genuinely don’t have a clue where to find the information? If you’ve researched the topic and checked all available resources and you still come up empty handed, then ask.
Are you going to ask because you have a burning desire to learn as much as possible? Consider taking a course on the subject of interest. If it’s a subject that many of your co-workers would benefit from then make a case for its value and pitch it to your boss. If it’s a new skill that will enhance the efficiency or accuracy of joint tasks, then it might be worth having department-wide training on the topic.
Are you going to ask because you think it will be quicker for someone else to tell you? If you’ve performed a root-cause-analysis of why you’re asking, and this is the conclusion you’ve drawn… then I’d encourage you to exert the extra effort and find the answer on your own. It might be quicker for you to ask, but you also want to respect your colleague’s time.
And... for those of you who hold the coveted answers...
Firstly, consider what a big compliment it is that someone else trusts your judgement and expertise to seek your assistance! But…perhaps the novelty wears off over time and your feelings of flattery turn into feelings of annoyance. Try to keep in mind that everyone learns in their own unique way and that some individuals are not as inclined toward self-directed learning as others.
Although it might be tempting to say, “Just Google it,” exercise restraint and instead tactfully navigate a new professional dynamic. Build some scaffolding and allow the question-seekers to expand on the concepts on their own. Give them a sense of where to begin by providing them with some helpful tools, tips, and resources. Remind them that they’re smart and intuitive, and that you have faith in their ability to get to the bottom of it!
Although your official role is not of a teacher, it can be satisfying to see your colleagues or employees succeed in learning new skills. Giving them a gentle nudge in the right direction can make a big impact on mutual respect and inter-office relations.
All in all, questions are great! Questions can spur innovation! We don't want to create an environment where we quiet questions, rather we should try to create a work environment that fosters autonomy and question asking.