Guest Post by J.B. Wood

This article was originally posted at:

They say that management consultants are the ones who are paid to tell you what time it is, when all they do is ask to borrow your watch. Sure, it’s a derogatory smack against my former profession, but I suppose there is some truth in it.

When just starting my career in the management consulting field, I was often thrown in to situations way above my head. Rather than panicking, I learned a handy watch-borrowing coping mechanism: when working with a client and unsure about what I was supposed to do next, I would stall by asking questions.

It worked wonders, because the person answering would suddenly become engrossed in the conversation, spill the beans about the messy business situation, and eventually give me all the information necessary to develop a solution. All I did was ask.

Asking questions can serve you well at any stage of your career.

Here’s why:

1.  It makes you look smart.

That’s right, people who ask questions appear to be brighter than those who just sit there with a blank expression on their face. It could be because curiosity is associated with intelligence. Or, perhaps those who are being asked simply project smartness back on to the questioner. Whatever. It’s a simple method to boost your presence in the organization, and you should milk it for all it’s worth.

2. People love to talk about themselves.

Well, duh. How did this one slip by for so long? The truth is, there are precious few opportunities in a business setting where someone actually takes a focused interest in another person. Usually it’s all about productivity and output. So imagine one’s delight when suddenly a very interested party (you!) is sitting across the table asking probing questions. You must be sincere, of course, but once you start asking someone about themselves, watch out! The floodgates will open up. You will find out more than you ever wanted to know. The trick now is to keep it focused on the business at hand.

3. It leads to deeper insights.

The Greek philosopher Socrates invented a brilliant method of questioning, called—can you guess?—The Socratic Method of Questioning. It simply involves asking a series of questions that eventually lead listeners to reach a conclusion on their own. It’s like peeling the onion to get the root of the issue, then a startling insight is revealed. People will buy into a conclusion they’ve reached themselves much faster than hard-selling them through your know-it-all lectures and boring Power Point presentations. Plus, you might learn something, too.

4. It shows that you are engaged.

Remember the mute guy with the blank expression in #1 above? Well, he may think he is engaged in the conversation up there in his own mind, but no one else knows about it. Your bosses, managers, and peers all want to know that you are thinking and interested in what’s going on at work. The only way they would know that is if you are asking questions about it. So pay attention in those meetings. Do a little homework beforehand if you really want to ask good questions.

5. It shows that you care.

No one cares how much you know until you show how much you care. Teddy Roosevelt said that. A worn-out cliche, yes, but really, asking questions will open you up to actually becoming interested in the people, the situation, and the issue being discussed. Even if you don’t feel like you care at first, the questioning can surprise you in getting there. And isn’t this what connecting our spiritual lives to our work is all about? Caring about others?

So straighten up, strap in, and let the inquiries begin. Who knows how far it will take you? You may even make a few new friends along the way.

J. B. Wood is the Senior Vice President of The Clemens Family Corporation, author of At Work As It Is In Heaven and a contributing writer for The High Calling.

Which of your friends would thank you if you forwarded this post to them?


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