When my kids were just learning to talk and were eager to know everything about everything, I was bombarded by questions that, 9 times out of 10, started with “why.” Why this, why that, why, why, why, why! If not for reading an article about child development explaining that, to toddlers, the world is brand new and they are just realizing that they can inquire about that which they don’t understand, I may have gone insane.
Just kidding. (Sort of.)
Toddlers have an excuse for asking broad and repetitive and at times, silly, questions. It’s how they learn to make sense of what they don’t have knowledge of, and it’s how they begin to think for themselves.
But what about the professional who, while meaning well and genuinely wanting to ascertain knowledge, can’t seem to scrounge up the right questions for the right answers. I didn’t get to where I am because I don’t know how to get the answers I need, so here are a few tips I use to make sure I get the most answer for my question.
Every mistake that I made – and we all make mistakes – came because I didn’t take the time to get the facts. I didn’t drive hard enough.
— Charles Knight, publisher
1. Be specific
Being general in your questioning is a great strategy when starting a round of 20 Questions but when you are face-to-face with professionals, you need to speed it up a bit. If you want to know about the average 5-year return on an investment currently yielding a 3% annual growth rate when the moon is full 14 times in one calendar year, ask THAT question. Don’t beat around that proverbial bush.
2. Be prepared
While you don’t know the answer for the question you are asking, you need to do your homework before hand. Having at least some rudimentary knowledge about what you are asking not only saves time, it shows an interest in attaining knowledge. (That is NEVER a bad thing.) For example, I’m not a defensive coordinator for any football team but I do know enough about defense to ask a few intelligent questions, such as: When would a 4-3 be preferential to a 3-4? Does it depend more on the situation or the athletic ability of the players?
3. Listen to others ask questions
I find the best way to learn how to do something is to watch people that know how to do it or read literature from those that know what it’s about. It pays to learn from those that have been there and have learned which ropes are better for climbing.
4. Think creatively
Asking better questions also requires a certain savoir faire. You have to be able to think on your feet and roll with the punches, so to speak. Gathering knowledge requires you to be able to switch gears on a dime and all manner of other clichés.
One can’t (and won’t) simply wake up one sunny day and be a master information gatherer any more than one would wake up one sunny day and be able to perform a successful triple bypass. But one CAN wake up one day, decide to find out more, and go about it in an effective manner.
Second place is the first loser, as a popular shirt in the 90s proclaimed. It’s true; unless you win the fight, you’re relegated to the “Wait ‘til next year” crowd. And the seating area for that group is a sad and lonely place to be.
In my professional career, I subscribe to the mindset that someone is going to win this game, so it might as well be me. I’ll be honest; I hate losing. (Who LIKES losing, Brian?) I REALLY hate losing. It’s the proverbial nails on the chalkboard for me to be relegated to any place on the medal podium where the metal given doesn’t go by the atomic symbol Au. It irritates the hell out of me that I let someone beat me, that they were able to secure the sale or the contract or the deal.
But instead of whining and pouting like a toddler who isn’t allowed to eat another cookie before bed time, I use that energy to focus on the next contest. The next mountain. The next person who will be the unfortunate recipient of my overwhelming desire to wash the bad taste of losing out of my mouth.
If you’re one of those knuckle draggers who simply doesn’t care in what place they finish or that shy from competition, I have a term for your kind: a creampuff. If you aren’t willing to put it all out there to win, you’re more reminiscent of a pastry than a person.
So what’s it gonna be: a butt kicker, or a creampuff?