Now, let me preface this by saying that I'm the first one to admit that there is such a thing as a stupid question.
Come on, don't defend it. We've all heard the adage that "there is no such thing as a stupid question." But if we're being honest here, that's simply not true. I personally know this in large part because I've asked PLENTY of stupid questions in my time.
Still, managers have made careers (or at least motivational posters) out of this phrase (cynics have made their own posters, as well). And it's partly (or even mostly) true. Employees benefit from being in an environment where questions and open dialogue are encouraged, not shunned. After all, an intern can't simply Google "how should I pitch this byline article." That being said, I bet everyone has seen someone take this mantra to its extreme - as a free pass to abandon their own creative and problem-solving faculties.
This is all part of why I'm of the opinion that the ability to ask the right questions is one of the greatest tools in predicting their future success in the workplace - PR or otherwise. Entire careers are built off of having the gift of asking the right questions at the right time (reporters, lawyers, salespeople). PR is no different. I help run Prosek Partners' internship program and I can say that one of the biggest things I look at when interviewing a candidate (or in evaluating their performance) is their ability to ask the right questions. We can't (and don't) expect people to know everything about PR or about the financial services industry. But we do prefer if they can ask smart, targeted questions that will get them on the road to understanding.
And for managers: at the end of the day, encouraging employees to ask a lot of questions is smart. Everyone learns differently, and the way you choose to explain a project or concept often is not the same way that your team members will choose to remember it by. Questions are a necessary part of the learning process, and smart managers know that taking a few minutes out of their day to answer questions can save them hours of time correcting bad/off-the-mark work down the road.
A lot can be learned of a person by analyzing the questions they ask. I like to think that Prosek Partners is full of people who know when to ask smart questions. I polled a few of them for tips surrounding best practices in question-asking, and here’s what we came up with:
- Ask questions only after you've already tried to find the answer first
- Frame your question in a way that will not only give you an answer, but an understanding.
- Ask (smart) questions as often as you have them. Never shy away from an opportunity to learn.
- Be mindful of the schedules of your coworkers - chances are they'd love to help you, once they finish the big project they're working on.
- If you're being interviewed for an internship or job, come prepared with 3-4 creative, specific questions about the company (asking, "What's a typical day like at ABC Agency like?" doesn't cut it!)
- If you're a manager, proactively ask your employees if they have questions and encourage them to be vocal with their inquiries.
Feel free to share your thoughts (or favorite stupid questions) in the comments!