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Why you need to have a happy workforce

23rd March 2023

Stuart Thomson: Don’t Be Afraid To Ask Questions in the Workplace

Stuart Thomson


We all want to learn by receiving feedback on our work but sometimes that just isn’t enough. But rather than simply being grateful for the words of advice, we should challenge more and ask questions.


Learning from others is how many of us develop skills and progress in our chosen profession. The idea that you are briefed to deliver a piece of work, deliver that work and then receive feedback on it is a cornerstone of the workplace. It is how everyone from interns and trainees upwards get better at their jobs and progress. Even when you reach ‘the top’, the idea that the best leaders still listen and learn from feedback features in any good management or leadership book.


But that approach often fails to recognise that the person giving the brief or the feedback is any good at doing so. They may never themselves have been given any particular instruction and are instead relying on their similar experiences of 20 or more years before.


You should always be prepared to ask questions designed to help you deliver better quality work. Questions are completely acceptable at each stage:

·      Briefing – think about whether you are receiving the information you need, everything from context through to delivery date.

·      Drafting – it is useful to have opportunities to ask questions as your work develops rather than have to wait until the endpoint. The process should be an iterative one.

·      Feedback – the days of the red pen used liberally to change words, phrases, sections or scribble indecipherable comments may not be as much a thing of the past as one would hope. When the feedback is not clear then questions are essential.


Some questions may seem silly to the person you are asking them of. But that is their problem, not yours. You need to ask the questions that help you to learn and understand, not what they think you need to help you.


The questions should ideally not cover the same sort of ground every time. You should consider different aspects of your work. That approach would be more constructive from your perspective and has the added benefit of not unnecessarily antagonising the person you are working with.


With questions though should come close attention and good listening on your part. Going over the same ground each time simply because insufficient attention was paid will not be forgiven.


If, however, you find yourselves revisiting the same territory for most work then that may betray a deeper, underlying problem. Either you are not learning from what you are being told or the explanations provided are of a poor quality. In these sorts of circumstances, it would be beneficial to seek the input of others.


Personally, I take notes at every stage. It is useful to refer back to feedback received and it is doubtful that you will remember everything discussed. It also means that if you are ever challenged on any aspect of the work then you have a record to fall back on. Recollections of what was asked for can, for instance, easily vary.


A good workplace should encourage a challenging and questioning approach. An organisation can learn as much as any individual can. If the approach is more ‘command and control’ then I would question its approach and consider whether it was the type of place I wanted to work? Whether it was the type of place that I could really develop myself and my skills?


So, don’t be afraid to hold back but do remember that asking questions is about people as much as it is direct learning.



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