As a former Scientist I LOVE QUESTIONS! I like big meaty existential questions about the meaning of Life and quantitative questions that have a mathematical basis. But, by far my favorite question is WHY. Asking why can lead to all types of revelations and insights. By asking Why 5 times in a row you can easily decipher whether a person truly knows what they are speaking about or whether just read the title of an article on the way into the meeting.
I have lately seen a common trend among entrepreneurs and new business owners, the inability to ask questions. Everyone wants to pretend they have it all figured out. Not asking questions and seeking understanding costs you lots of time and money. When you seek consultation or services it never serves you well to “fake it until you make it”. This is a dangerous way of thinking that sends entrepreneurs in droves to google and “figure it out later”. While I agree that one should know how and where to find information. The inability to understand and APPLY the information you have found often does more harm than good. We all have to do our part to encourage true understanding and critical thinking. Here are a few of my favorite strategies to encourage questions:
1. Always start at the beginning. Unless I am told otherwise, I always start at a basic level of understanding. When you know your craft, it can be easy to fall into the lingo or use lots of abbreviations. Avoid this. Explain terms. Do not assume because a person has a title they have the same experience and education on a given topic.
2. Stop frequently for questions. Try not to leave questions for the end. While questions can interrupt your rehearsed flow, stopping to make sure your audience is with you is much more important. Engage your audience. Ask if they understand, especially if you see quizzical looks.
3. Be the first. I have no problems say “I don’t get it”. I have said it class and as a judge in pitch competitions. Often, others feel exactly the same and find it difficult to speak first. I have gone as far as to ask a question even if I did understand the concept to get the tension out of the air. If you had difficulty with a subject in the past, asking a question for the benefit of the group can be helpful. When taking this approach make sure to own your past confusion.
4. Don’t pretend to be an expert. This is likely the most important tip of all as it applies to both sides of the dynamic. If you are the presenter be sure to be honest and say when you don’t know the answer. Write down the question and take time to answer thoughtfully later. If you are the audience don’t nod along all the while walking blindly. Just because you know a subject there is always more to learn so there is no need to pretend. Interact with the speaker from your knowledge base and gain understanding.
Let’s all dig a little deeper and fall in love with questions!
Dr. Shante Williams is a serial entrepreneur who started slow and in the shallow end of the business pool. She has worked in Biotech, Big Pharma, Green Energy, and Academia