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The Challenge Of Asking Clear Questions When You Are Not Sure What You Are Asking
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The Challenge Of Asking Clear Questions When You Are Not Sure What You Are Asking

You may have read the title of this article and thought that it’s a bit of a contradiction to talk about clear questions when you’re not sure what you’re asking but it’s not as odd as it may first sound.

The way we communicate on a day to day basis has changed considerably over the past decade and many of the written 'conversations' we have are very brief indeed. People text each other, they send tweets through Twitter, they send brief emails, they chat on Facebook or MySpace, and they chat in various forums on line. Many of these conversations include half written remarks, abbreviations and jargon that can sometimes make it difficult to understand what’s going on if you’re not in the know but great for people who are always on the go.

However, this truncated way of communicating can be very problematic particularly when people ask questions online and it can create confusion and lead to misunderstandings.

Let me give you an example. I belong to a thriving online community at Wealthy Affiliate where there are people from across the globe learning about internet marketing. If members can’t do something related to their websites and marketing activities there are lots of people willing to help out. However, it can be a real challenge to ask questions when you’re learning something new and you don’t understand the subject very well.

People worry about encroaching too much on someone else’s time, so they try to keep their questions as brief as possible. However, brief doesn’t necessarily mean that the question is clear. The result? You can often see a conversation thread go backwards and forwards as someone asks a question and then gets an answer that doesn’t answer their problem and so it goes on. You can see some people feeling quite frustrated (though everyone is unfailingly polite).

Now it’s obvious that you can’t always get questions ‘right’ but as the main aim of asking questions is to find out information it makes sense to learn as much as possible about how to ask questions. It may take practice but there are steps that you can take which will improve your chances of your question being understood and help you get the information you need even if you’re knowledge of a subject is limited.

1. Use subject specific headers. In forums or emails it really helps the recipient or reader to know what the the content is about. Be accurate.

2. Say what you’ve done so far. This helps someone to understand the context and where you are. This doesn’t have to be the length of an essay. A couple of sentences is often enough but it gives the reader some background information and they won’t waste time telling you something that you clearly already know.

3. Prepare a question before asking. The preparation may only take a couple of minutes but you need to think it through. If you ask in a rush the question may not be a clear and the answer back could confuse you further or worse still they may just not bother to answer.

4. Take your time. Don’t make the mistake of asking lots of questions all at once. If you do you probably won’t get very helpful answers.

5. Reflect on whether you received an answer you understood or whether in the future you would try and ask the question slightly differently. The more you ask and reflect and see how successful the better you will get at it.

Summary

By asking clear questions you will find that you are more likely to get the answers you need and spend less time trying to clarify what you mean. It may not always come naturally, but it’s worth taking the time to reflect on what your asking and giving a little background information so any recipient or reader can understand the context.


Street Talk

Excellent approach, one that many people do not appreciate.Asking unclear questions can also be a contributory factor to the lengthening of meetings; something we can all try to avoid if we want to improve productivity in the workplace.

Reply
  about 8 years ago

Great summary! So often we have not because we ask not! You've cleared up how important is to even know what we are asking and communicate it to others.

Reply
  about 8 years ago
  

Thanks Miriam. I think people often miss how important it is to develop the skills to ask effective questions.

Reply
  about 8 years ago
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