You do not want to look stupid. You do not want to risk ridicule. You fear getting in trouble. You want to respect other people’s time. You think your question is simply not good enough.
There are dozens of possible explanations for why people struggle with asking questions at work. And there is a policy that a manager can have to counterattack this — the No Stupid Questions Policy. Here’s how to create a question-friendly environment:
1. Nurture the work culture of curiosity
Only one in four employees feels curiosity in their jobs on a regular basis. Yet, curiosity is a valuable determinant of performance that can actually be nurtured immediately!
Write your team meeting agenda as a list of questions. If employees know that they have concrete control over the outcome, they are more likely to engage. For example, during a project kick-off meeting, invite others to your conversation with a question, “How should we approach any roadblocks if they occur?” or “How should we prioritize over the weeks?”
Use your 1-on-1s as the time to discover your employees’ interests. As a manager, you care about you and your team staying at the very forefront of innovative thinking. A great way of encouraging more curiosity in your team is by praising the curiosity that is already there. Be interested in what drives your employees and how you can combine it with their daily work.
2. Help your people be more courageous
The world’s best managers are not afraid of making mistakes. But this alone would not do — the world’s best managers are also good at inspiring others to be courageous.
Show others you are not perfect either. On the path to becoming a manager, you have likely experienced a number of setbacks along the way, and you had your fair share of questions at the beginning of your career. Show your team it is normal to not know it all — it only matters that they are willing to ask.
When someone is feeling off, remind them how powerful they really are. Yes, it is human to face doubt and uncertainty. But the people you have on your team do countless things well. Remind them of specific examples. Tell them what a great job they did on a specific project. It is easier to be courageous once you remember your work is truly valued.
3. Diffuse defensiveness that comes up
The so-called boxer crab uses sea anemones as boxing gloves to ward off enemies. Humans respond to various social threats by becoming defensive. This response can be diffused.
Show others that you expect them to ask questions. Make questions a natural occurrence. At the beginning of a meeting or a presentation, tell others that there will be time reserved for questions at the end or even encourage them to ask questions throughout. Our top tip? Rather than the well-known, “Is there any questions?” say, “What questions do you all have?”
Consider introducing anonymous question-asking! It is important to give others an option to remain nameless in a situation that feels threatening to them. You want your employees to ask questions. Having an option to be anonymous should help. For example, you could create an anonymous question box where project-related questions are put in prior to a team meeting.
Before you set off to encourage a question-friendly environment, ensure you stop doing anything that discourages people from asking questions. Never be critical of the person, never make the answer look obvious, and never make them feel like they are unwelcome. Instead create an world where question-asking, curiosity and continuous learning are ever-welcome.