Some questions, as soon as I become aware of them, sit in the front of my brain and simply won’t go away until I do something about them. In this case, the question I have been thinking about for the last several weeks is actually about asking questions.
Why is it that people don’t seem to know how to ask questions anymore? Maybe I should clarify this just a bit – I suppose it’s the follow-up questions that people seem to forget.
Maybe it’s both.
What planted this seed of thought is that Architectural interns are out in force and I am looking at more than my fair share of emails, resumes, and portfolios. While the skill range varies wildly between individuals, I am typically looking for things that elevate a candidate’s position beyond how good they are at architecture. Sounds silly to a point but most of the time, our interns are contributing to projects, not leading them. To that end, there are other skills that come into play other than the things they have been learning in architecture school. First and foremost, I will tell you that the single greatest trait I look for in a co-worker and collaborator, is someone who is good at asking questions.
Most young people think that by asking questions, they are exposing just how little they might actually know, and that seems like a bad idea seeing how the ink on your business cards is still wet. It also stands to reasons that constantly asking questions and exposing your actual knowledge might reduce your value in the eyes of the people around them.
If this sounds like you, and you think this way, I am here to say you couldn’t be further from the truth. Folks that have been around the block a few times will tell you that asking questions is the first step to understanding something of value. Most employers hiring young people realize that they are potential and raw mental computing power. There are times (probably more than I even realize) when people in my own office get frustrated that I don’t really answer a lot of their questions. Based on their body language and the subsequent eye rolls, they think I don’t know that they simply want to ask their question, have me tell them what exactly what I want them to do, so that they can put their headphones back on and crank out the required drawings. Guess what? I don’t know all the answers to your questions … normally it’s because I am asking someone to do something I haven’t done before – I have tasked them with solving the problem. I am well aware of the fact that I could simply figure it out, tell them exactly what I need them to do and move on … but what good does that do for their long-term development? They ask a question and I typically asked them a question right back. Or I tell a story about a leprechaun or something and THEN I start asking them questions that will eventually lead back to some realization and course of direction.
I know this post is about asking questions, but it’s about the process of asking questions. In my world, nothing is a linear process – everything is a balance of push and pull. Asking questions is a skill and it takes time to develop. The only way you’ll get better is by … asking questions. Funny how that works. Questions have their own sort of ebb and flow to them, the question asking process when designing is fluid and having the ability to respond in real-time with follow-up questions based on the information you are collecting is critical.
Asking questions is fundamental to successful communication, and gathering information as a product of asking questions is a basic human activity. Everybody has this skill set at some level, but like all things, some people are better at it than others. Questions and the resulting answers provide us with the information we need to aid in the decision-making process. Questions help us understand each other. Questions encourage further thought – or at least get someone to think about something in a more substantive way. In my office, I view asking questions as a way to encourage participation, but after enough eye-rolling and heavy sighing, I tend to relent a little bit.
Ask more questions.