In a public situation, or even in a private business meeting, the questions you put don’t only offer you information but also serve as a business card if you know how to use it. But, of course, if you use it ONLY as a business card… you know what people do with them mostly… they throw them away. Still, it’s better to have an excellent business card than none at all, isn’t it?
So these are a few questions to ask yourself before putting questions in a professional environment:
1. Do I really have anything valuable to get as an answer in this context?
For example, a structure is required in a presentation where people listen for information. If you have anything to add, is it appropriate for the structure designed by the speaker?
2. Would anybody else care about knowing the answer to this question?
If not, better send it in private or later. Or else, what you ask will say much about what only you care about.
3. Is it the appropriate moment to say this? Is it my turn to speak?
Most people are in their own internal dialogue, too busy to notice whether there is any place for someone else’s dialogue. Some people live most of their lives in internal dialogue, without honest communication with the outside world. Yet, there are still some moments when they are receptive. Are you open-minded enough to get them? Are you paying enough attention to the information you’re already receiving?
I was kind of humored when at a formation, the trainer established as a rule that only the person holding the pink elephant (there was a toy around there) has the right to speak. So get the right to speak, then ask your question. You’re not a politician; this is business.
4. Would it be too much to ask this?
If there might be something more important to ask later, I might be sorry to have gotten this question out.
And, to share an experience: I had put a question at a project management class, and a colleague turned to me and said: “I don’t even know what you’ve asked, but it sounded so good, it didn’t even really matter anymore.”. I was also glad that wasn’t the answer I got from the expert holding that class, but was just feedback from someone, but it indeed was nice :)
Consider the questions you put, and answer the other people’s questions about yourself. What do you say about yourself when putting questions? How do your questions define your personal brand?
Consider the person and the situation as they are, not as you want them to behave or to be. Forget about expectations. Do you really need an answer? What would you answer if the question were put to you?
5. Am I being challenged, provoked, or unnerved? What’s my state?
If so, keep the idea, leave the state and ask the question later. No need to elaborate on the disasters provoked by such temptations… Your condition might influence the answer you get and, besides, get you lousy publicity.
6. Is this the right place & audience to say this?
Caragiale, the great playwriter, talking to Eminescu, the great poet, once contradicted himself in a conversation, stating the opposite idea of the previous in just 15 minutes. Asked by Eminescu why Caragiale answered: “15 minutes ago, there were other people behind the stairs listening”.
Will the other people hearing understand the same thing as the speaker? If not, phrase well.
7. If it’s a critique, can it be constructive? Can I make it a playful challenge to respect the speaker?
A speaker, especially when in an audience, has authority. He’s the one people listen to. It’s challenging to question such a formal authority without seeming “the bad guy”?
A lot of inappropriate (not to say dumb) questions are asked because people don’t put these questions to themselves before putting their questions.
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