One of my first school report cards had a remark that I ask too many questions and should let other students have a turn. I’ve never forgotten that and haven’t been ever let it make me be discouraged from asking lots of questions in life. That’s not to say that asking questions is easy.

Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to speak up and ask a question that no-one else is (even if they’re thinking it).

Sometimes you’re attacked for even asking the question. Your motives are then questioned, and assumptions about your beliefs and attitudes made. Questions can make people uncomfortable that they have to think through things they’d rather not, or realise that their beliefs may not be on firm grounds, or make them open to change. Lashing out in response to a question can be fear-based.

Sometimes asking a question doesn’t mean you think there’s something wrong, you just want to learn or to clarify things.

Sometimes asking a question is really innocent. You’re thinking aloud, figuring out why things are the way they are.

Not all questions need answering.

Sometimes it’s pointless asking a question. Sometimes people don’t want to discuss, they just want to argue. They’re not open to change. So it’s important to pick when to ask and when to keep quiet as it won’t help the situation.

I was at a farewell dinner recently, and in a speech to the manager who was leaving, her boss called her the best manager he’d ever worked with. He expanded on this: when she first came to the job, she had all the requirements for the job but had come from a different industry. She started off by asking a lot of questions about the processes they used and why they used them. He said he didn’t like all the questions at first because he wanted to say in response “Just because it’s the way we do it!” and was forced to think through the reasons. In many cases, his new manager was able to streamline processes and make things less stressful and overwhelming for people. In other cases, the new manager was able to understand why things were the way they were and learn a lot in the process.

Asking questions was a bit of a slow process, but well worth the investment.

This morning I read an excerpt entitled Before You Hire Designers from Mike Monteiro’s upcoming book You’re My New Favorite Client – it’s well worth the read. In it, he talks about the important work a designer does and that those employing a designer need to be prepared to work with one and be open to change.

“Design is the solution to a problem, something you pay a professional to handle. A designer is, by definition, uniquely qualified to solve those problems; they’re trained to come up with solutions you may not even see. Your designer should champ at the bit to be involved in strategic discussions.

Make sure to use your designer’s skill set completely. Make sure they’re involved in strategy discussions. Make sure they’re involved in solving the problem and not executing a solution that’s handed to them. Most of all, make sure they see this as part of their job. If they don’t, your design will only ever be as good as what people who aren’t designers think up.

Empower your designer with the maximum amount of agency to do their job well. No one tells the accountant how to do their job, but I’ve been in a hundred workplaces where people told the designer how to do theirs.”

A big part of a designer’s first steps in a project is to ask a lot of questions. They may be a little overwhelming, but they’re serving an important need: to clearly understand the problem so they can construct a good solution.

As a statistician with a passion for statistical literacy, I’m trained to ask critical questions of media reports about statistics. We call this a list of “worry questions” to quickly mentally run through when seeing a report about new research, a poll, or survey. These questions include things like “compared with what?” “says who?” “how big is that?” “is this meaningful?” “does this make sense?”.

Slowing down and asking questions before passing on a mutant or bogus statistic in today’s retweet world is more important than ever. Numbers alone aren’t enough: we need context and thinking about where they came from.

There are countless click-bait articles about how to craft a perfect blog post. They regularly include the advice to finish the post with a question to try and engage readers to leave a comment. Asking questions is important, but not for the sake of it, and not when they’re all doing it over and over and over again.

Questions can tire us out. This is an understatement: I have three children asking me hundreds of them a day!

Sometimes questions shouldn’t be asked and we should first go hunting for an answer ourselves rather than just being told it.

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