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  • Writer's pictureNia Campbell

If you don't know, ask

It may seem like common sense to ask when you don’t know something.

Some people are naturally curious and gifted with an emotional intelligence that helps them ask the right questions. But questioning doesn’t come easy to everyone.

We might be too shy to ask or too eager to impress. Perhaps we don’t know who or what to ask. Asking for help can leave us feeling vulnerable, afraid that others may secretly sneer or judge us for our ignorance. As Erika Hall says in Just Enough Research, ‘The myth of the creative genius makes it very difficult to say “I don’t know.”’

One thing we’ve learnt and we always tell our clients is that we don’t have all the answers. No one does. But part of our job is to ask questions so we’re at least one step closer to not being completely wrong.

And the best part about asking questions is that you’re almost always met with enthusiasm. People like it when you take an interest to understand them and what they do. People like working together to serve a greater good, a higher purpose.

Brandon Cole, a blind accessibility advocate and consultant working in video games offered other people in the industry a brilliant opportunity: to ask him anything about being blind and playing video games — even questions that people felt were silly or feared may offend.

His tweet was met with gusto from game developers, researchers and interested parties worldwide with questions covering everything from voice activation to VR. Scrolling through this endless thread of questions and comments restored our faith in humanity, that’s for sure.

Ask lots of questions, early

Research is often viewed as a bit of a hassle, especially when there’s pressure from the top to just “get on with things”. However, asking lots of questions early on to get an accurate understanding of the problem saves you time and resources in the long term.

‘Research is a tool — a periscope offering you a better view of your surroundings. It can be very powerful if applied thoughtfully. Rather than piling on the costs, research can save you and the rest of your team a ton of time and effort.’ - Erika Hall, Just Enough Research

Questioning decisions at work or asking colleagues for their thoughts can help us exchange ideas to learn and improve the way we do things. Whether we realise them or not, we all have natural biases. Questioning is a way of trying to get past these, and being open to a variety of viewpoints and opinions.

Use your ears too

Asking questions is just the first step. You need to be able to listen too. Active listening simply means pausing and listening to what others have to say while asking questions to encourage them to expand. And listening to understand what’s answered rather than listening while thinking of what we’re going to say next.

A good understanding of the problems we’re trying to solve and what we want to achieve is fundamental to planning the best course of action to succeed.

Ask questions early and often, and take the time to listen.

Research can feel like a daunting task, but sometimes it’s as easy as starting with a question, notepad and pen.

And then listening with curiosity and empathy. Using our ears more than our mouth.

‘It takes two to speak the truth - one to speak and another to hear', H. D. Thoreau

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