Does this sound familiar? There’s a briefing going on, it’s an important project and you’d really like to ask a question. Except that you don’t. If only you had, a little clarity would have made your contribution so much more effective from the outset.
A lot of time, energy and goodwill is lost in organisations because projects are not briefed clearly, misunderstood, misaligned or poorly defined. This can send people off working on the wrong priorities, working to the wrong outputs or going round in circles trying to work out what to do and how.
Why asking questions can be a little scary
The problem often lies in what is not said – or, more often, not asked. When teams are briefed on a new initiative or project, it can be scary to challenge or ask questions because:
- You assume the person briefing has thought everything through
- You doubt your own understanding and don’t want to look stupid
- You believe someone else on the team will have ‘got it’
- You’re sure you’ll pick it up as you go along
In truth, most organisations don’t spend enough time in the scoping phase of projects. Eager to get started (and usually these things are always ‘urgent’) it’s tempting to get off the starting blocks and figure things out as you go. There is merit to this, being agile and nimble is hugely beneficial for most organisations and there is always a risk that the scoping phase ends up going around in circles.
We believe you need a strong sense of where you are heading before you set off - otherwise you may have to go back on yourself which will waste a lot of time. As they say in the army ‘time spent on a recce is never wasted’.
How to ask questions with confidence
So instead, arm yourself and your team with some questions they can ask at the briefing stage to get clear and move forward with confidence. Here are some examples you can tweak to your own context:
- Why is this important right now? What do you see as the main benefits? (gives you a sense of the ‘why’ so that you can make sure it is aligned, this may appear obvious but is not always)
- When this is completed what do you see happening? (get them to describe visually what it looks like to them)
- There are a number of objectives in this briefing, which one is the most important? (gives you a sense of priorities and where to focus)
- Are there any side effects to this you want to avoid happening? (priorities)
- Once this is successfully delivered, is anything else likely to build on this? (gives you the direction of travel post-delivery)
As you can see, these questions are aimed at getting the direction of travel clear, rather than the specifics, which can often be resolved as you progress.
It’s mainly the questions on details and specifics that appear pedantic and annoying at the outset because many of these things are not clearly defined at the beginning of a project. By focusing on getting a clear enough big picture rather than a detailed one, you will be off to a stronger start.
Often there is more to a briefing than what you hear at face value. The key to unlocking the deeper context or just helping gain clarity (for all), is to ask a question. Our reluctance is based on the very human fear of standing out in a crowd in case we’ve asked a question that reflects poorly.
So, ask some questions that will not only help you – but probably those giving the briefing too. They may well thank you for asking a question that enables them to give the answers the project probably needs.
For further information
If you identify with not having the confidence to ask questions like these, you may find our blog 3 signs you need a confidence makeover of help. We make the point that the most competent person in the room is not necessarily the one talking! You’ll get some tips on making confident contributions. You may also find this of help: Speak up and say the right things.
Our Mind Mastery programme embeds the practical skills and techniques that you can use immediately with others to help build confidence, performance and ultimately, better results.
Founder of Monkey Puzzle and an INLPTA NLP Master Trainer, John is also a Clinical Hypnotherapist and author of the award winning book Real Leaders for the Real World. His new book Time Mastery; Banish Time Management Forever is out now.
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