Entering the workplace as an intern or fresh graduate will make you aware of your knowledge and skill gaps. This is absolutely normal for anyone entering a new work environment. Embrace this change as an opportunity to learn and develop your skills.
Some of the most effective ways for learning and skill development are by asking questions and being open to feedback. Why questions can help you close your knowledge gaps by finding answers to WHY certain things are done. Feedback can help you to improve your skills by giving you information on HOW things are done or best done. Both asking questions and receiving feedback provide massive opportunities for growth.
Let’s look at an example.
Jessica, a new intern, has been assigned to work with Mr Frank in the premium banking division of a bank. They both visit a prospective client, Sir Corleon, who has shown interest in the use of the premium banking services of the bank. After the first meeting, Jessica is impressed with the operations of this prospective client and is excited about having this client on board. However, when they returned to the office, Mr Frank asked Jessica to send an email to a Background Check company the bank works with to do a check on the prospective client.
Jessica is surprised but sends the email. On their way to another meeting with a client, Jessica asks Mr Frank why they needed to consult a Background Check company before onboarding Sir Corleon as a client of the bank when he had already met all the requirements and he is enthusiastic to do business with the bank. Mr Frank tells Jessica he will tell him why when they get back to the office as he is still mentally preparing for the meeting they are heading to.
On their return to the office after the meeting. Mr Frank informs Jessica that there are regulations in the banking industry which require that due diligence is done on clients before onboarding them to premium banking services. This goes beyond the know your customer or KYC forms given to the everyday user of the bank. This due diligence includes verifying their sources of income, checking if they are on Interpol’s radar, and also being sure they have not been blacklisted for money laundering as required for AML checks. Jessica is now relieved and thanks Mr Frank for explaining this to him.
As Jessica leaves Mr Frank’s office, He says: “one more thing”. I did not respond to your question yesterday when we were heading for a meeting because we had the driver in the car. We don’t discuss our clients in the presence of a third party. When it is unavoidable, we do that without revealing their identities or by sending a text in the car. Confidentiality of information is very paramount in our business as a premium banking provider. I hope you understand that. Jessica felt a little guilty for asking in the car but put a smile on her face to say thank you to Mr Frank for that feedback.
This story is an example of how asking questions and feedback can help to close one’s knowledge gaps and develop skills. Now she knows why due diligence is important and how best to talk about clients.
Let us look at a few best practices for asking good questions in the workplace.
- Be specific. Ask clear, specific questions to avoid ambiguity. It’s not enough to ask “how do I improve at work?” Rather ask: “If there are tips you can use to improve your presentation skills.
- Be open-ended. Avoid asking questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Instead, ask questions that encourage discussion and provide more information. For example, instead of asking “Do you like this idea?”, ask “What can I improve?” and “Why should we add that?” Why questions are great questions when asked with curiosity and not with the aim to challenge authority.
- Respect Boundaries. Avoid asking questions that are too personal or that could be interpreted as challenging someone’s authority. This may include enquiring on the nature of someone’s relationship with another or their future plans outside the organisation. Pay attention to non-verbal cues and body language when you ask questions.
- Listen to Answers. Don’t assume you already know the answer to a question. Even if you have some knowledge in the area, answers to questions can lead to a deeper understanding and might reveal new insights.
- Do further research. Not all questions can and need to be asked at the same time. Avoid asking questions that can be easily found on Google except you intend to use them as conversation lines. From Jessica’s example, after Mr Frank told her about the need for due diligence and compliance in premium banking. She didn’t need to ask what AML is. She googled the meaning of AML banking in finance and asked Mr Frank specific questions she couldn’t find answers to online.
Questions can also be used in other ways. They can be used to make others feel heard, seek clarity, and demonstrate understanding. When someone tries to explain how generative AI works. You can ask, “do you mean this is that?” Questions can also be used to provide feedback to others, especially superiors. Instead of criticising a decision, you can simply ask with sincerity why something was done or why it was done in a certain way. This may help your superior to see your view even if not admitted immediately. They will also appreciate the tact with which you provided the feedback. This may also help you to see why they made the decision or why it is the right one.
Finally, let us look at a few tips for taking feedback. Feedback is not judgement, neither is itt criticism, Rather, it is an opportunity for growth which should be gratefully received. Listen first to what the other person has to say, instead of being defensive. Thank a person for the observation and when there is a need for you to respond. It should be a respectful conversation, sometimes a difficult one, but definitely not a heated argument. The way you receive feedback demonstrates your openness to it and how sincere subsequent feedback will be. When you don’t know what to do at work and there is a limited opportunity to ask questions, get to work based on your current understanding with an expectation that feedback will be provided to improve it even when they come as criticisms. This is better than doing nothing at all. Iteration for continual improvement is a well-known methodology for product development which can also be applied to personal development. Be so open to feedback that you actively seek it for improvement. A thank you note or text for a feedback will also warm your way into the heart of others. Receiving feedback with grace can be your superpower.
- Recognise Feedback as a Growth Opportunity:
View feedback as a stepping stone for progress, not a judgment of your abilities.
Embrace feedback to enhance your skills, knowledge, and performance. A growth mindset allows you; to continuously learn and evolve in your career.
- Asking the Right Questions:
Asking thoughtful questions is essential for gaining clarity and understanding. Ask the right questions when you face challenges or need clarification. Seeking information helps you navigate tasks more effectively and demonstrates your commitment to producing high-quality work.
- Seek Feedback on Your Questions:
You can also seek feedback on your questions to improve your inquiry skills. Ask colleagues or mentors for feedback on the effectiveness of your questions. Doing this enables you to refine your approach and ask more impactful questions in the future.
By being receptive to feedback and mastering the art of asking thoughtful questions, you demonstrate your dedication to continuous improvement and commitment to becoming a valuable asset in the workplace.