Asking the Right Questions to Gain Clarity


My kids have always been curious. They ask a lot of why questions because they are trying to make sense of the world around them. At times, they repeatedly ask why and each consecutive why leads them deeper in their understanding. As I think about their learning, I wonder if there are lessons that might help us in our work. For instance, how might asking more or clarifying questions help us on our projects, tasks, and work?

Let’s start with the definition of a clarifying question. A clarifying question is a request for more info to ensure understanding and obtain essential information. It can provide background information and help you dig deeper into a problem. Some examples include:

  • What do you mean by___?
  • How does _____ relate to ____?
  • Could you explain ____ in another way?
  • Tell me more about the problem.
  • What is your end goal?
  • How detailed do you want this to be?
  • When is the proposal due?

Clarifying questions can help gather additional information when certain facts are missing. Asking clarifying questions can also help you verify information. For example, an engineer might ask an electrician,  “What are you preparing to do on site?” or “How will this drawing be used?” so that we don’t waste time adding unnecessary information on the drawing (or skip key details). Asking good questions will help us have a better understanding of the project we are working on. We aren’t assuming to know what our coworker or client needs or wants. Instead, we are asking questions to help us understand the problem from their point of view, so that we can better help them and deliver the results they need.

Another benefit of asking clarifying questions is that it helps eliminate the unknown and helps us see the big picture. The more details our client provides us, the more knowledgeable and confident we will be in our work. Eliminating the unknown also reduces stress and allows us to work more effectively and efficiently.

Lastly, asking clarifying questions helps us to be more creative and innovative. An example might be to ask your client, “In a perfect world, how would you like to see your plant function?” This question helps you better understand the work needed to provide the best solution for the client.

I encourage you to think about your next internal or external client interaction. What questions should you ask to shed light on the project or work? Can you think of a recent interaction that would have gone better had you asked more clarifying questions? How can you ask better questions to deliver the best results? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

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Keep leading the Interstates way.

Doug Post, Interstates Engineering President