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How to be amazingly good at asking questions

Spinning plates are hard. Particularly when you have lots of plates all spinning at once. Life is very much like spinning plates and it can become hard work trying to control multiple parts of your life.

Completing an apprenticeship is a great example of this, as you have to ensure you are in control of learning the skills of your trade, meeting the expectation of work and other commitments.

That's why we've created a series of tips for a successful apprenticeship. We hope these tips will give you one less 'plate' to worry about and to be the best version of you.

What do you want?

You're probably saying "I know how to ask questions: and as an apprentice you'll spend much of your work day asking questions. This is part of the learning process and is necessary to complete tasks asked of you. But questioning is a skill that can be honed.

Once you know what kind of information you need and who to ask, you have to ask your questions in a manner that gets the best possible information in response. Asking amazing great questions is a skill like any other skill, it takes practice. Here are some techniques to draw out what you need to know.

  1. Help the person understand why you're asking the questions. Why are you asking this? Do you need a simple or complex answer? What specifically do you want to know? Do you want to know so you can do a task or due to curiosity.
  2. When asked to do a task that requires you to ask questions, state what you know first. Most tasks have multiple steps and explaining to your host that you know how to do some or most of the steps is important to give the an understanding of your current knowledge and skills.
  3. Compare what you know and what you don't. Before you ask, think about what you do know and what you don't know. Do you have a lot of information and only need small details? Do you know almost nothing? The more information you know, the more intelligent your questions can be.
  4. State what you don't know. Then ask for the information to be delivered in the best format for you. For example "Can you show me, explain to me, or watch me:
  5. Think about how the task can be done and explain your thinking. For example "I'm not sure how to do X, but could you do it like this...?"
  6. Find the right person to ask. Another major component of asking a question intelligently is making sure that you're asking the right person.
  7. Avoid asking Yes or No questions. When you ask a yes or no question, you will most often get incomplete information. Instead, ask an open-ended question. By using an open-ended question you get a better understanding of why something is done a certain way and additional information you might not have known existed.
  8. Don't interrupt the person with whom you are talking to. Interrupting stops their train of thought and directs the conversation the way you want, not necessarily the way it should go. Ask your question, the let the person answer it in full, even when you think you are not getting the answer you want.
  9. Listen fully to what they are saying to get the most from the answer. Sometimes writing down some dot points will help.
  10. Think about what they said. Did you understand the answer? If the answer they gave you doesn't make sense or there is something about it that you don't understand, don't be too embarrassed to ask for further clarification. For example "Can you just go over X again, I'm not quite understanding".
  11. Respect peoples time. Asking questions is a great way to show that you're keen and interested, but don't ask questions for the sake of asking questions. If you need a detailed answer and things are busy, ask if you can ask a question at a less busy time such as smoko.
  12. Ask for generally related advice. You can also ask for general advice in the area you're asking about, if the person is an expert. They have a lot of information you don't, but they've also been in a position where they had to learn all this information. They probably have some pro-tips that they wish someone had given them. 

As you go forth in your quest for knowledge, remember that asking great questions takes practice. You probably won't get it perfect every time. Just get started asking questions. Your skills will improve over time. Remember that if you want good answers, they come from asking good questions.

If you'd like to know more, please contact your HIA Apprentices Field Officer.