For a person who likes to check things off a list, asking questions that could stall the process is usually not something they like – even if the answers could make out for a better project. Some people are afraid to make waves and feel like they’re complaining or fear that asking questions will add time to an already long journey – sort of like when you’re in high school and the teacher asks if anyone has any questions before dismissing the class and there’s that one person who wants to take up a bit more time, keeping you away from freedom. Some people may have impostor syndrome where they doubt themselves or their ideas at work, even if others would agree, or fear speaking against someone with more seniority. 

Here’s why that doesn’t work: If you have things to offer and you aren’t sharing them, then you’re not showing your ability. You’re not being true to yourself and could potentially be stalling the company (or project) from moving forward. It’s that you-never-know-until-you-ask thing your parents told you about. If you don’t speak up, your buy-in won’t be accounted for, which could change the trajectory of a project or its entire outcome.

If someone hires you for your ideas, isn’t this the place where you should be sharing them? If you work for a creative agency, for example, you’re likely competing with other agencies to illustrate how you can get a client’s message across. If they wanted something run-of-the-mill or not innovative, then they likely wouldn’t have come to you for it. Now’s not the time to be shy.

Here’s why that doesn’t work: Being shy and holding your ideas in can cause you to do more work in the end, something you could’ve prevented had you spoken up in the first place. 

Some people are afraid of speaking up in general or have trouble finding their voices in the concierto of others comprising your team. Maybe it’s hard to get your name heard at first, or maybe the team is used to Persons A or B constantly bringing the ideas. In that case, do a side project. Get a quick win with a department or client your team frequently works with. Once they’ve seen that success, it’ll be much easier to get a seat at the table.

As that’s happening, prep for every single team meeting you have. Create talking points for solutions and outcomes you believe in. Be prepared to answer questions to your talking points, even if attendees seem to suggest your solutions don’t have enough footing. Saying ‘you’ll get back to them’ sometime and not actually doing it will only hurt the voice you’re trying to create.

Here’s why that doesn’t work: If you need to revisit your idea, then do it. Abandoning your ideas shows weakness or that you’re afraid of a challenge. This may be your time to shine! Don’t get cold feet just because you didn’t have an A+ delivery. Sometimes failing, even if it’s in the beginning, gives you more time to troubleshoot and deliver a smoother pitch or outcome. Wouldn’t you rather do this now than later on down the road or getting your idea immediately tossed out of the window?

If someone offers you one-on-one advice via email or over coffee, take it. Some people may feel uncomfortable sharing feedback in a large room, but in a more intimate setting, may be willing to share guidance or exchange ideas.

But maybe your problem isn’t finding your voice. Maybe it’s understanding why you need ‘ask why’ in the first place. If an executive has mandated a project, isn’t that good enough? 

Why explains the cause or benefit. Why explains who needs the solution and when they need it by. Why explains what the beneficiary was experiencing before and what they hope to gain with this new outcome. And why also hopefully explains the format in which they’d like to receive their solution in. This’ll hopefully give you answers as to why your team was chosen and what you individually can contribute.

But if it does not, you need to ask why – no matter how big or small you think the question is. If you don’t, there’s a chance you’ll be making some serious missteps because you failed to clarify something in the beginning.

Here’s why that doesn’t work: From an automation or business systems standpoint, even asking something as simple as ‘What must-have features are you looking for the system to have,’ ‘Do you have a preference as to what system it is,’ or ‘What do you need to integrate it with?’ can eliminate some possible solutions to the proposed project. It may also give you a better idea as to what exactly you are delivering. Chances are if you had that question, one of your colleagues had it too. There is no “dumb question” when it comes to project implementation.

Sometimes, asking why is needed to drive change. In the age of automation and Industry 4.0 technologies, you have to optimize and accelerate many of your processes to keep up with the competition and exceed customer expectations. Not giving customers the experiences they crave can be fatal for business, and automation and optimization can be a means of delivering those personalized, connected experiences

In other words, going along with the program today, operationally, does not lead to company success. It’s up to people trained in these current technologies to be transparent about their benefits and pitfalls and how to overcome common errors. Not speaking up can also be fatal.

Here’s why that doesn’t work: Challenging the status quo can be tough, but sometimes, leadership may be looking to you (or your team) to innovate. If you don’t bring your ideas to the table, it can be significantly harder to succeed and there may not be a company left to project manage for.

While ‘asking why’ has led to more informed decisions and better outcomes, it can get a bit intimidating when you’re on the receiving end. In this case, it’s always important to remember that there’s a human on the other side of the question and that you’re all working together to create the best outcome, making a proposed workflow and, in turn, the overall business successful. 

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Pamela Seaton
About Pamela Seaton

Pamela is a journalist and technology enthusiast writing for the growing business systems community.