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[Framework] Asking Questions Effectively

You have just started your career. You're stuck on the first task assigned. Everyone is there to support you. But...what's the most effective way in asking for help? How you ask questions in school, is very different from how you'd ask questions at the workplace. The first reason is complexity, and second reason is your personal branding.


When in school, say you are stuck on an assignment, specifically question 12. It’s a specific problem. There is even a right answer that you could locate on an answer sheet.

When it comes to the workplace, there are multiple layers of complexities behind each question. For example, your boss may ask, “How could we increase profit for our line of soap?”

The question calls for productive collaboration. The questions you'd be thinking about intertwines with multiple stakeholders.

  • Could we have a great product but not enough marketing?

  • Could we talk to the factory to improve production efficiency?

  • Could we have a winning soap formula but the packaging is not appealing enough to the masses?

  • Could we just have a product that’s not good enough?

Most times at a workplace, there isn't even a correct answer. Business landscape is ever changing. It’s about finding the best answer, at that point in time.

“There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question.” - Carl Sagan

Personal Branding

The second reason is, how you ask questions impacts your brand. Because how you ask questions gives an indication to how much effort you have put in. It speaks about your work ethics, your respect for other people's time.

It reflects the amount of due diligence and critical thinking you have put into problem solving.

I have come across A who would ask, “Hi, my client is asking how we get this number on this page. Can you help me?”

I have come across B who would ask, “Hi, my client is asking how we get this number on this page. I have checked the data source and the formula is this. I did my own calculation here, but I’m not able to replicate the number. May I get your help to point me in the right direction?”

Everyone would help both, because ultimately we prioritize our clients. But deep down, we know that type B has gone the extra mile before reaching out.

You are hired to solve problems. You are hired for your critical thinking. Don’t be afraid to investigate what went wrong. Don’t be afraid to experiment your approach to finding solutions. If stuck, don't be afraid to seek help. Everyone wants you to be successful.

You can adapt this framework for your needs when you are reaching out for support:

1. What exactly is your question?

Your first line should always be the question at hand. What exactly is the problem? Summarize into a single sentence. Zoom straight into the root question. Don’t be the guy who gives a very long background story, and nobody knows what the question is.

2. What have you tried that did not work?

You are a Type B. You have done your due diligence. What have you investigated? What have you tested?

3. What would you like your colleague to do exactly?

Directly intervene? You want to continue investigating so you’d just like someone to point you down the right path?

This is part of the Framework Series created for young professionals at the early stage of their career. It offers a framework to that very first time.


What else could we include in the Framework Series? How may I make the series more useful to you? Please feel to let me know your suggestions here. I'd be happy to hear from you!

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