This is the question I find myself often asking my team members. The funny thing is I tend to ask this upon receiving an email they’ve sent me that often contains the answer. So I realise that at this point you might be thinking “why ask the question when the email has the answer, you just need to read it?” Well my answer is threefold:
1. I’m asking for brevity and clarity
Firstly, I want to get the heart of the matter as quickly as possible and often a two paragraph email can be explained verbally in a few words, within a few seconds. The question ‘What are you asking me?’ is direct and to the point and it often elicits an answer that is direct and to the point, so it just saves time.
Also, it’s worth noting that I sit with my team so rather than reading an email I prefer to hear the request from them directly. The reason is that we receive a lot more communication signals from face-to-face verbal communication than can be conveyed in an email, so I often receive cues that I may have otherwise missed.
2. I’m also asking if they really need to ask
I find that when someone is asked to get to the point of what their asking they can sometimes realise that there actually isn’t much point to the question and/or they can easily answer it themselves. Sometimes this can happen when we briefly scan an email and forward the request on to someone more senior automatically without actually thinking about whether or not we can resolve the issue ourselves. The question ‘what are you asking me?’ tends to expose when this is the case quite quickly.
3. I want to know if they’re asking me for what they really want
Sometimes questions can be about something quite different to what the question suggests. Easy questions are often asked as a precursor to more difficult questions. For example, someone may ask me if I’ve received feedback on this years’ budget, but what they really want to know is if they’ll be able to do a training course that they have in mind. My asking ‘what are you asking me?’ is essentially saying just ask me for what you want because the chances are, if I can deliver it I will.
One of my life principles is to live life learning and the truth of the matter is the quality of our learning is determined by the quality of our questions, so I believe it’s in all our interests to learn to ask better questions.