why you should ask questions

I had an important project at work a few weeks ago. One that I knew my boss would comb through once I sent it to her. Sometimes it feels as if no matter how hard I work, there will always be something that needs to be fixed, changed, altered.

Over the time we’ve worked together, I’ve tried my best to get inside her head when approaching what she assigns me. I try to anticipate what changes she’ll make, what she’ll look for, and what her feedback will be. I hate seeing edits in red or getting emails with a bullet list of follow up items. I want my work to be perfect the first time. Who doesn’t?

So I spent hours working on this project. Hours reviewing spreadsheets, making sure the information was accurate and organized in an easy to read fashion. I spent so much time on it that my eyes blurred and my head ached from repeated reviews. And usually when this happens, it means I’ve done the best I can do.

I sent the project along, expecting her to just say thanks and great job; but when I opened my email, I saw something else:

This just isn’t up to par. I need you to revisit this for the following reasons:

Queue six issues she found that I hadn’t thought of or anticipated.

Initially, I was upset. I even ranted to myself with a bunch of rhetorical questions.

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Does she know how much time I spent on this? I did exactly what was asked, am I supposed to be a mind reader? I’m told to be more independent, but then when I am, this happens. What could I have done differently?

And it was the last question that sparked my introspection. It turns out there was nothing I could’ve done while working on the project. Yeah, I could’ve checked in during, but even then would’ve been too late. Everything I could’ve done needed to be done before I even started. I was so focused on being perfect, so focused on being independent, that I opted not to ask additional questions when she said “do you have any questions?”

“No. I’ve got it. I’ll get this taken care of.”

I got it taken care of, but I didn’t get it taken care of to the expectations that were unbeknownst to me. It would’ve been easy for me to say “Well, you didn’t tell me all that.” But the truth is I didn’t seize the opportunity to talk through specifications to make sure the product was delivered exactly as she wanted. Yes, it would’ve been an additional five to ten minute conversation up front. It may have required more guidance than she wanted to provide, but it would’ve saved us both time and frustration.

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The definition of quality varies from person to person. What you see as excellent work may very well be considered lackluster in the next person’s eyes — maybe even in your significant other’s eyes. And when it comes to work, which is a synonym for relationships, you can’t deliver on expectations when you’re not clear what they are. You can’t not ask questions because of how you think you’ll look to the other person — whether than means inexperienced or clueless. You should be willing to admit to both; because once you address it, that issue is no longer on the table.

Ask questions. Eliminate the issues.

slim jackson


Twitter: slimjackson