What makes a successful professional? Asking questions.

Don't be afraid to ask questions.

A few weeks ago, I was in a meeting with the CEO of a very successful company— one you certainly know. About halfway through the meeting, one of our people mentioned something about retail in China. He perked up and immediately started peppering her with questions — to the point where the meeting almost got derailed.

I mention this because no one would doubt he’s a successful professional. He runs a thriving business with a global portfolio of brands. And yet, when he found a subject that he didn’t know about, he began asking questions.

You might think good professionals work hard, inspire others, or negotiate well, but maybe their most critical quality is that they aren’t afraid to ask questions. Here are a few reasons I think this might be:

Questions show confidence. Contrary to popular belief, know-it-alls don’t know it all. Asking questions shows that you’re confident enough to admit what you don’t know. That enables you to grow and learn. That CEO certainly learned a lot about Chinese retail that day.

Questions show vulnerability and openness. By asking questions, you show that you’re not the big dog in the room, which encourages others to open up about what they don’t know. This enables a freer and franker exchange of ideas.

Questions often show preparation. You might think that asking questions shows a poor command of a subject, but it’s actually the opposite. If you have a series of questions to ask in every meeting, it shows that you’re on top of what’s going on in the business and have identified the gaps.

Questions kill dead time. I love it when someone shows up to a job interview with a piece of paper in their hands filled with questions. It not only shows their curiosity, it also prevents us from having an awkward pause in the conversation.

Questions sell. This may sound counterintuitive, but asking questions is a great sales strategy. When I was 21 and launched my first company, I had no idea about my clients’ business. But I learned, almost by accident, that asking questions is a great way to sell yourself and your company. It allows others to feel empowered, and shows you’re interested and engaged in their passion. That makes them much more likely to trust you and want to work with you.

The biggest hurdle for most people in asking questions, of course, is that someone will say something like, “Dude, do your homework before you come to class.” That does happen, of course. But not often, and typically only with people who aren’t real professionals anyway. If you start asking good questions, you’ll likely find it helps you make deeper connections and ultimately boosts your career. At the very least, you’ll end up knowing more than you did before. And that’s never a bad thing.

Article originally published on Shane's LinkedIn Influencer page here.

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