How to ask a question intelligently

I thought I had the answer. Still, I wanted to be sure, so I asked a key employee.

“I’m thinking of moving two crews to a different shift rotation to get a better process flow,” I said. “I’ve run the numbers, and overall productivity should go up by at least 10 percent. What do you think?”

He thought for a minute. “I suppose it could work,” he said.

“I think so, too,” I said. So I moved them.

My new shift rotation worked on paper. It even worked in practice. But it screwed up the personal lives of a bunch of great employees. (Luckily, I pulled my head out of my ass and shifted everyone back to their old rotations.)

What happened? I asked the wrong question.

We all do it. We ask leading questions. We ask limiting questions. We ask questions that assume a certain answer. (Shoot, sometimes we don’t even listen to the answers–we’re too busy presuming we’re right.)

Here are some ways to ask the wrong questions:

You lead the witness.

Asking a question that assumes a particular answer is easy to do when you already think you’re right and just want people to say you’re right.

  • “Don’t you think we should go ahead and release that order?”
  • “Do you think we should wait any longer than we already have?”
  • “Can anyone think of a good reason not to discipline Joe?”

Each question assumes an answer: You clearly think you should release the order, stop waiting, and write Joe up. Though a few people may disagree, most won’t–the answer you want to hear is obvious.

  • “What do you think we should do about that order?”
  • “Programming isn’t complete yet. What do you think we should do?”
  • “What do you think is the best way to deal with Joe’s situation?”

Each is objective, direct, and does not include an answer in the question. And each also leaves room for a variety of options, which won’t happen when.

You stick to either/or questions.

You have a quality problem and have thought of two possible solutions. There are positives and negatives to both. So you seek input from a team member. “Should we just scrap everything and rework the whole job,” you ask, “or should we ship everything and hope the customer doesn’t notice?”

Most people will pick one answer or the other. But what if there’s a better option you haven’t considered?

A better way: “There are defects throughout the whole order. What do you think we should do?”

Maybe she’ll say scrap it. Maybe she’ll say ship and hope.

Or maybe she’ll say, “What if we tell the customer up front there is a problem, ship everything to them, and take a crew to their warehouse to sort product. That reduces the impact on the customer. They can use whatever is good and won’t have to wait for the entire job to be re-run.”

Either/or questions, just like leading questions, assume some answer. Instead of sharing options, just state the problem. Then ask “What do you think?” Or “What would you do?” Or “How should we handle this?”

And then shut up and let people think. Don’t rush to fill the silence.

You don’t try to clarify.

Asking questions can make you feel vulnerable when you’re in a leadership role. (You’re supposed to have all the answers, right?) That makes it hard to ask questions when you don’t understand–especially when you’re supposed to understand.

Don’t worry: Asking for clarification is easy. Just say:

  • “I’m impressed. Now pretend I don’t know anything about how that works. How would you explain it to me?”
  • “That sounds really good. Let me make sure I don’t miss anything, though. Can you walk me through it one more time?”
  • Or, best of all: “I have to be honest: I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying, but I really want to.” (A little humility goes a long way.)

Above all, don’t pretend you understand when you don’t–all you do is waste the other person’s time and make the person wonder later why you didn’t try his or her idea.

Now let’s flip it around. Here’s how to ask great questions:

published by Simon Fan

This exercise can be done for as little time as you have or as much time as you have; it doesn’t matter. If you do this every day, your English will improve.

Here’s what you do.
1. Print out the list of the 100 most common words.
2. I’ve prepared a list of different types of questions and conversation/speaking topics. Pick any question from this list.
3. Each day, randomly choose words from the list of the 100 most common words in English and use those words to answer the questions.
4. You can write the answers or speak the answers.
5. If you speak the answer, try and record yourself so you can listen to yourself. No one else has to hear the recording if you don’t want them to. But, if you listen to yourself, your English will improve faster.
6. If you write the answer, you can still record what you wrote and listen to your answer.

But I Don’t Know What to Say

The biggest problems my students have had with writing and speaking usually do not involve language problems. Vocabulary, sentence structure, tense, and basic grammar can all be learned from a book or a teacher.
The hardest part of answering a speaking or writing question is thinking about what to say. Well, I’ve developed a simple system to help all my students with this and the results have been great.
Here it is:

3 Ideas that Help to Answer Almost Any Question

I thought about 3 general ideas that can be related to any question. Using this skill can help you increase your score for TOEFL, IELTS or any standardized test; it can also help you have meaningful conversations with friends; plus, it can give you the ability to express yourself intelligently to your colleagues, your boss or your clients.

With any question, if you have no idea how to answer it, try relating it to one or more of the following ideas:
1. Money
2. Health
3. Relationships

If you memorize these 3 words (money, health, relationships) you will be able to give your opinion intelligently on virtually any topic. I’ve tried it for years on myself and for my students. It’s not a trick to make you look like you are smart. It is simply a way to help you organize and communicate the thoughts and feelings you already have inside you.

How Does it Work?
Let’s start with a simple question like: Describe your city.
It’s an easy question, but it’s so general that most people don’t know where to start and then they panic and can’t say anything. But, if we relate this question to one of the 3 ideas (money, health, relationships), it can get us started, which is the hardest part.
For example, I live in Toronto. If I think of money, I can say that Toronto is the financial capital of Canada. If you want to do business in Canada, this is the place to be. Another thing that is related to money and Toronto would be the movie industry. Toronto is the 3rd largest movie making city in North America (behind only Los Angeles and New York).
In connection to health, I can say that a lot of people in Toronto are health conscious. There are health and fitness clubs throughout the city and it seems that they are almost always full. Recreational sports are very popular in all seasons. And Toronto also has a thriving vegetarian community.
On the topic of relationships, I’d say that Toronto has a reputation of being a little unfriendly. But this isn’t really true. People are very friendly and helpful here. It’s also a very safe city to live in. The downtown area is full of people all day and night.
That was a very simple and short example of just getting my thoughts organized and starting to answer a question. There is much more you can say once you get started, but the hardest part is starting well. And remember, the point of this exercise is to give you a chance to practice using your vocabulary. Try it yourself. It works for simple questions and for very hard questions. Use your imagination and have a little fun.

I Feel Embarrassed to do this by Myself
Many of my students have told me that they feel they can’t do this exercise because they don’t have anyone to do it with and they feel embarrassed to do it alone.
I understand and I think it is important to remember that whenever we learn something new, there is always going to be a little embarrassment involved. We’ll make mistakes and ask wrong questions sometimes. But I have noticed that when we are willing to be a little embarrassed from time to time, it makes the learning process go faster. Please try it; it will help you so much.

published by Simon Fan

This exercise can be done for as little time as you have or as much time as you have; it doesn’t matter. If you do this every day, your English will improve.

Here’s what you do.
1. Print out the list of the 100 most common words.
2. I’ve prepared a list of different types of questions and conversation/speaking topics. Pick any question from this list.
3. Each day, randomly choose words from the list of the 100 most common words in English and use those words to answer the questions.
4. You can write the answers or speak the answers.
5. If you speak the answer, try and record yourself so you can listen to yourself. No one else has to hear the recording if you don’t want them to. But, if you listen to yourself, your English will improve faster.
6. If you write the answer, you can still record what you wrote and listen to your answer.

But I Don’t Know What to Say

The biggest problems my students have had with writing and speaking usually do not involve language problems. Vocabulary, sentence structure, tense, and basic grammar can all be learned from a book or a teacher.
The hardest part of answering a speaking or writing question is thinking about what to say. Well, I’ve developed a simple system to help all my students with this and the results have been great.
Here it is:

3 Ideas that Help to Answer Almost Any Question

I thought about 3 general ideas that can be related to any question. Using this skill can help you increase your score for TOEFL, IELTS or any standardized test; it can also help you have meaningful conversations with friends; plus, it can give you the ability to express yourself intelligently to your colleagues, your boss or your clients.

With any question, if you have no idea how to answer it, try relating it to one or more of the following ideas:
1. Money
2. Health
3. Relationships

If you memorize these 3 words (money, health, relationships) you will be able to give your opinion intelligently on virtually any topic. I’ve tried it for years on myself and for my students. It’s not a trick to make you look like you are smart. It is simply a way to help you organize and communicate the thoughts and feelings you already have inside you.

How Does it Work?
Let’s start with a simple question like: Describe your city.
It’s an easy question, but it’s so general that most people don’t know where to start and then they panic and can’t say anything. But, if we relate this question to one of the 3 ideas (money, health, relationships), it can get us started, which is the hardest part.
For example, I live in Toronto. If I think of money, I can say that Toronto is the financial capital of Canada. If you want to do business in Canada, this is the place to be. Another thing that is related to money and Toronto would be the movie industry. Toronto is the 3rd largest movie making city in North America (behind only Los Angeles and New York).
In connection to health, I can say that a lot of people in Toronto are health conscious. There are health and fitness clubs throughout the city and it seems that they are almost always full. Recreational sports are very popular in all seasons. And Toronto also has a thriving vegetarian community.
On the topic of relationships, I’d say that Toronto has a reputation of being a little unfriendly. But this isn’t really true. People are very friendly and helpful here. It’s also a very safe city to live in. The downtown area is full of people all day and night.
That was a very simple and short example of just getting my thoughts organized and starting to answer a question. There is much more you can say once you get started, but the hardest part is starting well. And remember, the point of this exercise is to give you a chance to practice using your vocabulary. Try it yourself. It works for simple questions and for very hard questions. Use your imagination and have a little fun.

I Feel Embarrassed to do this by Myself
Many of my students have told me that they feel they can’t do this exercise because they don’t have anyone to do it with and they feel embarrassed to do it alone.
I understand and I think it is important to remember that whenever we learn something new, there is always going to be a little embarrassment involved. We’ll make mistakes and ask wrong questions sometimes. But I have noticed that when we are willing to be a little embarrassed from time to time, it makes the learning process go faster. Please try it; it will help you so much.

I remember when I first started working independently on unfamiliar units. It was stressful because routines and procedures were different for each unit. Getting help from staff was often a challenge during busy shifts.

Getting useful advice or help from other staff nurses was often ‘iffy’ so you had to learn to see who is approachable and who is willing to help. Every unit has it’s own culture so part of being floating between units involved learning the hierarchy, the team dynamics, and figuring out who your resources will be.

Learning how to ask questions in a knowledgeable manner and framing it in terms of patient safety seem to be the two most important points to keep in mind. If you are unfamiliar with a certain procedure, the best thing is to look up the institutional policy/guideline governing this before asking other staff questions. In other words, doing the legwork shows them that you did try to find out the information beforehand which presents you in a better light. Approaching the charge nurse as the first resource person is usually the norm because most charge nurses do not have a patient assignment and therefore, may be able to spare a few minutes reviewing/supevising/demonstrating the procedure to you.

Referring to the clinical policy and asking for clarifications in my experience, usually got the best response from staff. Also, if you frame your question from a patient safety viewpoint, 99% of the time, you would be able to get assistance because that is one of the nursing tenets (do not harm to the patient).

(2) Formulate searchable, answerable questions using the PICO(T) framework.

Learning Objectives

(1) Explain the advantage of using the PICO(T) framework.

(2) Formulate searchable, answerable questions using the PICO(T) framework.

Brandon is caring for an adult male who sustained a head injury. He wonders how intracranial pressure might be affected if he elevates the head of the bed slightly (say, 30 degrees) versus having the patient remain supine. Is one intervention more appropriate than the other? How should Brandon phrase his clinical question in an electronic database to produce the best results and find the most evidence-based recommendation?

Case Study

Brandon is caring for an adult male who sustained a head injury. He wonders how intracranial pressure might be affected if he elevates the head of the bed slightly (say, 30 degrees) versus having the patient remain supine. Is one intervention more appropriate than the other? How should Brandon phrase his clinical question in an electronic database to produce the best results and find the most evidence-based recommendation?

What is PICO(T)?

PICO(T) is an acronym to help clinicians formulate a clinical question.

The PICO(T) question framework is a consistent formula for developing answerable, researchable questions. Using PICO(T) guides you in your search for evidence and may even help you be more efficient in the process. How to ask a question intelligently

Why does it matter how we phrase a question?

Well, for one thing, there are millions of articles on a variety of topics. You might have access to massive electronic databases, such as PubMed, CINAHL Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature also known as CINAHL (Pronounced sin-all) , PsycINFO, Embase, and Scopus. Without a well-built PICO(T) question, it would be like searching in the dark for your flashlight—you know it’s somewhere but don’t know how to get to it.

PICO(T) gives us a consistent, systematic way to identify the components of a clinical issue. By using the PICO(T) format, we can structure the clinical question to help clarify the essential components, which then guides your search for evidence.

Spirit of Inquiry

Seeking better ways to provide care and asking questions to understand a situation or phenomenon is often referred to as the spirit of inquiry. There are endless possible questions. Logically, not all PICO(T) questions are the same. Your type of PICO(T) question is determined by what you are asking.

How do I use it?

Begin with a clinical problem or question

In our case study, Brandon is caring for an adult male who sustained a head injury. He wonders how intracranial pressure might be affected by elevating the head of the bed to 30 degrees versus remaining supine.

PICO(T) questions can fall into one of several types:

“What is the best treatment or intervention?”

Then, plug your question into the PICO(T) framework

Once you ask a clinical question, the PICO(T) format provides an effective framework. Let’s use this PICO(T) question as an example:

“In adult males with a head injury, how does elevating the head of the bed 30 degrees compared with a supine position affect intracranial pressure within the first 24 hours following injury?”

‘P’ stands for patient or population of interest. What are the most important characteristics of the group or patient(s) you are investigating? Defining features may include age, gender, ethnicity, disease processes or medical conditions. In our example, P would be “Adult males with a head injury.”

‘I’ represents the intervention or area of interest. Ask yourself, “What is the main intervention, treatment, exposure or prognostic factor I am considering?” In other words, “What treatment or intervention might be best for the patient? What are the factors you are considering that influence the patient’s prognosis?” In our example, I would be “elevating the head of the bed 30 degrees.” Keep in mind that not every question may have an intervention—particularly questions that focus on meaning or lived experiences.

‘C’ stands for the comparison intervention or group. Ask yourself, “What is the main alternative to compare with the intervention?” This could be a placebo or no disease or absence of a risk factor. Sometimes your question may not have a comparison! In research terms, C refers to the independent or predictor variable—something that influences the outcome variable or dependent variable. Again, using our example, C would be “supine position.” It is what we’re using to compare approaches or strategies.

‘O’ is the outcome. Ask yourself, “What am I aiming to accomplish, measure, improve, or impact? Am I trying to eliminate or relieve symptoms? Reduce the number or severity of adverse effects? Improve functioning?” In this case, our outcome, or dependent variable (in research terms), would be intracranial pressure.

‘T’ represents time. For this last stage you ask yourself, “What is the time it takes for the intervention to achieve an outcome?” Or, “How long are participants observed?” In our question, we wondered about the effect that the position of the head of the bed had on our patient’s intracranial pressure for the first 24 hours following his head injury.

Keep in mind—not every component is necessary

Not every question needs to have all the PICO(T) components. For example, questions may exclude the time component, particularly when it is implied in another part of the question. And the ‘I’, or interventions, are omitted from meaning questions.

The end result is a well-developed clinical question: a clear, concise, and useful tool to guide your literature search.

Conclusion

Before you start, determine what it is you are asking. Setting it up as a PICO(T) question will make things a lot easier for you when you start researching the best available evidence.

How to ask a question intelligently

Asking intelligent questions puts you in the drivers seat…now how do you do that?

I ran an experiment the other day where I decided to count how many questions I asked during a single day. It didn’t matter to whom, or how important they were, I just wanted a rough estimate of how many questions we ask as normal operating people in society.

The questions I asked ranged from, “can I have room for cream” to “in your opinion, is social media killing journalism or enhancing it?”

Clearly, some were deeper than others.

The point is you don’t have to be a reporter or interviewer to ask questions. We all ask, and we all want the best possible answer.

It really is an art form that needs to be continually enhanced and refined.

[bctt tweet=”How to ask Questions That Will Always Inspire Thoughtful Answers #sportsbiz”]

When Asking Questions Really Matters

One of the most important places for someone to ask questions is when they are being interviewed. We’ve all been there, you go through the gauntlet of a 3-hour job interview and then your would-be-boss looks across the table and says, “do you have any questions for me?”

Exhausted after hours focused on nailing the interview, most people say, “Nope, I think we covered everything.”

One hiring manager I know told me that if someone doesn’t have intelligent questions ready to ask them, then they aren’t a good fit for their company. That’s it.

How to ask a question intelligently

Solid point – but would anyone actually wear this t-shirt?

Their premise, while extremely harsh, is that if someone is really passionate about this job and their industry, then their mind should always be churning with questions. Furthermore, they assessed, anyone can prepare for an interview and study up on the industry, but if they don’t ask questions in the moment, that shows they can’t process what is happening right then.

I interview about 3-5 people a week, and I get a thrill every time someone starts their response with ‘good question’, it shows I’ve made them think and when someone has to think quickly you usually get their most honest responses. No planning, no consulting, just honest.

I ask some terrible questions too, so that is why I always analyze after each interview. After years of questioning these are the principles I adhere to in order to get the best results.

Learn the Open-Ended Principle

Open ended questions force a response, while closed-ended questions can often be answered with a simple “yes”, “no” or one-word answer.

It’s not as simple as just starting with who, what, when, where, or why, to automatically get an open-ended question. You still need to put some thought into it.

  • What is your best quality? My thighs. Closed question.
  • What is the reasoning behind switching from Quantel editing suites to Avid media composers? Expect a detailed response…Open!

Think of how you would answer your question before you ask it. Could you get away with a one word answer? If so, re-craft it to dig deeper.

Be Quick About it Already

This is where I can run into trouble sometimes (as I mentioned, being self-analytical is important). The longer your question the more likely someone will get confused, disengaged or distracted.

I call this the sports talk radio conundrum.

Sports talk radio hosts are responsible for filling so much air-time and are therefore trained to talk forever and ever. Often when they get interview subjects they don’t adapt their style to the moment, they remain in their time-filling mode and ask monolithic questions.

I laugh every time I hear an interview on sports talk and some host goes on and on with a question comprising of parts A, B and C and then next thing you know the interview subject has this long pause as if to say “I have no idea what they just asked me”.

Be clear, be concise, be specific and…

How to ask a question intelligently

Some people ask more questions than others

Be a Good Listener

The only way you can ask good questions is to listen and be engaged in the topic being discussed. If you daydream or lose focus, you will fall out of rhythm and possibly even ask something that has already been answered. Big no no.

“Stop thinking about what your next question is going to be and listen to what their answer is,” says Fox Sports Reporter Laura Okmin. “That’s when an interview stops and a conversation happens.”

It doesn’t matter of you are questioning Robert Griffin III or the HR rep at your interview, listening and being connected starts a conversation, and conversations can get great results.

If All Else Fails Just Start With Why

Dr. Craig Allen, associate professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University has a very simple philosophy, “Just begin every question with the word “why” I tell students this all the time.”

It’s not quite as universal as Dr. Allen suggests, sometimes valuable questions need to be asked that can’t really start with why…but if all else fails why is a pretty good starting point.

It’s important to write well, especially when you’re trying to prove a point or are discussing anything technical.

Let’s say that you’re trying to get your point across on a forum. Intelligent people will judge your intelligence by the way you write. If you make simple mistakes in the way you write, they will be able to dismiss your comments as being from someone who is uneducated. A few examples.

Their, They’re, There:
Their is a personal pronoun. It’s used to show possession (it’s their dog). They’re is a contraction. It’s used instead of they are. There is used to show where something is. It’s over there.

To, Two, Too:
To is a preposition (he’s going to work). Two is obviously a quantity. Too is used when you want to say that there are too many people in the car. Writing – there are to many people in the car can be a typo but if you make the ‘typo’ too many times, people will start to believe that you don’t know the proper use/spelling of too.

Damn/Damned:
A lot of people use the word damn. It’s generally only correct when you hear something extraordinary and you say DAMN! or when something gets on your last nerve and you say damn it. Too many people use it like this. My damn car won’t start. That should be damned. My damned car won’t start. The term damn comes from damnation. A person is damned to hell (an evil person who will spend eternity in hell). I don’t know why people get this wrong. They wouldn’t write my darn car won’t start. They would write my darned car won’t start.

I Could Care Less:
This is one of the most misused statements. The actual statement is I couldn’t care less. If someone tells you that they think you’re acting like an idiot and you tell them that you could care less, it means that you are actually at least a bit concerned about what they said. If you say that you couldn’t care less, you’re saying that you are not, at all, concerned about what they said.

Appropriate Level of Writing:
If you are corresponding with someone, you should attempt to write at or above the level at which they’re writing. For example, if you’re discussing skateboarding or cheats for a video game, it may be acceptable to write using letters for words (u for you, r for are. ) but when corresponding with someone about a topic that requires a bit of education or intelligence, you should write properly. For example, if you were filling out a job application, do you think the employer would be more likely to hire someone who uses letters or truncated words in place of the complete words? They would figure that someone who writes like that is either too lazy to write properly or is uneducated. Either way, it’s unlikely that you’d get the job unless it was a job that no one else wanted. If you’re corresponding with someone who is using proper grammar, punctuation and sentence structure, you should do your best to do the same.

This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine because I reply to thousands of emails and forum questions regarding amplifier repair and electronics. This requires quite a bit of time, on my part, to answer the questions accurately and in a way that they can understand. If they can’t take the time to write properly to help me to understand what they’re saying, why should I help them? It got so bad that I had to insert a page for them to read if they were going to email me. If they still decided to use truncated words, no punctuation and no capitalization, they were told that they should not expect me to reply. THIS is the page.

Proper Spelling:
There are plenty of intelligent people who cannot spell very well. There is no excuse for writing with poor spelling. Most all text editors have spell-checking features. Most internet browsers have built-in spell checkers. If they’re not built in, they’re available as a free add-on. When a word is misspelled, it’s highlighted in some way. Often, you can simply right-click the word and select the properly spelled version.

Use Proper Punctuation:
Take the time to use proper punctuation and capitalization. If you’re an intelligent, well educated person, this should be VERY easy for you to do.

Ignorance:
If you’ve ever felt insulted by someone calling you ignorant, you probably should not have been. Being ignorant simply means that you don’t know something. Not knowing isn’t necessarily bad unless you’re supposed to be knowledgeable about the subject. Everyone is ignorant of something because no one can know everything. However, if you try to act as if you know something when you clearly don’t and someone calls you on it, feel free to feel ashamed. I’m impressed with those who ask intelligent, thoughtful questions. I have no time for those who act as if they know something they don’t. It’s not a big deal when you’re in a forum where everyone is an idiot but when you’re having a conversation with an intelligent, well educated person and you try to make it seem as if you know more than you do, I can assure you that they will consider you an idiot.

Proofread Your Messages Before Sending Them:
Proofread the messages you send. Spell-checkers will not catch misspelled words like of, when you mean off. Wait a few minutes between the time that you type out the message and the time you actually send it. Many times, when proofreading something that you’ve just written (no wait time), you read it as you intended to type it, not as it’s actually typed. This can make you miss simple mistakes.

Stop Forwarding Email Messages:
Many people are annoyed by those who constantly forward unsolicited emails. It’s made even worse when the message is for some bogus story. When you receive an email that you want to forward, copy and paste a string of text from the story into a search engine. Add the terms Snopes, scam, myth and/or urban legend. This will generally return several relevant pages where you can determine if the story is real or not.

No one likes to ask a question and sound dumb.

Well, almost no one.

Longtime Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones once confessed that he was most successful early in his tenure “when I didn’t mind sounding stupid” asking questions. A Pulitzer Prize-winning editor from my newspaper days advised his junior reporters to take pride in asking simple but essential “Dumb Guy Questions.”

But what about the rest of us who aren’t billionaires or big-shot journalists? How can we ask “dumb” questions without sounding dumb?

A B2B technology agency like Idea Grove has an untold number of meetings with clients who clearly know more about their businesses than we do. But we are often expected to know quite a bit, even when the subject matter is a bit arcane.

I’m reminded of a line in an article on tech PR written by a friend, when the client asks:

“We are one of the world’s leading manufacturers of polymer-based rectifier diodes. How do we get better coverage in the media?”

Um, good question.

So, how can we ask dumb questions — about polymer-based rectifier diodes and everything else — and still escape with our dignity intact?

Here are 10 rules to query by:

1. Never concede dumbness.

Want to turn people against you before you’ve even asked your question? Then concede your “dumbness.”

All too often, questions get prefaced by qualifiers like, “I know this is a dumb question, but ….”

Don’t do it. You’re just asking for a dismissive response, or worse, the lingering impression that you may be dumb.

2. Don’t admit ignorance of buzzwords.

When we ask for an explanation “in layman’s terms,” we convey that we may not understand the language others use to communicate.

It doesn’t matter at the moment if you don’t know BPO from EPO or RAM from SPAM as long as you don’t announce it to everyone in the room. You can look it up later.

3. Show what you do know.

Some level of unfamiliarity with a topic like accounts receivables processing is understandable. Few of us spend a lot of time pondering its mysteries, right?

But in asking questions about a topic with which you are largely unfamiliar, you should demonstrate that you’ve done your homework.

“In preparing for our talk today, I saw …” is a great lead-in to a question — provided its true.

So is “I’ve read that ….”

If nothing else, at least show you’ve been paying attention with something like, “I heard you say …” before asking your next question.

4. Get clarity through detail.

Don’t understand what someone is saying? Ask for details that clarify.

“You say margins in offshore deepwater E&P are being squeezed. Could you tell me what you see as the biggest drivers for that?”

“Could you walk me through how a situation like this develops?”

“So when a situation like this develops, what’s the initial reaction?”

If you’re out of ideas and need a question, there’s always, “Could you give me an example?”

5. Ask more open-ended questions.

You can also gather a lot of useful detail, without knowing many details yourself, by asking open-ended questions that encourage a longer answer.

“What do you think about … ?” is a good one.

So is, “What do you see as the reasons for that?”

6. Seek out supporting opinions.

If you don’t understand the way someone explains a topic, perhaps you will understand someone else.

Find that second voice with a question such as, “Have you or someone else there written on this topic before?

Or “Have you seen any articles in the trade media that you think make this point especially well?”

7. Keep the focus on the project.

Everyone’s goal in collaboration is a complete, accurate and effective piece of work. So don’t make it about the people in the room, make it about the work product such as a piece of written content.

Ask something like, “For the benefit of those who might be new to this idea, could you suggest how I could walk them through it?”

And instead of asking for an example for yourself, invoke the work by asking, “Could you give me an example I could use?”

8. Ask for feedback (if you must).

Asking for feedback is a double-edged sword in that you can be found to be right or wrong. Instead of making it an either/or proposition, make it about advice.

Say something like, “So in framing this argument, I could say … . Does that sound like a good approach to you?”

Or, “The three factors you listed as causes for this situation are …. Have I got that right?”

It’s not always a good idea to ask for feedback, but if you must, do so in a way that elicits advice or details. Both can help clarify.

9. Ask what you’ve failed to ask.

I end most all my client interviews with a question that gives them a chance to discuss something that has been on their minds but hasn’t yet come up in conversation.

But don’t make it about you (“What haven’t I asked that I should ask?”).

Instead continue to focus on the work product by asking, “What should we cover that we haven’t yet?”

10. Save the truly dumb for later.

Sometimes it pays not to say anything at all. Very often that’s when you know a question is so basic that merely asking it will diminish you in the minds of your audience.

So, research that question, learn how to ask it more intelligently, and do so in a follow-up call or email. And ask someone other than the CEO or subject matter expert.

We’ve all been saved by fellow newbies and people lower on the organizational chart who still have answers.

Get their help — later and discreetly. Someday you’ll return the favor.