Friday, August 14, 2009

Dumb Questions, Better Solutions

Someone suggested to me that every day I think back over my day and try to highlight a few things that I've learned that day and maybe even write them down for myself. I was further challenged to look for lessons that could apply to multiple areas of my life.

This sounded daunting but I agreed to give it a go. It has been surprisingly easy to highlight lessons learned in a day, the hard part has been deciding which one was most likely to impact my life in the future and figuring out how to apply it to other areas of my life. However, even these steps weren't that hard with a little bit of pontification. In only a few days it became an activity I began to look forward to. I was able to identify weaknesses in myself and set up goals to reach to improve myself in those areas. I know finding flaws in yourself sounds about as fun as doing your own dental work, but I assure you, it is not as painful as it sounds.

Most of my lessons so far haven't been that shocking. I learned that I need to be a better listener. I was able to find articles on how to be a better listener and picked 3 traits of a good listener that I decided to actively concentrate on in the next few months. I already feel like I'm a better listener just because I'm conscious of my little lesson.

Not all lessons require research and a plan. Some are just so blatantly obvious that you never realized or thought about it before. It's amazing what this process brings to the surface.

Today's lesson was pretty potent to me. I hate asking questions. I am the one that will sit in class and be completely confused and fear of being the only one in the class that doesn't get it will prevent me from asking questions. Instead, I'll go home, use the book, and in extreme cases even email the instructor for assistance.

When I get vague instructions from a client, I probably don't ask enough questions. I rely too much upon past experience and while that has served me well in many situation, in others it's resulted in problems related to my poor interpretation of the instructions for which I failed to ask for further clarification.

Today was a good illustration of why questions are so important. I received a phone call from a client requesting my presence on a job site for 4 days in September. They happen to be the 4 days I have a vacation scheduled. I told him that I wouldn't be available that week but I could send a coleague. He told me that he didn't want one of my coleagues, he wanted me to be there. He asked if I could send a coleague to whatever other project I would be working on that week so I could help him. I didn't tell him that it wasn't a project, it was my vacation, my birthday, a family trip, an important family trip.

I told him I would see what I could do. I hung up the phone feeling a little sick to my stomach. I was either going to have to disappoint the client and potentially lose him as a client (and he's a source for a lot of work) or skip a vacation I've had planned for 4 months. Neither one felt like an acceptable option. I had no idea what to do. Finally, I told myself that there's no reason a coleague can't go in my place and the coleague I would send has more experience than I do. So, I picked up the phone and called him back. I explained that there wasn't a project scheduling conflict with the week in question, the conflict was a family vacation. I explained to him that this vacation marked a big milestone for my family and it was important that I be there. I then carefully asked if he would share with me his reasons for specifically needing me to be the engineer on-site.

He explained that the other engineer had a much higher billing rate since he's the assistant manager. Since I have a lower billing rate, they'd like to save the money where the can. It was like seeing a silver lining. I knew I could fix this. I asked him if billing rates were his only concern and if I could guarantee my billing rate, would he mind a coleague going in my place. He assured me that this would be fine. A few phone calls to my manager, corporate, and accounting and I've got someone filling in at my billing rate and I don't have to miss my vacation. My company doesn't loose a valuable customer. I feel so relieved.

If I hadn't called him back and asked the question, I wouldn't have been able to come up with a solution that helps everyone. So, if you're like me and you'd rather just figure it out for yourself, remember that swallowing your pride and asking a few dumb questions could just be the answer you're looking for. Ask a dumb question, get a better solution.

As graduate classes start next week, I plan to challenge myself to ask questions in class. After all, I am paying for this experience to learn, I should get the most out of it. Asking questions might make me feel uncomfortable at times but if I understand better and faster then I'm getting more value out of my classes.

I challenge you to consciously identify times when you are confused next week. Then go back and ask questions or get clarification. If you are never confused, I envy you and I hope you are not in any of my graduate classes.

No comments: