Why I’ve Learned to Listen First and Ask Questions Second

Why I've Learned to Listen First and Ask Questions Second

It is a common experience amongst professionals. A supervisor, co-worker, or other colleague is explaining a difficult situation of which they require your assistance. You listen to the situation at hand, but the explanation becomes a bit long-winded. After all, it was five minutes prior that you were certain you knew the situation. They are just rambling on with useless back-story; therefore, in order to speed things up, you ask a couple of questions. The problem, however, is your questions would have received their proper answers had you been a patient a little longer. Furthermore, your colleague is frustrated and, now, unreceptive to your advice.

Take the following as an example. Sitting in a meeting with my supervisor and eager to get started on the task he was explaining to me, I tried to speed up his instruction by asking a few questions as he went along.

“Who in accounts payable should I coordinate with to process the checks for work?”

“Whose signatures must I get for the lien waivers to be valid?”

“How do you want me to organize the expense report?”

I fired these questions off as he embarked into the corresponding topics for each question. Barely had he begun the explanation of the topics before asking the question. After the fourth or fifth question, he gave me some wise advice.

“Why don’t you wait for me to explain the task before asking questions? It may just make a bit more sense.”

His advice was invaluable. I took it then and have followed it ever since, starting with that very situation. He, in fact, began explaining the task from the beginning. I listened before asking any questions. He was right. The task or problem has always made more sense as I have listened before asking questions.

In an ironic twisting of roles, I have, since the day my supervisor gave me his advice, been in the shoes of my supervisor. I have been trying to explain a task of which I require the assistance of a colleague. In explaining the task, my colleague had asked questions prematurely. The result was a strained explanation and an even worse product returned. I had to redo the task to produce the proper product.

The moral of the story is to listen before you ask questions. Failing to do so will result in poor explanations, wasted time, and a mediocre product.

Chris Burch is a venture capitalist and founder of Burch Creative Capital.

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