How do you find out what you need to know? By asking questions, of course.

But in a business environment, that simple practice all too often goes out the window.

Whether you’re intimidated by your boss, afraid to look dumb in front of a coworker, or embarrassed by your lack of knowledge, not asking questions can have serious consequences: failed plans, miscommunication, and stalled innovation.

Suppose, for example, you get assigned a new project by your superior. What you shouldn’t do: Spend three days trying to figure out what she meant by “Look at the 2005 results” when you have no idea what happened in 2005. What you should do: Go back down to her office the next day with a specific list of items you need clarified.

Or imagine you receive an e-mail with an attachment you can’t download. What you shouldn’t do: Spend hours trying to figure out the problem on your own. What you should do: Consult the IT department or ask the person to send you the file in another format.

I’m not advocating that you ask people in your company to hold your hand 24/7. You do have to figure things out on your own and do your own research. But don’t assume you know everything. And don’t be afraid to ask questions – “big picture” or very specific – when you know you don’t understand.

[Ed. Note: Have you ever been in a situation where you should have asked more questions, but didn’t… and suffered the consequences? Let us know right here.]

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