Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier – Part 3

Third in a series.  Links to earlier parts can be found at the bottom of this post.

#3 Don’t Ask Questions in Large Meetings

Every company I’ve been with has special meetings.  These meetings are held to talk about results, plan for next year, introduce new products or services, hold training, etc.  The difference between these meetings and more run-of-the-mill meetings is that they are generally non-participatory.  Speakers speak and presenters present, but these meetings aren’t sites for group discussion and debate.  I think you get the picture.

Inevitably, at the end of each presentation, at the end of a day, or at the end of a multi-day conference, the emcee will say “Are there any questions?”  When that happens, I recommend that you sit quietly with your hands folded on the table.

Am I a bit cynical?  Yes.  For me, this boils down to a question of risk versus reward.  For me, the rewards are small, and the risks are great.  If you really, really have a question, then wait until after the meeting and ask your boss.  That should be your plan.

Let’s look at the risks and rewards of asking a question in a room with anywhere from 50 to 1,000 people.

Rewards:

  • More people know who you are. You almost always have to say your name and where you are from when you rise to ask a question.  This is irrelevant, of course, for small companies where everyone knows everyone anyway.
  • People know you are brave and take risks. Some people just don’t have the gumption to ask the CEO of a Fortune 500 company a question.
  • You get an answer to a question and others may have wanted to ask the same question. Sometimes, you just ask the right question, for the audience and the speaker.

Risks:

  • More people know who you are. Do you want to be discovered because people see you asking a question at a meeting or because you do great work and build relationships?  Don’t let this be the first or major impression of you that others have.
  • People know you are brave and take risks. For many managers, they want someone who is a bit more serene, a bit more controlled.  They view speaking out at these meetings as a negative.
  • You get an answer to a question and other may have wanted to ask the same question. This is a bit like the old Life cereal commercials.  “Let’s get Mikey to ask.  He’ll ask anything.”  It is not good to be known as the one who will always ask questions.

Do you see a pattern here?  There are more risks:

  • You hit a hot button. Even with best intentions, you ask the wrong question and the answerer reacts negatively.
  • You throw up a “softball” question and are seen as a brown nose. “Sir, why do you think this is a great place to work?”
  • You are viewed as a trouble-maker or as outspoken. “Maggie always asks a question.  Can’t she just leave well enough alone?”

And here’s the thing — no one ever forgets.  Think about your own company for a second.  Who asks questions at big meetings?  I’ll be you can name one or two people instantly, can’t you?

With the risks outweighing the rewards and people never forgetting who asked the questions (even good questions), I’ve learned that it’s better to let others ask, sit quietly, and, if needed, talk to your boss or a confidante later.

——————-
Previous parts:

#1 Don’t Complain or Make Waves
#2 Don’t Talk Negatively About Anyone Behind Their Back

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4 Responses to Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier – Part 3

  1. Pingback: Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier – Part 4 « Life With Spidey

  2. Pingback: Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier – Part 5 « Life With Spidey

  3. Pingback: Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier – Part 6 « Life With Spidey

  4. Pingback: Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier – Recap of Parts 1-6 « Life With Spidey

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