Last week, the cashier at the local grocery store kept asking me questions about the food I was purchasing, mainly winter vegetables, as she was running them through the scanner.

  • “What’s this?” “That is a rutabaga.”
  • “I’ve never seen a white carrot.” “That is a parsnip.”
  • “What are these things?” “Those are turnips.”
(I like to purchase food for the season. Right now it is root vegetables.)

I was fine with her asking the questions. I’d rather have her ask questions about what the vegetables are versus charging me for something that it isn’t. The person behind me wasn’t as patient or forgiving of the cashier’s questions. I didn’t really care. I casually pointed out that she could move to the next cashier to our right because there wasn’t a line.

In thinking about questions and when to ask them, my thought is ask the question when it comes to your mind. If you don’t, you’ll most likely miss an opportunity for clarification.

When meeting with clients, colleagues or even family, there are some steps I’ve learned to become a better listener and ask better questions:
  • At the end of the meeting, say, “Let me summarize what I’ve heard and go over the items that need follow up.” It allows everyone to listen to a summary and think about what might be missing.
  • If you have a question that comes to mind while someone is speaking, write the question down. Don’t interrupt. Your question might be answered later when the person is speaking.
  • Don’t be afraid if your question sounds dumb or silly. People will sincerely answer a question. The only caveot is not to keep asking the same question. That shows you aren’t listening.
  • When asking a question, keep it simple and keep it to one question. Nothing can be more convoluted than asking a two- or three-part question.
  • When your question is answered, make sure you listen, write it down and repeat it to yourself. You’ll remember the answer.
For fun, I’ve added a link to wikipedia. That is a Web site for lots of answers to your questions!

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