As a sort of corollary to my recent post on seeking to understand, I marvel at how often people fail to ask clarifying questions, or seek to gain more information. Too often, whether it’s in a sales meeting, a strategic planning meeting, or any other type of meeting, people receive and accept information at face value, without digging for deeper understanding.

For example, when I work with my clients to select a new association management system, one typical step in the process is doing interviews with the client about how they use data now, and equally important, how they want to use data in the future. During those discussions, one of my favorite questions to ask is “Why?” “Why do collect that information?” “What do you use it for?” “What is its value to you and/or the organization?”

These can sometimes be uncomfortable conversations, but they’re absolutely critical. Too often organizations get caught up in doing things a certain way because they’ve always been done that way. Asking questions like “Why are we doing this?” is disruptive but can also lead to “aha” answers like “I have no idea. That’s how I was taught to do it.”

I’ve written elsewhere about a client of mine from many years ago, who over time had created a report that was dozens of pages long and was delivered to three different departments. The report itself took a week or more to generate. Each department only used one page of the report and assumed it was the other departments that needed all the rest of that information. It was only after I asked “Why is this report important?” that we discovered most of the report was NOT important!

So if you’re wondering about something, just ask.