The Magic of Asking

As a researcher you have several sources of information. What are they?

1. Research journals that you read regularly to keep up to date with your field.

2. Conferences and workshops that you attend.

3. Internet websites and interest groups.

4. Your colleagues and peers.

5. Your supervisors and lecturers

6. Other people in the field.

You must read peer journal papers to keep up with the field. When I read journal papers I find them difficult to understand even after all these years. Sometimes I feel sorry for the new researchers trying to make sense of the field and current state of the art.  This sense sympathy is quickly replaced by the knowledge that each must pave his own path. The pain and torture of reading papers is soon replaced by the knowledge that this phase is a necessary part of becoming a first class researcher. Nobel Laureates and Leaders in the field had to endure this initial development phase. Pain is necessary for progress. As time goes on and your understanding improves. You get excited and passionate the subject. Your success will soon soar.

Much more enjoyable than reading research papers is talk to the experts. They have written the papers. They have more experience and a deeper understanding. Get into a spirited debate with the experts.  You’ll progress quicker.

“He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever” – Chinese proverb.

Discuss your work, new developments in the field and relevant research papers with your supervisors.  Talk to your research group members. Intellectual debate is a pleasurable pursuit.  Engage in it as much as you can.

At lectures, seminars and workshop ask questions. These are great opportunities for your to learn. Use coffee time and lunch time for debates. Ask questions. Have some questions ready at all times. Expect to meet people who you can learn from everyday. Be open and receptive.

Become an expert in asking.  Ask for help, information or whatever you need to progress to the next stage in your development. Here are some golden rules of asking.

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other” – John F Kennedy

Strive to be interested rather than interesting. Once you have asked a question then listen intently for the answers. Don’t interrupt; listen more and talk less.

10 Keys to asking

1. Use these two magic phrases when asking. They are simple but very powerful.

i) First phrase is “I need your help please”.

11) The second is “Thank you”.

Use these phrases sincerely. Look the person directly in the eye and say Thank You.  Make sure you really mean you mean it.  Feel grateful.

2. After you get attention to “I need you help” ask your question. Make it simple, direct and sincere. Don’t be vague. Don’t ask long winded complicated question. Break down long questions into several simple questions. Don’t ask questions that  have “yes” or “no” answers. Ask open ended questions. You’ll get more information.

3. Ask the right person. Ask a person who can answer the questions. Don’t ask a chemistry questions to a mathematician. It doesn’t make sense. You are wasting your time as well as the person you are asking. Ask the right questions and address them to the people who have the answers. Judge by experience. Don’t ask someone who has not written a single research paper “how to write a research papers”.

4. Ask at the right time. Nothing is more annoying asking the right question to the right person at inappropriate times. Wait for the right opportunity. Don’t ask your question when a person is talking to someone else or doing something important. Don’t as your professor a research question when he is rushing to a lecture or an important meeting. Be polite, humble and ask at the right time.

“Politeness is to human nature what warmth is to wax”  ~Arthur Schopenhauer

5. Ask in the right way. Be polite and respectful when asking. Never be rude. Don’t waste people’s time. If it feels good you are doing it right. If it feels bad then you need to change your approach. Never ask questions to put people on the spot and make them feel bad. Don’t ask a question to show off. Be sincere. It builds trust and rapport with experts. You will learn a great deal and make rapid progress in your research career.

Use humour when possible.  Smile and always be cheerful. Make sure any jokes are appropriate. Bad jokes turn people off. Never use jokes that put people down. Make them happy.

“Humour is by far the most significant activity of the human brain” – Edward de Bono

If you ask in the right way you will build long term relationships.  If people respect and trust you and then you will be able to ask as many questions as you want and get answers quickly and easily. Asking will become easier. Practice will make you better at asking. Each time try and learn something and improve your skills in asking for what you need.

6. People like to reciprocate. Before you ask make sure give something. This does not have to tangible things. A sincere complement is powerful. Share your knowledge about something. A smile is a gift. It is simple yet a powerful age old practice. Always give something before asking for something. Giving opens the door to receiving.

7. If you don’t get the answers to your questions then keep asking. Ask  someone else. Ask the same people in a different way. Perhaps you did not ask in the best way.   Persistence in asking will carry you a long way in your research journey.

8. What is your purpose or vision. Explain the purpose of asking your questions. If people see the bigger picture they’ll more keen to help you. Vision is what creates compelling reasons for people to support?

“Where there is no vision, there is no hope” – George Washington Carver.

9. Once you get an answer say thank you sincerely. This is the key. Even if you don’t get answer say, “Thank you” anyway. It makes everyone feel good. You want to spread happiness wherever you go and a sincere thanks is a great gift.

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us” – Albert Schweitzer

10. Spend a little time every day in gratitude. Thank everyone you have come across and thank them for any contribution they have made to your life. It does not matter how small or how big. The sense of gratitude will have a marvellous effect on your life. You will magically attract more and more people to help you in your career. You will attract people with all the answers to your questions. Those who have gratitude will be give more. So start asking now and keep asking.


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