Underrated career skill: Asking questions

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It might be that the only useful thing you ever learned in school (besides how to make small talk at a party) is how to ask a good question.

Most of us didn’t learn that, though. Because it’s so hard to teach. I know it’s really hard to teach because people with Asperger Syndrome don’t understand how to ask a question, and I watched speech therapists (pragmatics specialists) try to teach my son, while I took notes for myself.

Children with Asperger’s often have to learn when to use Why, What, and Where because they don’t know how to ask questions, even though they often have through-the-roof IQs. They actually seem mentally slow because they cannot learn as fast as other children due to the lack of good questions – which is a great illustration of how important asking questions is.

I will answer almost any question someone asks, which makes me better at asking questions myself, but I am also very conscious of the fact that most questions people ask me are terrible.

So here are tips on how to ask good questions.

1. Trust that people are interesting.
Asperger’s children must learn that everyone can tell you something about the world that you don’t know, and learning things about the world is interesting. As adults, this is more of a respect thing—you need to take a leap of faith that each person deserves your respect and each person has an answer that will be really important to you, if you can just get to the topic they are interesting about. (This is hard when most people want to talk about the weather, or the price of gas or whatever. I am still working on that hurdle.)

2. Use a therapist to teach you to ask questions
Therapists almost never tell you what to do. They ask questions instead. And they ask such good questions that you can’t help learning about yourself. I realized, after about 20 years of therapy, that I had learned to internalize a therapist’s voice in my head—asking myself the questions that could help me to steer myself. So what therapy has taught me is to ask sharp questions of myself when I am lost, and to go back to a therapist when the questions I ask of myself are so broad and unfocused that they are not helping. It makes sense that everyone could do the same thing. And if you think you’re above this strategy, consider this: Companies do this all the time, they just call the temporary help consultants instead of therapists.

3. Recognize questions that are hard for you but easy for everyone else
I just had lunch with one of my board members, Erik. He is the guy the board sends in when I am losing my mind. (He’s the one who fielded the call when I was having a nervous breakdown from funding and maybe going blind.) Anyway, this week I asked Erik what do to because I can’t work because I’m so sad about the farmer breaking off our engagement. Erik told me to keep working. He said, “What else are you going to do?” He was right. The question seemed so large and complicated to me, but it was really that the question was emotionally charged for me. It was not a hard question.

4. Match the right question to the right person.
Seth Godin asked a group of people (including me) a few months ago to write a chapter for a new ebook. Usually stuff like this takes too much time, and, also, it’s usually boring to do. But Seth tailored his question so well that the answers he got were amazing. First, he said he needed “just 200 words.” That’s the amount of words that is easiest to write. Less than that starts looking like poetry and more than that starts being an essay. He also picked a great topic: “what matters now.” Of course, this would not be a good topic for most people. Most people would stress about it for months before deciding what matters now. But Seth asked people who ask themselves this question every day, and write about it every day. (Arianna Huffington, Dan Pink, Fred Wilson, for example) And he made answering fun, because, look, I love how this ebook turned out.

5. A question you never think of is one of the best surprises of all.
Tyler Cowen’s book, Create Your Own Economy is largely about getting a life in the information age. But he spends a lot of time talking about how interestingness in life might be an end in itself. I am not totally convinced of this because I think I’m long on interestingness and short on social skills and I’m not liking the balance. And I think, maybe if I could just be a little less interesting then things might be easier for me. But, anyway, Tyler is convinced, and Tyler is pretty darn interesting, and he makes me think that one of the things that most excites me is when I hear someone asking a great question that I had not thought of.

So here’s a question for today: We know that women get more interviews if the name on their resume sounds male. (Here’s one of a bazillion studies.) And we know that people do better in their careers if they are honest about who they are. (This applies to both your name and your sex orientation.) But here’s something I never thought of: What would it be like to pretend to be a man at work?

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  1. Farmer Anders
    Farmer Anders says:

    And sometimes…it helps to be a female in a male dominated career field just go get interviews too!! I know it has worked for me. I can always pick them out too, because the HR recruiter will start with “So, you have a very unique resume”

    • granite countertops richmond va
      granite countertops richmond va says:

      This is a nice post to be added. i am happy to find such type of post.This post is about how to ask question to other.And tells about the asking Question and to handle the reaction of that person to whom are asking Question.

  2. Mhughes
    Mhughes says:

    If I was pretending to be a man at work, I would probably spend a lot less time caring if I was likeable. I’d probably smile less, because half the smiling I do during the work day is fake anyway.

  3. Jenny
    Jenny says:

    And with just a link to a previous post, I’m now on the way to switching from pen name to real name. Also, thank you for the reminder to subscribe to Daniel Pink’s site. Ahhh. Beautiful Tuesday post.

  4. Kat
    Kat says:

    I still don’t get why everyone says “How are you?” everyday as the response is always something like “Fine thanks, you?”. I just think what’s the point in asking that question. If you have something great to say, then you’ll tell the person without needing to be asked. If you have something bad to say, you usually won’t say it.

    • Alexandra
      Alexandra says:

      Re-learning how to use “how are you” has been one of my social discoveries upon moving abroad. Living in the US, I too considered the phrase a rhetorical question, especially in a work environment. However, now living in Budapest, “how are you” is an invitation for the other person to completely open up; if it isn’t’ treated as such, it is considered rude (I believe this is true for many European countries). And because Hungarians are generally pessimistic, asking a coworker how he is doing likely will lead to a 10-minute conversation about how his dog died, his girlfriend left him, and he needs a haircut. I have learned to only ask this question if I really care to know…probably a good life lesson in general.

      • J
        J says:

        Yes yes yes!
        When I moved from England to Australia, people would ask “how are you?” and my family and I thought they were, like English people, genuinely interested. No, they’re not.

        “How are you” does not have a question mark, and is in fact a longer version of “hello”.

        It took a while to work that one out.

  5. tlmonsta
    tlmonsta says:

    Despite the different set of “parts” under my clothes, I’d probably interact with people in just about the same way I do now. That said, I’m sure people would resent my directness less, I’d get paid more, and no one would question the fact that I don’t want to have children.

  6. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    Great post. And it’s a skill that’s REALLY underrated by most managers, who don’t want to deal with good questions, because that forces them to think. And maybe change their plans.

    Also, the linked post on copyblogger? Holy f-ing crap.

    As a woman in her mid-30’s, I don’t think much about this stuff, assuming that the feminist battle has been won.

    Clearly it hasn’t.

  7. Kacy
    Kacy says:

    Being male, I can’t answer the question directly. But, I can quibble a bit with the premise, as I think it varies widely by industry.

    Having been on point in recruiting for positions in higher education, I have repeatedly gone out of my way to scare up women applicants and potential interviews. In my experience, women in higher education are better employees because, on the whole, women:

    a) Have had to work harder to continue their education (due to family commitments, discrimination in male dominated fields, etc.) and, as a result, have a better understanding of their field, even as a newly minted Ph.D.;

    b) Are definitely more empathetic, and as a result more easily understand and contribute to the broad research, teaching and outreach mission of a university;

    c) Are more focused in their research programs, as they tend to have more clearly defined goals for both their professional and private lives, along with a better understanding that have to be hyper-efficient to make both work. Men in academics tend to focus primarily on the professional, which often leads to problems of various sorts in the private, which then ultimately leads to serious problems in the professional side;

    d) Are preferred as colleagues, as they tend to be better able to surpress the motivations of pure ego and usually contribute to departmental harmony (a very underrated skill in any industry, particularly education); and

    e) Have an easier time relating to and dealing with students as they age (ripen?) in their academic positions. Males typically go the other way, becoming more cantankerous with students as they age.

    Of course, the higher education market is a relatively small one compared to some industries, and the work (other than actual class presence) does not require you to be on-site 8-5, so we may not have some of the same concerns employing women as other industries do.

  8. Ryan Geist
    Ryan Geist says:

    Hey Penelope – I am an extrovert. I’m talking, off the charts extrovert. When I was at Deloitte, I received my share of feedback, and almost always it had to do with me speaking out without any kind of filter. I started to realize I had to change my conversation skills in order to be more likable and communicate more effectively inside organizations. I did this in two ways:

    1. Literally screamed at myself inside my head to “SHUT THE FUCK UP” during meetings (otherwise I would’ve piped in at every client board meeting with no reservations).
    2. Wrote down everywhere I looked to ASK QUESTIONS.

    Telling myself to shut up wasn’t the most healthy solution, but the truth is that being such an intense extrovert, I had never taken the time to be quiet and observe. I never knew how to LISTEN. (Unless, of course, there was a debate involved. In that case, I listened very closely – ENTP)

    I couldn’t at first filter when I should talk and when I shouldn’t. What I should say, what I shouldn’t. It took a while of me just shutting my mouth to start to figure it out. I’m much more reserved these days about when I speak. I’d say it’s a good thing.

    And I ask a lot more questions. I work for a guy named Keith Ferrazzi now, and some of the best advice I’ve received from him is to CHOOSE TO CARE about other people. It is a choice we make, and if we choose to care – to find something about the other person that we can emotionally connect with – it makes asking questions much easier.

    TRY THIS: In every interaction you have in the next week, task yourself to ASK QUESTIONS that will lead you to care about the other person. I find this very effective – it gets me out of my own head (self-centered) and allows me to focus entirely on the other person.

    And also remember that ASKING QUESTIONS and LISTENING go hand in hand. So after you ask, remember to listen.


  9. JenniferP
    JenniferP says:

    Hi Penelope, great post.

    First, in answer to your question, as a female film director, I’ve had to learn to change my communication style to have success at work. I need to think about what I say before I say it and not think out loud. Or, I have to think out loud only with a small core of very trusted people within a specific window, but once I’m on the set that window closes. I need to keep a questioning tone out of my voice when describing what I want to someone. I need to work out a few different scenarios ahead of time and have something ready to go if the first thing doesn’t work or if someone argues with me. I can ask for suggestions and help, but I have to look like I know what I’m doing all the time and be able to out-think everyone.

    “Do you think we could do X?” becomes a negotiation.


    “Please do X. Thank you.” becomes an assumption and trust that it will be done. If the person has an obstacle or problem, she’ll raise it – I don’t have to raise it for her.

    I don’t know if that’s acting more like a man or having a more “male” communication style, because plenty of men spew out blather and don’t know what they want, but there is zero room for me to get away with that. If I show signs of not knowing my own mind completely, it doesn’t come across as an artist in the middle of a collaborative artistic process, it comes across like I might not know what I’m doing and then everyone with a dick feels free to share their advice.

    The best and wisest question anyone ever asked me happened when I was flailing about worrying about something, and a mentor asked me: “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” And I told him. And he said, “Okay, and if that happens, what will you do about it?” and I thought for a second and told him, and instantly I felt 8,000,000 times better. I could think my way into trouble and back out of it again. So that’s the question I ask myself or other people whenever a big cycle of worry starts and we can nip it in the bud.

    On a more mundane note, I am really terrible with names, and have to work very hard to remember them. The best way to navigate this, I’ve found, is total honesty. “I’m sorry, I obviously remember you, but I have a terrible time with names. Could you remind me?” I try to work in something that I remember about them in. “I’m sorry, I remember the great opinions you shared about Scorcese, but I’m terrible with names. Could you remind me?”

    I’ve never had anyone be offended by being directly asked in that way.

    • Susi Elkins
      Susi Elkins says:

      Wow, Jennifer. I’m a producer at a small television station and you described exactly what it’s like for me. I value other people’s opinions and like to collect them on the fly as we are creating a show, but I’ve found that when I ask for feedback or ideas, it often is assumed that I don’t know what I want or don’t have a strong vision. I learned this the hard way and have adapted in the exact same way you have. It feels good to know I’m not the only one.

  10. neko
    neko says:

    If I pretended to be a man at work, I would …

    – Project myself as if I knew all the answers (even if I didnt).
    – Never admit to not knowing something (even if I didnt).
    – Make witty jokes (but never self-deprecating ones).
    – Apply for/take positions that were beyond my capabilities (because I wouldnt realize they were actually stretch assignments).
    – Take the newspaper with me when I went to the john.

    A great question: all things considered, I realize that I’d take on a whole new persona if I acted like my male colleagues.

    • J
      J says:

      This is SUCH an interesting discussion! I haven’t read such a thought-provoking roll of comments before – wow!

      This is interesting – that you would
      “- Project myself as if I knew all the answers (even if I didnt).
      – Never admit to not knowing something (even if I didnt).”

      I understand these two, and that many men I work and have worked with do these things, but do we actually think they are good? I heard someone talking about some lawyers (that’s my job) and say the best ones she’s dealt with tell her straight up if they don’t know the answer, but that they will find it out. I’ve started saying that directly now. I don’t know if it comes across as weakness, but I sure as hell feel better about it. And I think that makes me feel better about my work and myself. And that’s what’s important to me.

      I agree with the others tho- and the newspaper thing. Ewww.

  11. Irina I
    Irina I says:

    Penelope, great post! Asking questions is my favorite thing to do. When I meet a person, I immediately ask them questions about what they do, whether they like it, how they live their lives.

    Last week was one of the most stressful and exciting weeks I’ve had in a while. I had two days to decide between my current job (low growth prospects, good pay) and a start-up job that will pay me less but that is an amazing opportunity. I asked everyone and their mom about it. Should I take it? What should I consider? What about this argument? What about that argument? I called up my friends from college, I called up a few seasoned professionals that I know. And I listened. And gradually, I stopped freaking out and letting emotion get in the way of my decision-making…and started using real decision-making.

    Asking questions is so important. I’m glad you emphasized that in this great post!

  12. Van
    Van says:

    I love the post about changing your gender to be successful. I think about the dynamics of being male/female at the office all the time. I guess it’s because I’m the Ghost Writer for two men’s blogs.

    I've considered starting new personal blogs and websites as a man. But in the end (for now) I've decided honesty is the best, and easiest, way to go. Being nick-named Van (birth name, Vanessa) and occasionally being mistaken for a male online is close enough for now.

  13. Marc KS
    Marc KS says:

    I am disappointed by the trumpeting of bad-feminist hogwash – something not typical on your blog. Making generalizations about the hiring practices based on studies done over a quarter century past is not only irresponsible… it’s stupid.

    Generally I quite like your writing… but watch how you choose to wield your influence.

  14. Liz
    Liz says:

    Penelope, Did you see this article by any chance? It seems right on taregt with what you were saying about women pretending to be men!
    Newsweek Blog article: Does Gender Matter? http://blog.newsweek.com/blogs/thehumancondition/default.aspx
    “A Canadian woman in her mid-30s needed a job – and fast. She had two young daughters, was single, and living in a tiny Quebec apartment. So she turned to the Web, started a business, and hit a wall. "I was having a hard time landing jobs. I was being turned down for gigs I should've gotten," she says. So the woman did what many female writers have often wondered about: she changed her name. She became James Chartrand, the founder of "Men with Pens," a Canadian Web design and copywriting business whose testosterone-heavy Web site declares it'll help you "hit the bulls-eye of success."

    Suddenly, jobs came pouring in.”

  15. Heather
    Heather says:

    It would be dishonest to pretend to be a man at work. I thought you hated all the dishonesty that women bring to work with them. What’s your real question?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yes. Good point. I think my real question is how fast do you crash and burn when you are pretending to be someone else? this is the question that keeps me honest, maybe, about my own tradeoffs: I wish I were someone else sometimes. But don’t think I could sustain it long enough to do something meaningful.


      • J
        J says:

        Or is the question: are there ways you (ie us) are behaving at work that aren’t helping you? are there ways you could change your behaviour to make your work better?

  16. Linda in Chicago
    Linda in Chicago says:

    It’s not possible for me to pretend to be a man at work. I mean, I do go to the office a few days a week and it’s pretty clear that I’m not a man, so I doubt I could fool anyone if I tried.

    As for asking questions, though, I agree it is a highly under-rated skill. One of the women I manage gets to me because she doesn’t ask questions very often or asks really poorly thought out ones. She often makes observational comments about stuff she thinks should be different, but she doesn’t problem-solve. And asking questions is the first step to problem-solving. If she just asked a probing or insightful question about the same issue instead it would reflect better on her. If that question were also accompanied by a suggestion it would be even better.

  17. Kate
    Kate says:

    I had to learn to ask really basic questions. Like, when I was a kitchen hand (first job) I had to learn that, if I didn’t know how to do something, hadn’t been told, had forgotten how, it was OK TO ASK. My mother is all about teh passive aggressive, why don’t you automatically know everything. I still remember the time I was 8 and hanging the washing out, and I asked if she liked the socks hung by the toe or the cuff. She yelled at me for not already knowing.

    I realise you’re not talking about asking ‘how do I file this’ questions, but it’s the same principle. Asking questions sounds simple, but I think the simple skills (how to ask a question, how to write an email, how to work out if someone is mad at you or doesn’t like you at work) are the most valuable and sometimes the hardest to learn, because most people think they already know how!

    Something I picked up from another blog was this: everyone learns everything. All that social stuff, it’s learnt. It’s just, some people learn it easily and early enough that they don’t remember learning it. Doesn’t mean that those of us who missed out or find it harder can’t also learn the rules.

    Also, people with more white sounding names get more interviews. People want non-threatening, like-us people. That means what’s nuetral in our society – male, white, middle class, straight. Of course, it’s easier to fake straight than it is to fake white or male.

  18. BobN
    BobN says:

    Pretending with Asperger’s, is like Asperger’s with Asperger’s. Asperger’s can be very Asperger, although the Asperger’s can really get Asperger. I is hard to believe that Asperger’s gets such Asperger’s even in this time of Asperger’s. Asperger is Asperger’s Asperger, Asperger.

    Can Penelope have one post without using the word Asperger’s? I couldn’t find one without it in the last month!

    Career Aspergerist


  19. Triin
    Triin says:

    Dear Bob!
    Who are you? You are such a coward I think. But your poetry is funny. You didn’t think much before writing, did you?

    I might have Asperger’s.

    I work in a proper male fantasy world. Never ending misery!
    All the time put down. And then listening them giving lessons to me about how to be positive. It’s a place where you can earn a little bit more money with no education. So the they are not intelligent, but they are quite arrogant. A lot of flirting and joking all days long. I’m so bored. But I won’t give up being who I am.

    I look forward for all the posts about Asperger’s!
    It’s very difficult to understand brain difference.
    Actually i’d like to know how you Penelope found out about your Asperger’s. If you have an old post about about it?

    • BobN
      BobN says:

      Dear Triin (If that is your real name ;)
      Seriously, I am ok with talking about Asperger’s and other issues that face us in our day to day life. My point is, does it have to consume us? We all deal with issues, but at some point you need to own them and not let them own you. I like Penelope’s point of view, but I am tired of blogs revolving around Asperger’s. When I had cancer or going through divorce… I talked about it quite a bit – but there came a time to stop boring my friends with my problems and fears and start making changes in your life that are positive. “Justifying a fault doubles it.”

      I feel that Penelope is running in circles (almost obsessing about this diagnosis). It is some what concerning to me. I read about her life passing her by as she talks about Asperger’s to no end. I don’t know her, but I do like and care about her well being.

      My hope is that she starts writing others things affecting her life besides AS. Maybe about some real changes and chances that are inspirational… like she has done so many times in the past.

      Sorry for the sassy-ness Penelope. I hope you take with a grain of salt. Love your writing and takes on life. I wish you peace and love as you move forward into the new year.


      • Sarah
        Sarah says:

        …I kind of agree with you Bob – I mean I started reading the blog back in Japan, then I had some deep changes in my life and stopped for a while…coming back now and feeling all this Asperger talikng a bit obsessive. I started to feel Asperger too. Sometimes it just feels that all the crap happening in your life, Pen, is due to Asperger…sometimes it feels you have some kind of terrible devouring illness you can’t fight over…relax. You are not a less valuable person if you have Asperger, I don’t see differences in your sharpness because of Asperger. As well, I Asperger has always been affecting your life, even when you were unaware of it. So, don’t concentrate too much energy on it – focus yourself on positive things :)!

      • jrandom42
        jrandom42 says:

        As for me, I’m still wondering who diagnosed Penelope’s Asperger Syndrome. Was it her psychiatrist, neurologist, someone versed in brain and cognitive science, or did she diagnose herself, based on what’s going with her son?

      • Triin
        Triin says:

        Rob, we all have different opinions. I love reading about Asperger’s and I’m afraid she is listening to you and will stop writing about it.

        To jrandom42
        I wonder it too! Seriously!
        I assume any private psychiatrist can diagnose you and then you are officially diagnosed. Otherwise it’s very difficult to get diagnosed if you don’t have money to pay for it. – More difficult for women. If no one has problems with you, then no one cares.
        Autistic women mask their difficulties and it remains more often undiagnosed in them.


      • jrandom42
        jrandom42 says:

        Actually, not every psychiatrist can diagnose Asperger Syndrome. The testing is long, involved and complex. At Stanford University Medical Center’s School of Psychiatry, the waiting list for testing is backed up to almost 2 years. Tests have been streamlined and so on, but it’s still a long involved complex process that needs input from psychiatrists, neurologists, cognitive specialists and a whole bunch of other specialists to diagnose properly.

        As for me, I was one of the first adults Stanford diagnoses back around the mid -90s, and it took me almost a year and a half to go through the testing and analysis.

      • Triin
        Triin says:


        take a look at this! How someone got diagnosed :)


        So today at the therapy session my therapist figured out I have Asperger’s Syndrome! She’s the first psychologist I’ve had to figure it out. How this came about: She said “Asperger’s” and I said “Yeah.” So then later she said “This is what you have. This is your diagnosis.”
        But wow, this means I’m officially diagnosed now. Now I can admit I have Asperger’s without feeling like a phony or something.

        (my chosen bits of her text to give the impression I got of it)

    • jrandom42
      jrandom42 says:

      And I’ve seen and experienced this question, which tends to puncture any diagnosis like this:

      “You have Asperger Syndrome? What tests were done to confirm the diagnosis?”

      Without the confirming tests, anyone, be they psychologist or someone self-diagnosing themselves, can say someone has Asperger Syndrome, but if you disclose this to an employer, they are going to demand the test results, as they should.

      This is what I’m questioning about Penelope. Who diagnosed her and what was the testing regimen they used? She has no answer to that, so I can only assume that she’s self diagnosing herself with no testing collaboration.

  20. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    My quote on my profile over at Brazen Careerist is – “The path to the correct conclusion begins with asking the correct questions.”

    My own without referring to a book of quotes.

  21. Isao
    Isao says:

    Being a male, I do not know what it feels like to pretend to be a man, so I will list two examples I have heard.

    1. Why James Chartrand wears women’s underpants
    A very strong, emotionally engaging and harrowingly realistic tale of a writer who has found success after a long struggle by changing her penname to something that sounded male (James).

    2. Customer Support Representative
    The online chat support representative (female) of the company I work for introduces herself as a male. This way, customers do not engage in chatting with her for too long or for wrong reasons. She is happy.

  22. scrupeda
    scrupeda says:

    Back when I used to blog about politics and electronic music I would routinely be mistaken for a guy although I technically have a feminine nickname. Apparently there was this image in people’s heads that somebody writing about those topics and not their personal life or especially feminist issues (which I did, just not all the time) had to be male.

    But it was only when I started giving talks and presentations in person that I realized how much I might have profited from gender ambiguity on the web. Gah.

  23. Marsha Keeffer
    Marsha Keeffer says:

    Yeah, the Men With Pens thing – she got the work, made the money. I don’t think I could do it – too difficult to keep all the lies in place. And when I do writing for people, I talk with them on the phone about what I’m doing. Can’t imagine all client interaction being via email.

    Feels to me that it continues to feed behavior that we’d like to see die out…

  24. mack
    mack says:

    Wait, Penelope – you have Asbergers? Is anyone else sick of this?

    I used to LOVE this blog. The recent theme of “let’s talk only about my asbergers syndrome” is driving me away.

  25. Vladimir Kornea
    Vladimir Kornea says:

    `Erik told me to keep working. He said, "What else are you going to do?" He was right. The question seemed so large and complicated to me, but it was really that the question was emotionally charged for me. It was not a hard question.`

    This is bad advice. You need to reflect.

  26. Hope
    Hope says:

    Best comments ever.

    I always ask a lot of questions. My last boss interpreted this as a condemnation of her work. It was ugly, and no amount of Myers Briggs personality profile chat was going to make us a good team.

    Also, if JenniferP has a blog, I want to read it. And if she doesn’t, she should. Great post!

  27. jrandom42
    jrandom42 says:

    While I welcome relevant questions, here are a few problems I have with asking questions:

    1) Asking questions that can be answered by a little research effort.

    2) Asking questions you already know the answer for, just to stroke your ego.

    3) Asking questions that are only tangentially related to the topic at hand.

    4) Constantly asking questions without absorbing the answers in order to appear to be the brightest in the room.

    5) Asking deep techincal questions and needing detailed explanations of basic concepts to understanding the answers.

  28. Lori
    Lori says:

    For an excellent and thought-provoking description of what it’s like to be a woman acting like a man in public, read “Self-Made Man” by Norah Vincent.

  29. D
    D says:

    After I read the Louise Erdrich novel, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, I copied her list that the main character had written for herself when she decided to become a priest (and therefore a man, as far as everyone else knew). I tried to put this advice to use at work, but it was not easy, and I still find myself slipping:
    1. Make requests in the form of orders.
    2. Give compliments in the form of concessions.
    3. Ask questions in the form of statements.
    4. Stride, swing arms, stop abruptly, stroke ching.
    5. Advance no explanations
    6. Accept no explanations
    7. Hum an occasional resolute march :)

  30. Tina Fortune
    Tina Fortune says:

    If we were to pretend to be men at work, what type of man would that be? I am a single mom of 3 and I have adopted this policy at work: No pictures of my kids on my desk, arrive earlier, stay a little later, work harder, provide solutions, focus on results and demand to be paid my worth. I’m not pretending to be anyone else other than myself. Being me is good enough!

  31. Howard Hermes
    Howard Hermes says:


    Great post!!! Learning to ask good questions also makes a good salesperson, when I ask good questions usually my client tells me exactly what they want to buy and how they want to buy it. Also, being shy and introvert at parties and networking events I have learned to have three questions with me and if I just ask those questions usually the other person will talk for the majority of the time and then thank me for the wonderful question.

    Keep up the good work.

  32. Triin
    Triin says:

    I’m lucky I’m not told anymore in my assessments that I ask too many questions – by male bosses. I have been told few times: be quiet and DO YOUR JOB.
    For them it used to be minus about me, that I ask questions.
    It was written in my assessment papers.
    (Anyway, I took it as a compliment)
    They don’t complain about it anymore, after I tried to explain them that it’s nonsense and bullying if I can’t ask questions.

  33. College Campus
    College Campus says:

    its not that you have to LEARN to trust people you just need to have someone you CAN trust someone that you can tell anything to and they will give you the support comfort and help you need with anything you tell them..so i guess you must have someone in ur life that youve been with all your life or just a really long time..that you can confide in…it may not be easy to open up but soon youll losen up with that person..start telling them the small things then gradually get into the bigger more serious and more secret and personal stuff..eventually you will just KNOW who you can and cant trust…it isnt always easy and sometimes you may find you cant trust certain people but thats just a part a life and no matter what you will always have a friend who will listen..just have to find the right person.

  34. Medifast
    Medifast says:

    Mostly in the office every morning you say or they say”good morning” and you responce” good morning too. Some never responce good morning too,they responce smile to you. What you feel or responce if someone great you good morning while your morning is not good?

  35. jrandom42
    jrandom42 says:


    Normally, I’d answer, “What’s so good about it?” or during this holiday season, “Bah, humbug!”

  36. dorie
    dorie says:

    Pretending to be male at work in a male body with female, or at least non-male, gender identity is exhausting. It truly sucks, believe me. And why to they (men) spend so many spare cycles talking about either sports or status posessions?

  37. Dale
    Dale says:

    The problem is when your physical characteristics become a proxy for assessing intellect/ability.
    Sex, race, sexual orientation, income level as exhibited by peripheral cues, all are used because people don’t like uncertainty. Using heuristics to make life simple is a way of life. I’ve learned that you either let it go or you expend alot of energy being angry or trying to portray an image counter to how you believe you are likely to be characterized.
    How long could you last being something you’re not? It depends on your energy level, or the level of your need to hold on to the prize at hand.


  38. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    Great post! I think one important thing you didn’t discuss was the common misconception that asking questions fosters weakness when in reality its one of the better indicators of strength. If asking questions, especially in a workplace context, was perceived as a sign of strength, chumps and corporate weenies would be asking questions all the time instead of pretending they know everything. Everyone has questions. Companies need to hire consultants because no one wants to appear weak by asking questions themselves.

  39. Nigel
    Nigel says:

    Ah, this makes the time off work I spend with gifted kids so worthwhile because one of the main things I teach is “How to ask good questions.” It simply isn’t taught in schools very well, especially religious schools. If there is one thing kids should know when they leave school is how to ask a good insightful question that will truly add to the conversation.
    After many years of being involved in the skeptical movement watching the wheels spinning as society appears to be getting dumber I decided the best contribution I could make was teaching kids *how* to think, not what to think.
    And the key point to this approach that I chose was how to ask good questions.

    And one of the best questions in this day and age would be “What would it take for you to change your mind about …”. Soon sorts out who’s a good thinker and who isn’t.

  40. Simon
    Simon says:

    If I ask a question about someone’s interests/preferences in life, I usually follow up with “How important is that to you and why?”. That question usually provides me with a lot of deep meaningful information and gets to the heart of what the person is about.


  41. Ken
    Ken says:

    I just discovered vark.com, thanks to Google’s recent purchase of them. Rather than searching websites, vark finds people online with skills related to your question and asks them directly. What a great tool to practice asking good questions! Google is the king of finding details, (Where is the nearest walmart?) but vark is great for the type of questions you can only ask people with real experience.

    • Umkhonto Labour
      Umkhonto Labour says:

      Hahahahah! A “vark” is a pig in one of my countries official languages, Afrikaans, as well as in Dutch, I think. So I don’t know how Vark is going to resonate with experience. Go ask a pig…he’s rolled in it already, so has tons of experience….bwahahahahahah

  42. melissa spiotta
    melissa spiotta says:

    Hi Penelope, if you are an ENTJ, that is the reason you aren’t great at asking questions. ENTJs answer questions and weigh in on what other put out there. Asking Qs is what Ps do best. I don’t have Asberger’s but am an ENTJ and asking questions is not my greatest strength. Rob Toomey, on the other hand, is an ENTP and he asks great questions.

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