Publication: Durandel Blog
By M.C Durandal
You probably have a list of questions you'd ask your boss if given the
"You really paid someone for that haircut?"
"Must your lunch always include garlic?"
"How did someone as nice as you end up marrying someone so unpleasant?"
If you have any desire to keep your job, you'll keep those questions to
yourself. Unfortunately employees have a tendency to keep all questions to
themselves, even when speaking up can help their careers.
"Workers choose silence over dialogue because they worry about damaging
credibility, fear retaliation from key decision makers or doubt their
voice will make a difference. And when employees choose silence, progress
suffers," says Kerry Patterson, co-author of "Crucial Conversations."
Whether you keep quiet because you're afraid of embarrassing yourself or
you don't think your questions mean much, you should start speaking up.
"A colleague once said to me, 'I can tell more about a person by the
questions they ask than by what they tell me,'" says Edith
Onderick-Harvey, president of Change Dynamics Consulting, an executive
consulting firm. "The same is true for managers. Questions about the
broader organization's goals and priorities, your role in achieving those
and asking for feedback tell your boss you are focused on a career with
the organization, not just a job."
Here are nine questions to ask your boss that can help your career. (Just
don't ask them all at once - your boss is probably a busy person.)
"How do you measure success?"
Employees often forget that their performances are graded in some form or
another. In order to understand how your work is quantified, you should be
speaking the same language as your boss. Find out if your manager is only
concerned with numbers and results or if with how you achieve them also
matters, Onderick-Harvey advises. Then, you base your future work on his
or her priorities.
"What areas do I need to develop to advance my career?"
This question shows your boss you are in control of your future and are
not waiting for someone else to make things happen, Onderick-Harvey says.
If you can articulate what your career goals are, your boss can tell you
what experience you need to gain before you can move up the ladder.
"What strengths do I have that will help my career?"
Don't be so focused on looking for your weaknesses that you forget to ask
about your strong points. You might think you know what your strengths and
weaknesses are, but your boss could have a different opinion. This
question isn't an excuse to beg for a compliment; it's an opportunity to
show the boss you want to steer your own career, Onderick-Harvey says.
"How often are performance evaluations conducted and who is in charge of
Basic questions such as this one are crucial to your performance, says Dr.
Ivonne Chirino-Klevans, professor at Walden University. Understanding the
mechanics of your job should be a top priority at all times. Make sure you
know if you have quarterly or annual goals to aim for and how they impact
your daily tasks.
"What are the options for growth within the organization?"
Although you might expect this question only belongs in a job interview,
it's worth asking even after you've been employed for a few years, Chirino
says. Company structures change all the time and you should know what
opportunities are open to you if you want to advance. Once you know what
your options are, you can decide what your next move is, whether it's
aiming for a new position or looking for a job with a better future.
"Do I understand this correctly?"
When you have a project that has many components or a new set of
guidelines, be certain you have a grasp on what your task is. Tackling an
assignment without knowing you're on the right path leaves the opportunity
for a rude awakening on the due date. Check in with your boss to ensure
you understand everything the way he or she intends it. If you don't ask
the right questions, you could derail your own career even though you're
fully capable of doing the work, Chirino warns.
Caution: Use restraint when asking this question. No boss wants to repeat
himself or herself ad nauseam.
"What can I do to help you?"
This simple question is important but often forgotten, according to
executive coach Suzanne Bates. Even if you can't help, your boss will take
note of your offer. "It's lonely at the top, so if your boss sees you as
someone who wants them to succeed, you stand out."
"What is the most important priority we need to focus on?"
This question often goes unasked because employees fear appearing
incompetent. Really, it shows concern about your responsibilities and your
team's goals. When you have several ongoing projects and your boss adds
more to your workload, knowing how to prioritize grows difficult. Managers
want to hear from employees who are concerned with improving business,
says Gayle Lantz, an organizational development consultant and executive
"Can I take on this task?"
Too many employees take a laissez-faire attitude toward their careers and
relinquish control to their bosses, says career expert Dr. Rachelle J.
Canter. Bosses have their own lives to worry about, however, and don't
have time to map your future. Rather than let your career meander, look
for opportunities to prove you have initiative and leadership skills. Find
ways to build experience and gain skills that you currently lack.