Questions. They seem like they should be fairly straightforward, right? If you need clarification about something, you just ask.
Well, not so fast. Effectively asking questions involves a little more thought and consideration than simply blurting out the first inquiry that comes to your mind.
Yes, there are a few common traps that many of us fall into when it comes to asking questions. And, these mistakes make it that much harder to get a clear answer. Here are five that you should avoid.
1. Asking a Question That Was Just Answered
You’ve likely been in this situation before: You’ve taken great care to outline a concept in detail. As soon as you wrap up your spiel, someone asks about something that was quite literally just thoroughly explained.
It’s frustrating, isn’t it? But, chances are, you’ve been guilty of that same mistake once or twice yourself.
We all have the tendency to zone out every now and then. However, make your best effort to stay engaged in the conversation—especially when it’s on a topic you’re fuzzy about. That way you can be sure to ask questions that actually help to clear up confusion, rather than cause frustration.
Related: The One Question You Should Never Ask Your Team
2. Asking About Something Completely Irrelevant
This mistake is particularly detrimental in meetings, when people are aiming to stay focused and get back to their desks sooner rather than later.
Perhaps a conversation about that month’s sales report suddenly reminds you that you’ve been meaning to ask about the graphics for next week’s presentation—and you think now is the perfect time to jump in with a friendly nudge.
Your desire to stay on top of things is admirable. But, ultimately, you’ll only derail the conversation in your meeting and provide a distraction from the topic at hand.
Instead, jot down a note for yourself to check in on that soon after. You’ll still get that task accomplished, without pulling everybody way off track.
3. Asking Questions That Aren’t Questions
Yes, this point seems strange at first—how could you possibly ask a question that isn’t real?
But, take a minute to think, and you’ll probably come up with numerous times when you’ve encountered this very faux pas.
We all have the tendency to disguise our opinions as genuine inquiries. Imagine any sentence that follows the phrase, “Don’t you think you should…” and you’ll see how prevalent this can be.
So, before you spit it out, take a minute to ensure that it’s actually a question—and not just a statement masquerading as one.
Related: How to Question Everything Without Being Annoying (Going With the Flow Is Costing You)
4. Asking Questions That Are Ambiguous
If you want a clear answer, you need to ask a clear question. Yes, sometimes context is necessary. But, if you catch yourself rambling endlessly while sprinkling numerous different things throughout, you’re only going to confuse that other person.
Do your best to avoid a ton of ambiguity and ask a concise and direct question. That’ll make it that much easier to get the answer you need in return.
While you’re at it, only speak up with one question at a time. After you get that response, present your next one. Throwing too many things out there at once will overwhelm everybody—including you.
5. Asking the Wrong Person
No matter how direct, polite, and succinct your question is, it simply won’t matter if you’re asking the completely wrong person. All too often, it can be tempting to head to the most convenient person with your ask—as opposed to the best person.
As with any communication, it’s important for you to consider your audience first and foremost. So, take the time to figure out who’s the best fit to answer you.
If you’re not sure who to approach with your inquiry? Well, that’s the very first thing you need to ask!
Related: 5 Steps to Becoming an Expert Communicator
Asking questions seems like it should be simple enough—after all, you’ve done it ever since you can remember. However, asking effectively involves a little more thought and care. Use these five tips, and you’re sure to take your skills up a notch!
This article was originally published on Inc. It has been republished here with permission.