Is your attitude subtly toxic?

Lack of doubt and overconfidence are toxic to your career. A curious mind, on the other hand, is invaluable in business and a healthy sense of doubt is one of the most important characteristics of effective people. People in power know that learning and growth starts with questions. We pay attention to the questions you ask in job interviews and meetings.

Questions like these really matter and change people’s lives (from big to small):

What should I do with my life? Is this job a good fit for me? Where am I going in my job this year? How valuable is my work to the company? What will I accomplish this quarter? Am I getting enough feedback and guidance from my boss? Am I on track this month? How does this work? Why? How could I improve this? What can I learn from this? Am I prepared for my conference call this afternoon?

a curious mind is invaluable in businessHow do I know when a new member of the team is unlikely to work out? It’s usually someone who asks few questions during training, then sits down to work and charges ahead with full confidence (usually doing the wrong thing) without checking in for feedback until I request an update.

Some people are naturally more curious than others — but forget about that because you can create your own healthy sense of doubt with practice. Our minds generally do what we ask them to – ask and ye shall receive.

So use this checklist:

  1. Hang a list of daily questions for yourself in your bedroom and/or your office.
  2. Put questions in locations that will remind you at the right time in the right place. I keep a card on my monitor that says “Prepared? Specific enough? Documented?” No, it doesn’t always work, but I’m still a little better with the reminder than without.
  3. Ask yourself “What am I missing? What other possibilities are there? What consequences might flow from this? Consider a longer list of options and try to include some wacky ones. Get outside your comfort zone for a moment.
  4. Spill your guts. When you’re tempted to ask something but feel inhibited or fearful about asking, pay close attention – it’s usually a question that needs asking. Just ask. You’ll find the cost of not asking is almost always higher.

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  • jazzee

    When it comes to having to keep a job to pay for bills, changing your attitude is worth while. I know for me, it always seemed that I have had an attitude even though I didn’t even care about the task at hand. However, a way that I am handling my personality towards is by changing my interests. Now, l listen to nonexplicit music and read a quote about how to have a good life.

  • Courtney

    This article hits a very important part of an interview or job training. It is imperative to ask questions, not only to learn more about what you are doing, but it also helps to prove that you are listening. I usually try to think about what I want to know before I go in for the interview, and then I try to come up with a good question. This is something that I have struggled with in the past. Asking questions and asking for feedback are very important.

  • Zender

    This is one of my greater weaknesses. Although I have been relatively successful in my work experience, I always have more questions than I believe are appropriate for the situation of being shown what to do. I have often felt that firing the barrage of questions from my mind will be insulting to the ability of the trainer to train effectively. Yet after a few weeks of asking my questions when they come to mind, rather than when I am confronted with a related issue, I see that my previous introverted state of mind was an inverted view of authority. Strangely enough, it is allowing me to relate to my superiors more effectively. If I can continue on this path, I believe I may get a pay raise sometime in the near future. Thank you, Eric.

  • Shelby Ankrum

    I absolutely love this topic. It perfectly outlines how to do what I had trouble with for awhile when I first started working. I didn’t want to get in the way of my bosses and end up being more of a nuisance than I was a valuable team member. I learned the hard way through repeated mistakes.

    Now I now that asking questions is not only a good thing, it’s imperative. As the article says, ” …the cost of not asking questions is almost always higher.” Contrary to most peoples’ beliefs, your boss would much rather take a bombardment of questions than have to clean up after you at the end of a long day. If all your questions are answered and you clearly understand the tasks you have been set forth to do, your success rate will be much higher and you will be noticed for it.

    Asking questions to an authority figure takes some guts for most people. With that being said, doing so will prove to your boss(es) that are mature and confident and actually give a hoot about getting the job done right! Nothing makes you stand out more than completing your tasks in such a way that your boss thinks you actually care about the company and where it goes.

    You can be that employee just by asking a few questions when you don’t understand. This guide is an excellent tool to help you start doing that.

  • C. Yuds

    Asking questions is inherently related to “the courage of stupidity”, a concept I learn in a Group Dynamics course. Often, our own fear of looking dumb inhibits our ability to understand the task or material that has been presented to us. It takes a certain integrity and bravery to speak up and express that there are things that we still have to learn.

    I was once in a class in which all members were discussing stereotyping and racism. I was confused about how we were defining some of the terms being used, but knowing that racism is such an emotionally charged topic, I was fearful to speak up, worrying that my classmates would judge me as ignorant if I did. However, I finally managed to gain the backbone to voice my confusion; the members of my class listened and then patiently explained their stance to me, deepening my appreciation of the topic at hand as well as my peers’ perspectives on it and experiences of it. I owe this profound social learning experience to the courage to look foolish.

    I am appreciative of the insight I gained from this article, that the same bravery needed to ask these kinds of questions is also the key to success in the workplace.

  • While working at a daycare is often telling kids what to do or what not to do, it is also learning from them what we could work on in ourselves as well. For example, when a child is continuously misbehaving or not listening, instead of getting angry, I sometimes have to approach them in a different light. This child obviously needs the extra love and attention so I try to change my attitude about handling the situation, which is usually through anger or frustration. Instead I try to facilitate their extra energy into something useful such as helping me out with a project or completing a special task. This has the child respond to me in a, wanting to help the teacher, type of attitude. I notice that when my attitude changes, so does the childs’. A child usually mirrors my attitudes and behaviors. This is a great example in all aspects of the workforce. Usually we come face to face with our own attitude problem in the workplace when we are refusing to grow and learn as an individual from our mistakes. When I first started working I constantly had to ask questions of my training buddy on what to do in certain situational encounters with the kids. By asking these questions early on I was more easily able to meet these new situations head on by myself. Learning any kind of training requires a basic knowledge of the training itself before trying to apply it firsthand.

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  • thinktwice

    Is your attitude subtly toxic? offers some very helpful suggestions. My boss is extremely busy and so his time is very valuable. I have learned to take a pen and paper into his office with questions prepared in advance so that we are able to discuss the topics that really matter before his next meeting or interruption. As an employee, being able to ask, “What am I missing”, or “What consequences might flow from this?” is particularly useful given that all of the correspondence I write for his signature, or simple emails can be accessed through public records requests. Taking time to re-read and think about the checklist mentioned in this article will save much heartburn and even embarrasement. My job as an employee, is to make my bosses job easier. It is best to never assume that you know what your boss is, or is not thinking. Like point number 4, when in doubt….. always ask.

  • Kairat

    This article is very insightful and helpful because it posses an interesting topic: asking questions and how to ask them. I have always been shy and I am not the one to start a conversation, but if I get curious about something or someone questions start to flow out of my mouth. Curiosity is an important quality any person can have and it is important to nurture it. Asking questions is the easiest way to sate that curiosity, but it is equally important to be careful what kinds of questions are permissible. In the workplace it is vital to keep private questions out, unless the relationship with the other person is very close. Asking questions about the job, how to perform tasks, ask for suggestions, and so on is essential to learn to do the job well and accurately. There is a saying I like and it goes “there are no stupid questions”. Most of our questions have answers and the more questions answered the more knowledgeable a person becomes.

  • I have found asking questions to be the best thing in life. From a young age, I would ask my mother everything that came to mind and if she didn’t know the answer, she would say “look it up.” So, I did! I looked it all up! Now I am just a sponge of weird information and people come to me for answers to strange questions. I have spent a great deal of time building myself a “name” and a network in just this way, because you can never know all the answers! I always ask more questions and I find this is a perfect way to engage on social network sites. Not only does it show that you are listening and interested, but it shows your level of knowledge and commitment to the topic and the people. 🙂

  • JessyFedo

    I enjoyed this article. I believe questions clarify information and help a person to understand the task. It’s important to remember you don’t know everything.

  • aojnak

    I find that asking questions is the best possible way to understand the job even more. No matter how awkward or silly the question may sound, it gives the individual something to remember, then just to go about their job. For me, when I had started new jobs I asked many questions, even if I already knew the answers, I still asked just for the clarification. There are some that think they do not need to ask a question and those are the one who tend to mess things up or do something wrong. If you are not asking questions you are not really learning, and with questions you keep the communication factor alive, as well too. I have had to train some people in previous jobs and they would never ask a question and just do what they felt was right until it was time to check on them, and things were all messed up and wrong. I had asked them “well why did you not ask me?” And the replies were “I thought I knew what I was doing” or to some degree like that. I had learned that asking questions is not a bad idea, when I had done exactly what the trainees had done “I thought I knew how to do this.” So I can understand and agree with this article very much so, and will use it for the next person I have to train, and for my own personal well-being.

  • mona

    I ask a lot of questions of myself and others, and it doesn’t seem to help. I think it intimidates people when I ask the difficult questions

  • ESTHER SILVER

    I ask a lot of questions at work and it seems to annoy management. I believe that if you don’t ask you will never know

  • Ljhenderson

    I have seen many new employees tell the veterens employees “I KNOWWW thatttt, you don’t have to tell me”  these are the ones that are gone in a matter of a couple of weeks.

  • Evanfleet2

    I can certainly understand how questioning can be important in the work place. I work in a library, and often there are days when I work on projects without supervision. That’s why whenever I start a new project I speak up. I make sure to ask the person teaching me a new skill to double check all of the steps of the process  to make sure I’m working correctly. It saves everyone a lot of time and effort to do things right from the beginning!

    I have also dealt with people who have had this subtly toxic attitude, someone who wound up going straight to work without a clear idea of the project. I usually wound up spending the first part of my shift cleaning up his mistakes! Once we had a serious discussion and I helped him with some questions, his work improved dramatically. It’s all really about communication- we can’t have a smoothly running workplace if one person is confused and won’t ask for help.

  • Kwils112

    While overconfidence can make you seem cocky, often times, it’s a lack of confidence that will leave you without a job. Employers want to be able to trust their employees, and how can they do that if the employee doesn’t trust his or her own instincts? You should always trust yourself before taking on a big task! 

    However, employers often like an employee who will ask questions and make sure that the job is done correctly. Believe in yourself and have a full understanding for what you’re doing, and you will go far in life!

  • nadanylee

    This article is amazingly accurate and helpful. I can actually see this principles taking place throughout my work experience!
    I am currently a personal assistant for the owner of a small but very successful business. However, it is interesting to note that I started out as a tutor for the family and then a baby sitter and then an errand runner and now, here I am, a personal assistant. When I look back at what helped me make these advancements and also what may have prohibited some advancements I can see the above topic coming into play.
    When an individual first begins working a new job it is easy to see why they would be intimidated to ask questions, especially ones that are seemingly obvious or simple. However, I have learned that, as the article said, when you are tempted to ask something it usually needs asked. When it comes to working hard and doing your best any direction helps. So, whether it’s a simple question or an awkward question it’s usually best to go ahead and ask – plus it will save you the stress of having to wing it and hope you guessed correctly.
    This article gave me some great insight from an employers perspective. I also learned some great tips that will not only help me be a more attentive and thorough employee but also a more efficient manifest-er!

  • dunc

    I enjoyed reading this article. With the competitive workforce that I will be entering, having healthy doubt allows for a person to reason, apply critical thinking skills to all situations, and allows for broader thinking. I think employers want to see an assertive employee however, they also appreciate one that is humble and prepared, as well as able to take criticism and bounce back with solutions. Having healthy self doubt balances out ones over self confidence and complements negative self doubt, creating a better employee. 

  • Lisa Young

    This is an important article for my
    own personal development because I have a history of too much self-doubt. A
    certain amount of self-doubt is essential to maintaining a good balance in my
    professional and educational endeavors. Too much self-doubt will result in over
    thinking projects and assignments. An effective employees and students need to
    have a balance of self-doubt and self-confidence in order to be successful in
    life. The list of suggestions provided by this article is helpful for people
    who lack self-doubt. However, I worry that a person, who may have too much self-doubt,
    these steps may make things worse. For example, point number 4; Spill your
    guts. I am notorious for spilling my guts too often. I feel that this is from a
    lack of confidence.

  • Charina Sullins

    Beginning my first real job as an admissions calling assistant asking questions was very important. I made sure to ask as many questions as possible so that I knew I was doing the best job possible. When I made a mistake or was not sure about a certain section of the work I was doing I would get in touch with my boss right away and double check. Asking questions is very important so that the work can get done quicker and the correct way. 

  • Elyssaq7

    It is very important to be curious and to not be overly confident about everything that you do. In questioning yourself, your job, your life, and many other things, you can learn a lot about yourself and how to be successful and do things right. If you are overconfident, you can’t learn from mistakes, be as reasonable, or make the necessary changes in your life, jobs or relationships. No one is perfect and everyone has room to grow and change, so you have to be able to question yourself and peole around you.

  • Irmarodriguez93

    Amazing article! As I read this article it quickly reminded me
    of myself. I work at Village Inn (a restaurant) and have been there for a year
    and three months. For the first few months I would always toss the questions I
    had back and forth; thinking I would look and sound naive if I asked certain
    questions. After about five months I began to ask plenty questions many would say
    I wanted to know everything that was going on. My response was “Exactly! You
    have to know everything so you can be an outstanding employee. ” By the grace
    of God I learned everything about the restaurant including every position. As
    of now I am next in line for management, all thanks to my hunger for knowledge.
    To be honest as I finished my first semester of going to school, work, and
    church I let my doubt take over. I have had an abundance of question that I
    never asked because I was afraid to “Spill my guts out”. However reading this article
    has motivated me not only to ask these questions but make those questions and
    answers into actions.

  • lrt805

    I believe this is a very important lesson in life. I try to ask as many questions on a daily basis, especially when it comes to intellectual conversations. When I was in high school, I worked as an intern at UCSB’s Marine Science Institute, where I did graduate-level research. The professor of the lab was my mentor, and whenever he gave me directions on how to work with the lab’s chemicals, I would always ask questions. Even though he is a well-known professor, I tried to hold my own by asking questions. It was not necessarily doubt, but rather curiosity and to make sure I completed my tasks correctly. The sense of doubt worked in my favor because there was one time when he told me to pour five grams of chemical into my solution, but I remembered reading that the solution need ten grams. I showed him my source of information, and he later saw that it was true.

  • Michael Lin

    Awesome article! Reason being that it translates to all other spectrums of life: education, work, or life-wise. Currently a college-kid enrolled at the University of Texas at San Antonio, I often find myself wondering about the direction I’m taking on this crazy, winding road in my life adventure. Asking the right questions directs me out of potholes and other obstructions. This article only reinforces my confidence that my life will bear great fruits with the necessary preparation. 

    I appreciate the time taken to formulate these tips, because personally speaking, it has already helped. Thanks. 

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About the author

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In 1997, Eric Shannon launched the first job board for bilinguals who speak English/Spanish at LatPro.com. Eric still serves as CEO of LatPro Inc., developer of JustJobs.com. He lives in Boulder, CO with his wife and two girls.

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