Asking Questions: The value of asking politely

I have made much in these pages about the importance of asking clear questions: here, for example.  And seriously, who can argue?  Unclear questions bemuse the client and frustrate your team when the answer given by the bemused ones is, itself, unclear or unhelpful.

But it isn’t enough to be clear.   More is needed.

There are two objectives when asking questions:

  • Task objective – One is to get information you need, to clarify an ambiguity, or to correct an error in the RFP.
  • Relationship objective – One is to let the client know that you will be good to work with: professional, respectful, helpful.  Begin as you mean to continue, and all that.

Asking clearly and early are essential for the first objective; asking politely is essential for the second.

Ask politely

Don’t be rude.  Don’t be condescending.  Don’t be snooty. Don’t be impatient.  Don’t be overbearing.  Don’t attack the client’s competence or integrity.  Don’t make threats, veiled or otherwise.

In short, don’t be a jerk.

You might think it would go without saying.

You’d be wrong.

The story

Working on a lessons-learned contract in a government department, I came across some questions from a participant in the earlier bid process.  Yikes.  They did everything but say to the government, “What?  Are you stupid?”

I went over to the contracting officer and said, “Umm, were these really submitted like this?”

“Oh, yes.”

“What was he thinking?” I asked, preferring not to refer to the submitter by name.  I’d met him around and about, but didn’t really know him.

The contracting officer shrugged.  “He was drunk.”

All right then.

Whether the cause of your temporary disaffection with your client is inebriation or aggravation, let it go when writing questions.

And then get someone else to review your questions for tone.

 

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