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How do you ask a question you should already know the answer to?

This happens to me a lot: I start a new job, and the person who’s training me mentions something in passing (“You’ll also use these for the RF reports when I pass that task over to you”). I don’t ask for clarification because things are moving fast, and our focus is on something else, and honestly, my head is spinning with the amount of new information I’m absorbing. Often I don’t even remember the reference.

Passivity Makes Problems Worse

Then it’s two years later. There was a period when I was too new for anyone to explain to me about the RF reports, and then there was a period when I’d been here so long that naturally, I must know all about the RF reports — I never seem to catch the moment when it would be the right time to ask!

I know the solution to the problem at hand: I have to ask someone, no matter how awkward it feels or how much I feel that I’m losing face professionally because I don’t already have that information.

What I want to know is, is there a way to prevent this from happening? Since it’s happened to me in nearly every job I’ve ever had, surely the common factor must be something I’m doing wrong. How do I avoid having these gaps in my knowledge?

Perception is Everything

It can be hard to catch it when it’s first mentioned in the type of moment you described — when training is moving quickly, and you’re already overwhelmed. The key, I think, is to believe that that’s normal, and that’s there’s absolutely nothing wrong with realizing a week or two later (or even longer), “Oh crap, I have no idea what these RF reports are” and asking someone. It sounds like the crux of the problem here isn’t that you’re missing things initially — because that’s normal in a new job — but that you’re not asking once you spot it because you feel like your window of opportunity has closed. It hasn’t!

If it’s just been a week or two, all you have to say is, “I realized that I’m not clear on what RF reports are. Can you go over that with me?”

Practice Accountability

If it’s been long and you feel like it might not look great that it’s taken you this long, then you own that! Say something like, “I realize I should have gotten this clarified by now, but with everything else I was learning, I somehow didn’t! Can you show me how to use RF reports?” If it’s been a long time, own it even more: “I can’t believe I don’t know this, but somehow I never learned what RF reports were when I was being trained.”

This is normal! It happens to everyone. It’s not going to make you look foolish unless you start covering up that you don’t know what they are — which can cause real problems and will reflect poorly on you in a way that none of the above will!

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