Asking the Right Questions: The Key to Effective Assistance

For many Assistants, most of your day involves asking questions, seeking status updates, negotiating with colleagues and suppliers, and clarifying processes and procedures. Yet, despite the frequency of these interactions, many of you don’t realise how important it is for Assistants to intentially ask questions as part of your role. We are often considered the people in the office with all the answers and can sometimes worry that we are not entirely on top of everything we do if we ask questions.

That perception couldn’t be further from the truth. Asking the right questions is a massive benefit to Assistants, and I’m here to tell you it is a skill that can be refined and, ultimately, a powerful tool that can make you a much more effective Assistant. This skill can enhance your efficiency and boost your Executive’s productivity when mastered.

The Power of Questions

According to the Harvard Business Review, questioning is a powerful tool that unlocks immense value within organisations. It:

  • Spurs learning and the exchange of ideas.
  • Fuels innovation and performance improvement.
  • Builds rapport and trust among team members.
  • Mitigates business risks by uncovering unforeseen challenges.

For Assistants, asking the right questions ensures alignment with your Executives, saving time and eliminating confusion about assigned tasks.

Scenarios and Questions to Consider

  1. Clarifying Tasks in Meetings: When your Executive assigns tasks during a meeting, it’s crucial to understand the what and why. Here are some clarifying questions:
    • Can you explain why that matters?
    • What do you mean by…?
    • How do you envision the outcome?
    • Did I understand you correctly when you said…?
  2. Reviewing Executive Schedules: To optimise your Executive’s time, consider these questions:
    • When do you feel most productive?
    • Are your meetings often running over time?
    • Which individuals or meetings consume most of your time? Should they?
    • Are there tasks or projects you’d like to allocate more time to?
  3. Scheduling External Meetings: When someone outside your Executive circle requests a meeting, ensure you gather all necessary details:
    • Who is chairing this meeting?
    • What’s the agenda and objective?
    • Who will be attending?
    • Are there any supporting documents or potential challenges to be aware of?
Meeting Agenda for Assistants and Executives

1:1 Meeting Template

The template you need to maximise the time spent with your Executive.

Questions to Ask a New Executive

Use this guide to work in sync with your Executive from day one.

So, if we agree that asking questions is essential in the Assistant role, how do we improve this skill? Here are the areas you can work on that will enhance your ability to ask good, effective questions. 

Active Listening

Active listening is the foundation of effective questioning. It’s so easy to think you are listening to your colleagues and Executives talking, but lately, if you are thinking about a ton of other things, you are not really listening. You must resist the urge to assume you know what’s being said or to mentally formulate your next question. Instead, you should remain fully engaged, ensuring you don’t miss crucial details.

Overcoming the Fear of Asking

As I wrote at the beginning of this article, many Assistants hesitate to ask questions, fearing they might reflect a lack of knowledge or capability. However, seeking clarity is a sign of professionalism, not weakness. While reading the room and understanding the dynamics is essential, you should never shy away from asking pertinent questions, especially when representing your Executive.

Preparing Questions in Advance

Preparation is key. Before meetings, you should review agendas, anticipate potential discussion points, and formulate relevant questions. This proactive approach boosts confidence and ensures that questions are concise and to the point. 

The Power of Curiosity in One-on-One Interactions

One-on-one interactions with Executives offer a brilliant opportunity for you to be genuinely curious about what is happening in your team or the Organisation. By seeking to understand your Executive’s goals, preferences, and aspirations, you can foster a deeper partnership, which in turn will drive mutual growth and success.

Questioning is more than just a task—it’s a skill that, when mastered, can significantly enhance an Assistant’s effectiveness.

By actively listening, preparing in advance, and embracing curiosity, Assistants can be much more effective in their role, ensuring they and their executives thrive. Consider enrolling in the Strategic Business Partner online course to hone these skills further and elevate your strategic partner role. It’s time to take your capabilities to the next level and become an indispensable asset to your Organisation. So, be bold, be curious, and never stop asking the right questions.