It has always amazed me how the simplest of questions are never answered – they “never go answered”. The reason, I have observed, is not that the questions are absurd, but mostly because the questions are never asked. We have all heard the old adage of “there is no such thing as a dumb question”. My corollary to this is that the dumbest (and yes, some are very smart questions) are the ones that never get asked.
Many years ago, my wonderfully brilliant grandmother from Argentina told me “el no’ ya lo tienes” or in English, “the no you already have.” Meaning if you never ask the question, the answer is already no; and, if the answer is already no, then why not ask the question? What’s the worst that can happen – you’ll get a “no” as a response. In the fine words of the song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from the Monty Python film Life of Brian – “you came from nothing, you went back to nothing, what have you lost, nothing!” But in many cases, the answer is not “no”. Are you following me?
We see this daily in our efforts as Business Counselors for the SBTDC. Smart people come to us thinking they already have the answer to a question; but in reality, they have only what they think is the answer (you don’t know what you don’t know, right?). Here is simple example: Recently, a client was having difficulties getting payment from an overseas customer, and their cash-flow situation was being challenged as a result. I asked, “what are you doing about it?” They had sent emails demanding immediate payment and received excuses as to why they could not pay the entire invoice. My next question was then, “did you try to get them to pay something now and perhaps get the remainder in payments in order to supplement your cash?” The answer did not surprise me. The client said that he did not think that would be possible since they were not in a position to pay the entire invoice, and so did not bother to ask. They already had the “NO” answer. I then suggested, “why don’t you contact them with an offer to pay the invoice over time?” Within a few days, I received a call from this client thanking me for my advice. They had just received payment for 40% of the invoice and the remainder to be paid in two equal payments each 30 days apart. Again, this may be a simple example, but it shows how my grandmother’s advice applies to both personal and business life
In fact (although not scientifically ascertained), one of the questions I ask most is, “Did you ask?”
“My burger was well done” – Did you ask if you can have that burger medium please?
“I’m buying more at the regular price” – Did you ask for a volume discount?
“I was late because I could not find the location” – Did you ask for directions?
“I have a hard time reducing inventory” – Did you ask to lower the minimum quantity amount?
“Purchasing inventory is putting a strain on cash-flow” – Did you ask to received credit terms?
“My latest employee did not work out” – Did you ask for references?
The list of un-asked questions goes on and on. When? Where? Why? What? How? Let us revert back to the days of our youth when we incessantly asked “why?” regardless of the topic. Therefore, the next time you are in a situation that begs the asking of a question – Remember “the no you already have,” and ask the question.