I’ve always been the quiet one—the one who stands on the sidelines, the one who goes with the flow, and most importantly the one who doesn’t ask questions. For a long time this stance on life has treated me well, and kept me out of trouble.
But ever since I spent two months travelling around the backwoods of Arizona with a group of people – unafraid to ask for anything and everything – I’ve considered altering my quiet persona.
From mid-March to mid-May of this past year I was on assignment working for Arizona State Parks. I was traveling in a fifteen-passenger van packed with everything from trail tools to camping supplies; plus enough clothing and personal gear to keep eleven people functioning and happy no matter what the trip threw at us. Our weather conditions varied from hundred degree work days to twenty degree frost-covered mornings as we travelled through ten different state parks in the Arizona park system. The work, the travel, and the stress were a rollercoaster worthy of even the most dedicated thrill seeker.
But the ten people riding along with me were of an indomitable spirit. They took what could have been a very rough experience for all of us and made the two month project an amazing and unforgettable journey, all through the cunning use of questions.
“Can I have that?”
“Can we have some?”
Unabashedly, my co-workers used these phrases and other like them to get us an overwhelming collection of free stuff. From t-shirts to food, to walking sticks, to hats; if our travelling van hadn’t seemed laden down when we started, it certainly was bulging at the seams when we returned. Every new location provided new opportunities to my ambitious team. And it didn’t stop at the stuff.
The questions branched into “Are we allowed to…?” and “Can you show us?” which opened the door to tours and plane rides and undisclosed hiking trails, all of which we happily explored to our hearts content. Once they got people talking, the folks we encountered were always happy to point us in the direction of fun and exploration. It seemed like we were trading our service time for insider secrets on the best places to see and visit in the small towns surrounding the parks we worked in.
The last set of questions I heard with regularity surprised me every time. “What’s your story?” and “Will you teach us?” No matter how many new characters we met during our travels, my team never seemed to lose interest in the stories. We’d sit and listen or explain what we were doing in the parks, ever content so long as the exchange of information continued, the questions flowing. They laughed, they learned, and they weren’t afraid to reap the rewards gained through their never ending litany of questions.
At the time my appreciation for their questions was limited, my predominant reaction being annoyance. The stream was really never-ending. But with the proper distance and reflection, I’ve come around. Present-day-job-searching-me is now reconsidering the potential of this seemingly inconsequential communication device.
The question, in all its shapes and forms, is a very important and somewhat underrated networking tool. Its many uses can include promoting conversation, opening doors, projecting interest and curiosity, making connections. I have been trying to employ it more and more in my daily life.
Even if a store doesn’t have a ‘now hiring’ sign up it can’t hurt to ask, right? Maybe they haven’t had the chance to put an ad out. Maybe they know someone else who is hiring.
From what I’ve gathered about networking (though I’ve never really gotten the hang of it), the idea is to put out feelers. To ask questions that can help me identify connections I was previously unaware of and use those
connections to find the hiring manager in charge of my dream job. Asking questions helps me to put my foot in the door and let people know that I have arrived. Or at least that I’d like to arrive sometime in the near future.
Now if only there was a guidebook to help me find the right questions…