No Such Thing as a Dumb Question?  

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We frequently hear that there is no such thing as a dumb question. It’s a statement we ourselves like to make as well. But is this something we really mean and believe in 100%? I still see situations, when people are made feel dumb for asking a question, the answer to which may seem obvious to some others in the room. There is a lot of stigma in our society around not knowing something. That’s why anytime the floor is open to questions at a meeting or another event, most of us are either in hiding or spend our time and mental energy thinking up a “good” question to pose instead of freely asking for what we really need and want to know.

What happens to people when they are afraid to appear dumb?

  • To minimize any risk, they stop asking questions which in its turn equals to the lost learning opportunities and a slower growth. Potentially this can lead to creating a lower quality product or service. As a result, everyone suffers, including the customer.
  • The consequences of keeping it to ourselves could even be graver. I have known cases when people got themselves in potentially dangerous situations just because they were afraid to raise a question about the safety of the task at hand. The price of this silence could have been a terrible accident or a long term health damage. Is it really worth it?
  • When the culture of stigmatizing knowledge gaps persists, the long terms effect of it is resignation. Even if people don’t physically leave the workplace, they mentally check out and detach themselves from what is happening. They stop caring or having feelings about their surroundings and only go through the motions. A bunch of lukewarm people can be detrimental to any workplace!

I want us to overcome the fear of appearing ignorant and still ask. Here are three reasons why:

  1. It happened to me so many times that I was debating with myself whether or not to ask a certain question. When I finally did, it turned out that there were other people in the room who also wanted to know the answer but were afraid to raise their hand. So by being brave and asking your “dumb” question you might be doing a huge favor, helping the less knowledgeable audience members expand their knowledge.
  2. If you are asking someone a question in their area of expertise, it is well understood that you are not an expert in their field and clearly have not spent as much time as they did studying it. Good experts normally acknowledge that and do not mind at all to share a more digestible version of their study results.
  3. Even if you are an expert in your area you cannot possibly be expected to know everything about everything. For example, after working for many years in the field of Quality Management I can attest that no single position or job description gives you experience if all possible aspects of this profession. It’s only natural for you to be well-versed in the areas you deal with on daily basis and be less proficient in some other, less common areas. So it is not a sign of ignorance, but, to the contrary, a sign of inquisitive mind to ask the questions when you come across a bigger expert than yourself.

So next time, when you are about to give someone “the look” for asking a “dumb” question, remember that the tables could turn around one day and you might become the one facing the dilemma of whether or not you should ask. The answer is – yes you should.  And to guarantee that your question is not dumb in any way, make sure to carefully listen carefully to all previously given answers and check out the Frequently Asked Questions section if one is available and  After that, you can be certain that there is no such thing as a dumb question.

Have you ever asked or were asked a question you thought was dumb? How did you deal with it?

 

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11 Comments

  1. In my late teens I was always faced with the dilemma of whether or not to ask the potentially dumb question. And every time I was too shy to ask 🙁

  2. It is very difficult to break that silence in a room full of your peers after a speaker makes the request for any questions from the group?…… I have been embarrassed in the past for asking those “stupid” questions and from those experiences I’ve learned a technique that allows me to ask my “stupid” question without being singled out. When I’m faced with this situation I frame my question as if I’m asking on behalf of the group. “It might benefit the group if you could explain _______ in further detail” or “When you mentioned your strategy for ______ it might be helpful for the group if you could clarify….? That way I get the answer to my question and by including the group I’m not singled out. Win-Win!

    1. This is a wonderfully useful technique all of our readers can benefit from. What else has happened to me in the past was that – after debating with myself I would go ahead and ask the “stupid” question at my own risk only to have others from the audience come to me later and thank me for asking it :).

  3. I still find myself keeping my questions to myself from time to time in order to avoid a certain type of reaction. Some of the suggestions given here help.

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