Update 3rd Jul 2020

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People often feel like they shouldn’t ask certain questions for fear of being seen as stupid or lacking knowledge. Granted there may be certain circumstances in which a particular question will prompt looks of incredulity, but it’s still always best to ask. Let’s take a look at why that is and how it will help you iron out those little creases that can hinder progress.

The Purpose of Questions

Questions are asked for two key reasons: to ascertain information and to gain consent. The former is what we’re focusing on today, and it’s a key reason why there are no such things as stupid questions. By being allowing you to acquire new information a question is a key tool in aiding understanding and progressing projects.

Feeling like you shouldn’t ask something doesn’t merely save yourself from potential social embarrassment, it actually retards your progress and puts the brakes on your ability to learn.

The Dangers of Not Asking

The problem with not asking a question is that you’ll end up dwelling on it before deciding to fill in the blanks yourself. There will be plenty of occasions when this will waste a bit of time but still enable you to figure out the right answer. That however is not the end of the story.

If you come to the wrong conclusion and then mistakenly use it as the basis for future decisions you can end up with a whole load of wasted time and effort on your hands. This not only delays projects and waste resources, it can also have a damaging trickle down effect…

Unanswered Questions Can Spread

Well, the results of them can anyway. If one member of a team avoids clarifying a simple point of order or technical definition and then decides to fill in the gaps themselves you may not think that this is a big deal. Surely before long someone will put them right?

The problem with this is that it is all too easy for an incorrect idea or an absence of information to become the default pattern of thinking for an entire team. Getting a group of people to row back and re-evaluate what they think they know can be an arduous and drawn out task. And it’s certainly one that will take orders of magnitude longer than asking a simple question in the first place.

How to Combat Feeling Stupid

When you’re asking someone more senior than you to clarify something it’s natural to feel a little hesitant as you don’t want to be seen as someone who is off the pace. The secret here is to remember that there will be plenty of other people around the table who will be glad that you asked the question.

They may not have been pondering it for sometime like you have, but that just means they don’t self-scrutinise their knowledge to the same extent. Provided you get the right information it doesn’t matter about being seen as stupid. Just focus on building your understanding and before you know it you’ll be the person people come to for clarification and explanation…

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