Nobody likes feeling stupid, but stupid questions are often really important. Learn about some fivef reasons why it is useful, important even, to ask seemingly stupid questions in this guide (audio version available here).
Keep reading to learn more.
The fear of stupid questions
Let’s talk about stupid questions.
Everyone wants to look good, especially in front of others. We have this innate need to make a good impression on others and have others think highly of us. This need for approval is part of our core programming, our survival mechanism, one that’s been passed down for hundreds of years.
There’s a problem with that though – our primitive ancestors needed the social approval for survival which thankfully we don’t. Even if we did, something as small as asking a question would rarely ever, if ever, have any significant impact on our ability to fit in with others.
Our need for acceptance often goes too far and makes little to no sense, even to the extent where it can actually cause us more harm than good. Hesitating about asking questions is a prime example of this. If you’ve even been in a talk, meeting, workshop or seminar you will have noticed that most people do not opt for asking questions. You may have done that yourself, talked yourself out of asking a question, mainly because you didn’t want to come across as someone who doesn’t know.
This may seem trivial but the impact of this adds up, because based on the situation and the thing you needed clarity on, it can cause a small or a big difference in your life, and work.
Asking seemingly stupid questions, at the end of the day, can do you more good than bad. Here are some great reasons why you should ask the questions that you hesitate asking because you worry that they might be a stupid question.
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Five reasons why asking stupid questions is smart
- It is extremely likely that the question is not stupid at all. We humans have this extra sensitivity to what is right and what is not, especially when it comes to maintaining our social standing. But this is often more biased and sensitive than it needs to be, especially when you consider the fact that no one can know everything. It’s ok to not have all the answers, no one does.
- The most important one is the fact that it helps clarify things for you. Having clarity means you can make the most of things and do increases the probability of doing your best. On the other hand lack of clarity can cause confusion, waste time and resources and can also cause problems and errors. If you want to do well and make the most of the information you are getting, you need clarity
- It helps clarify things for others. Most people are scared of asking questions that seem obvious as no one wants to seem stupid, but this can cause mass confusion. In that sense you’re doing a public service and maybe even an act of kindness for your friends and the others.
- It stops you from making mistakes and assuming the wrong thing. Making incorrect assumptions like Amsterdam being the capital of Germany makes you seem a lot more stupid than asking what the capital of Germany is, won’t you agree?
- What other people think is not really any of your concern. You can’t let what other people might think about what you do, especially when it comes to doing something as simple and small as asking a question, determine how you live your life. So even in the highly unlikely scenario that you are right and the question really is an obvious one, you should still ask it, especially if it will have a positive impact on your understanding of something.
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You should never just assume anything. If in doubt it is always better to ask, even if you think it might make you seem stupid. Not knowing is much better than knowing the wrong thing, or assuming you know without actually checking the facts – like the people who believe that the earth is flat, or how climate change isn’t real.
Truly smart people are those who clarify things in order to know for a fact what’s what, as opposed to people who assume things because they are worried about what others might think of them.
Often the seemingly stupid and obvious questions can help you get immensely useful insights. And then there’s also the fact that what seems obvious to you might not to be obvious to others. So a question that seems stupid to you might not be as stupid as you might assume others think, if at all. More often than not others might actually appreciate you asking the question, maybe because no one really had the guts to ask it or maybe because it just did not occur to the others.
The point is, what you think of as a stupid question is often nothing more than your overactive defense mechanism trying to protect your ego from getting hurt. The reality nearly always is very different. And even if it was not, even if the question genuinely is as obvious as you think it is, it is still important to ask because you clearly need the clarity.
When in doubt, ask the question. Stop stopping yourself because you’re worried about the question being stupid or obvious. It clearly is not, because if it was you would not feel the need to ask the question. So just ask the question, as that is the best way you can have the clarity you need.
Now, if it’s hard for you to do it in front of others, there is an easier way – you can always ask it afterwards in private. As long as you get the clarity, it’s good, because the clarity is what matters. That said, doing it right then and there is better since the information can not only help you, it can help others too.
Here’s the important thing to remember – the mental shortcuts and automatic behaviours we have built in over time are usually very useful, but not always. Not every automated behaviour and mental shortcut we have benefits us, like the fear of public speaking and worrying about asking questions. So when it comes to things where you can benefit more from not following the mental shortcut, you need to think twice before just doing what you’ve always done.
Do yourself a favour: stop letting your fear or ego decide the direction of your life.
Ask stupid questions.
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