I know when we were in school, the teacher always said “there’s no such thing as a stupid question”… as in don’t be shy, curiosity is a beautiful thing, it’s lovely to wonder, and questioning what you hear is all part of the learning process.
But lately I’ve noticed that some people like to take this phrase to mean something more like: Ask anything, whenever it pops into your head, without taking the most basic initiative to find the answer yourself.
Or even better, like this: Don’t pay attention during meetings- there’s really no need to be present in the moment because you can just ask your questions whether or not people have just discussed those topics. You won’t sound silly at all.
Both instances are terrible. It not only makes you look lazy amongst your peers and management, you’re wasting everyone’s time, including your own. Questions should not be shot off as a series of short, single-sentence emails. Think about what you’re asking and see if you can figure it out on your own before interrupting someone- especially when you’re asking WHERE something is.
The where questions tend to be the laziest of all. The best way to ask a “where” question without sounding like an inconsiderate tool is to accompany it with all the places you’ve already looked. That way the person you’re asking sees that you’ve at least tried.
I also think there’s this really annoying misconception that asking a ton of questions shows that you’re engaged and contributing to the situation, and that’s not it. Maybe it stems from teachers handing out points for participation in sixth grade, and there’s always that one person that asks the most worthless, fallback question just to raise their hand and get called on: Is there going to be multiple choice?
Asking quality questions so that you’re thinking ahead about what your client could potentially ask you on the spot, or clarifying the expectations of an assigned deliverable, or playing devil’s advocate when you’re brainstorming a new strategy, are all very beneficial instances. But asking a number of superficial questions just to make sure your voice is heard is not at all valuable. You’re not kidding anyone and your colleagues will see right through it.
So just a little love shove and reminder that when it comes to asking questions, we need to stop and think. Look before you ask.
(photo source from Moonrise Kingdom)