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Dumb Questions

Which statement do you believe is true?

There’s no such thing as a dumb question.


Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer.

No Dumb Questions

We’ve all been there: you’re in a meeting, conference, or lecture, and you’re completely lost. You have a question, but you don’t speak up. Why? Because you’re afraid of looking dumb.

Fortunately, someone else raises their hand, asks the same question, and you breathe in relief because someone else spoke up. But if they didn’t, everyone would remain lost.

As business leaders and entrepreneurs, we need to remember that just because something is easy for us doesn’t mean it’s easy for other people. Many leaders forget that, so they often dismiss questions because they already know the answer. That doesn’t mean the question is dumb — it just means it’s not obvious to other people.  So, business leaders need to practice patience and grace on those they work with.

Learning from Dumb Questions

Most companies in corporate America are not set up to encourage people to ask questions. Questions are not encouraged and are frequently discouraged.

This is unfortunate because you can’t learn anything if you don’t ask questions. And some of the best learning comes from asking “dumb” questions.

Every question provides learning.  Frequently, employees get answers that allow them to perform better.  Management often gets insights into problems in the company they didn’t know existed.  And most of the time, company leadership learns something about their employees, and occasionally, management learns something about themselves.

Stupid Questions, Stupid Answers.

While there are no dumb questions (actually there are, and here and here are links to some fun questions), what is true is that there are unprepared questions that do not lead to the needed answer.

In most cases, you can avoid stupid questions by doing a few things:

  • Research your topic well. The more you know about something, the less likely you will be to ask something that sounds really stupid.
  • Read your questions aloud to someone else before you ask them. A lot of times, questions sound good in your head, but somewhere between your brain and your mouth, a translation issue occurs. It also doesn’t hurt to have a second person go over them with you to make sure you’re asking what you think you’re asking.
  • If you’re not sure how something will sound, try to come up with a diferent way to ask it. If you can’t get at it that way, at least explain in advance that you’re struggling to come up with a way to ask for some specific information.
  • One helpful rule is that every time you have a question in your head, and you’re nervous to ask it for fear of looking dumb, assume that there are three to five other people in the room with the same question. Then, just ask the question.

The Bible

The Bible has its share of people asking dumb questions.

“Who sinned…this man or his parents?” (John 9:1-12)

“What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:16-40)

“Why do you speak in parable?” (Matthew 13:1-23)

“Do you not care if we perish?” (Mark 4:35-41)

What is great is how Jesus answered every question.  Whether he answers in a parable, through a metaphor, by quoting the prophets, or by responding with a question of his own, (answering a question with a question?) Jesus’s answer almost always redirects the nature of the inquiry.

Jesus answeres the question that should have been asked.  He works to turn our doubts, our fears, our prejudices, and resentments, and our own certainty of ‘being right’ on its ear, in a way that frees up some room for new life within us.

As business leaders, we need to study how Jesus answered questions, and then learn to model how we answer questions the same way.  Answering questions is always a benefit to the employees, to the business, and the business’s success.

Good answers turn dumb questions into great questions.