Are There Stupid Questions?

Many sticky notes with questions like who, what, when, where, how and why, and a question mark, all posted on an office noteboard to represent confusion in communincation“There’s no such thing as a stupid question, just stupid answers.”  How many times have you heard that?

After I posted a blog called When It Comes to Asking Tough Questions, How Well Do You COPE?, I was asked what to do when people ask you stupid questions.  Well, that’s a loaded question right there.

First, I recommend some introspection.  Remember, we train people how to treat us.  So ask yourself, what have I done to contribute to this behavior? Sometimes there’s a fine balance between being accessible, having an open door policy and discouraging people from becoming resourceful.

Two different types of questions occurred to me:  the ones you are asked over and over again because of your position or role and the ones that are simply thoughtless and presumptuous.  Let’s look at possible solutions for each situation:

When you’re asked the same question repeatedly

It’s good to have a standard answer that acknowledges that it’s a question that comes up a lot and refers people to an alternate source, encouraging them to be a bit more resourceful next time:

  • the FAQ section of your website
  • someone else more appropriate (depending on your organization, this could be their supervisor or a peer or someone assigned to help newcomers)
  • in a group setting, I will sometimes ask “who would like to answer that question for X?”

When it’s not really your job to be “the go-to resource”

When asked for information that is readily available elsewhere, I love to ask the questioner things like:

  • What prompted you to ask me that question?
  • What do you think you should do?
  • What have you tried / Where have you looked so far?
  • What do you think your options are?
  • Who else have you asked?

Again, the goal here is to get people to think first before just blurting out the question because it’s so much easier.

What do you think?

Now, I realize this can be controversial and I welcome your thoughts on how to handle this.  My experience is that people will take the path of least resistance and while I don’t want to be unhelpful, I do think there’s value in creating some resistance at times.

When time is not of the essence, people may be better served by trying to figure some things out without asking the “big boss” or the subject matter expert.

More on this next time from the questioner’s point of view….stay tuned.

#askingtoughquestions #askingquestions #stupidquestions #questions

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