“The fool wonders, the wise man asks”
The above quote is from former British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli. For me, its closest modern equivalent is, “The only stupid question is an unasked question.”
While I prefer the more elegant phrasing of Mr. Disraeli, I applaud the sentiment behind both. Even though at times it can be brutally difficult to admit you don’t know who someone is, what something is, how to pronounce something, how to do something, etc, you stand a far better chance of being well thought of—and, more importantly, learning something new—if you’re willing to ask the question.
Given this, what are some things you can do to feel more comfortable asking questions?
• First: Don’t confuse ignorance with stupidity. Just because you don’t know how to conjugate French verbs or tie a half hitch slipknot doesn’t mean you don’t have mastery of numerous other skill sets and bodies of information.
• Second: Point two flows naturally from point one: don’t apologize for your ignorance. We all tend to do this and it doesn’t serve us, or our listener. Instead, it diverts attention from getting the question answered into massaging one another’s egos. Stay on task; just ask the question. If your listener expresses surprise at your not knowing, don’t feed into it. Agree and add, “Yes, I don’t know. Can you tell me?”
• Third: Remember that everyone loves being an authority. While your boss or your colleague or your date may be surprised by your not knowing something in the moment, this will quickly be superseded by the satisfaction of getting to be the authority.