Are we afraid of asking questions?

    Why is there an aversion to asking questions? Why do we feel embarrassed to ask questions particularly when they are to clarify work that we are doing? In this post, we look into asking questions from both sides of the spectrum; those who ask and those who get asked with the goal of uncovering why there is no such thing as a stupid question.


    Why are we worried about asking questions in the workplace?

    Asking questions is a public acknowledgement that you lack certain knowledge. The natural thought that may go through your head is how you are perceived by your peers or by your manager. If you ask questions and others don't, it feels like everyone gets it but you. Thinking about this rationally, why do you expect to have all the answers, does anybody truly know everything?

    This feeling compounds over time. The longer you are in a role position, asking questions increasingly feels like a tacit admission that you haven't learnt much despite your experience. If your peers are not asking questions it further exacerbates that feeling.

    Important questions can go unanswered and the knowledge gap can compound over time until it starts to limit your potential.


    What really matters

    Would you rather be the person who asks 10 questions and does a perfect job or a person who asks no questions and does an imperfect job?

    Good managers aren't annoyed when their team asks questions. Good managers care about the development of their team and the output of their team. If further questions create better output, then ask away! Unfortunately, not everyone reading this article will have a 'good' manager and many of you may, in fact, have a manager who seems short and slightly irked when on the receiving end of clarification questions but this says more about them than it does about you. Keep asking, it's the right approach!


    Is it really a problem if my team asks me too many questions?

    Do you have a productive member in your team that has been with you for some time, but still asks way too many questions or perhaps simplistic questions that lead you to worry about their competence?

    The issue here is not a lack of knowledge but either a lack of clarity or a lack of self-confidence. If the key output is productivity and the person is a productive member of the team then, by definition, they are clearly competent. Is there really a problem here?

    One method which I use to build self-confidence is asking my team to come to me with a question and a potential answer, no matter how silly.

    Oftentimes, the solution they come along with is the answer you would have given. They knew what to do but didn't have the self-belief to put weight behind their thoughts. If you work with recent graduates, remember (just like you) they have spent 17 years' worth of asking questions and receiving answers - the world of work presents a new dynamic where people eventually provide more answers than they ask questions.

    The other alternative is clarity. If you find your team is asking more questions than other teams, the natural inclination is to ask yourself "What is wrong with them?". In reality, the problem lies in your explanation of the task.


    Manager Introspection

    A great manager provides an environment for their team to learn and grow and a great team will grow from the basic behaviours you exhibit. If you are visibly annoyed when your team asks questions, they will stop asking questions, will work on incomplete knowledge and will make substandard work for which you are partly to blame.

    1. Have you created a supportive environment where questions are seen as a good thing?
    2. Are you clear enough when you provide instructions to your teams?
    3. Do you lead from the top and ask questions from your superiors?

    Nothing bad ever came from answering questions