16 Dumb Questions You’re Afraid to Ask
The hardest question to ask is the obvious one. Fearful leaders remain silent. Courageous leaders ask.
- What are we doing?
- Compared to what?
- Who said?
- Why not? Move from “either/or” to “and” by asking, “Why not?”
- What problem are we solving?
- What’s working? How? Why?
- Begin agenda items by asking, “What questions should we ask?”
- What are our values? When employees cut themselves, values should come out.
- Which of our values is driving this decision? How?
- Where are we going?
- Who are we?
- How does this take us where we want to go?
- Who is our customer?
- What value do we deliver?
- How are we communicating our value to customers? Unperceived value isn’t valuable.
- How am I doing?
Bonus: What are we afraid to ask?
The best way to challenge the status quo is with questions. Dumb questions test basic assumptions. But, fear of looking dumb makes us ignorant.
“It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question,” Decouvertes.
When you think you know, assume you don’t.
Questions create confusion initially
and end confusion eventually.
Bonus tip #1: Ask questions that lead to action. Knowledge emerges when people take uncertain action.
Bonus tip #2: Always follow questions with silence.
Interested in more: Read Facebook responses to: “Leaders should ask stupid questions like _______.”
How have dumb questions helped you?
What dumb question can you suggest?
Dumb questions have helped me learn the real reasons (or lack thereof) behind planned activities. In my job, I am concsious of the fact that my role can be perceived to be that of the nay-sayer, but I would hard to be perceived to be the guy who never says no, but often says “yes, but…”
Here are a couple of good dumb questions:
1) Why are we doing this in this place at this time?
2) I know what our mission, vision and value statements say, but what do we really do?
3) Could you please explain that to me in normal language?
Very often, especially the higher up in the organization I go, I find that number 3) is a necessary follow up to number 2)!
I was thinking the same thing about #3. It might feel embarrassing to ask someone to explain. But, the not asking is stupid. Love it.
Good questions are important, remaining silent through the full answer is equally vital.
A very useful and relevant post indeed. Almost all of us sometimes face these kinds of situation where we do not know, what is the topic for discussion or meeting. Even in regular meetings, people attend just for the sake of attending. And I think, those are really knowledgeable prefer to remain silent because of dynamics in the meeting.
I have realized and felt that people generally afraid to ask question because of being perceived less knowledgeable by others. I agree with you the basic questions are the toughest question. I witnessed one meeting which was regularly held. Employees did not get salary for the last two months.Every one was talking to each others, criticizing system and leadership etc. When meeting started and superior was discussing others points, people shared their ideas and participated but surprisingly, they did not raise the question of salary at all. Every one tried to turn head to someone to show their concern but no body actually dared to ask any question about salary. When superior later on asked- do you have any question to ask and after insisting people started murmuring the issues. What I realized the no body wanted to come into limelight and everyone wanted to play safe. So,when people try to become safe by not asking question, this questions the culture and leadership practices. It means, people also do not raise obvious question, when they know the actions and consequences.
So, in any case it is the culture and practices that either encourages or discourages people to either ask or keep shut.
Love how you point out that fear of asking is a culture issue. Powerful because we might want to blame others for not asking. But, the fact that they don’t says something about us.
Great stuff I have success using there are no dumb questions. If you don’t know ya don’t know.
Just want to say over the years that theory has been severely challenged!
Only one dumb question…the one not asked.
The Dude Abides
Not everyone likes the NO Dumb Question rule. 🙂
Well that’s cool not everybody has to.
I think I was living at warp speed on the weekend – and trying to hold 16 good questions in my head at once is not working!
I have to laugh at myself at this point!
“What are we doing” and “Where are we going” and “What problem does this solve) are probably the three I can focus on today (and any other day when I’m leading a meeting and just can’t unscramble the other 13 questions)!
Gotta smile at your candor. 16 is too many for me too. Looks like pick and choose is the order of the day.
One of my favorites is … in meetings… ask, “What questions should we be asking?”
It’s a good list – th eone that really isn’t that dumb and should be mandatory is “why are we doing this?” Too many times we launch into tactics, solving some problem of the moment when it isn’t anything more than a sysmptom of a different, and often bigger, problem.
A couple of other good, dumb questions are:
“What questions would we ask ourselves [if we didn’t think we already knew the answers] that would help make this project/initiative/moment an even bigger success”. It’s a dumb question that doesn’t make anyone else look dumb and encourages dialogue.
“If this project derails what would have caused it to derail?”. It’s a classic “pre-mortem” question. Why wait until something fails to begin navel-gazing. Why not think about the potential problems upfront?
Wholeheartedly agree with your “What questions would we ask ourselves if ….?” comment – definitely encourages dialogue. Thank you!
Love the “what might cause failure” question. Powerful!
Great post. Thank you. This is one of the hardest lessons that I have to re-learn reguarly. I’m a better leader/mentor/team member when I remember that I don’t have to know everything. No one (except me) expects me to know everything. In fact, everyone else is relieved to see that I don’t know everything. It gives others a sense of value to know that they can contribute and their input is needed (um, because I don’t know everything).
Taking that same approach with clients can yield a wealth of good input, if I can get past that same stumbling block – I don’t have to know everything.
My husband once told our daughter that there are times that he asks her a question when he doesn’t know the answer, but there are also times that he asks her a question when he does know the answer. Ahhh, what good knowledge that approach can yield!
Feeling we have to know answers is stressful and in the end disengages others. Sadly, we tie our competence exclusively to what we know and forget to include what we can ask… great add
Dan- I’ve always believed the only dumb question is the one unasked.
Love the post!
Thank you Carol!
“Unperceived value.” That’s an awesome term. For the entrepreneur that could be a killer. What a waste if the customer doesn’t see or know the total value of what you have to offer.
“How does this take us where we want to go?” Another good one. Too often we fall in love with a process or a product that essentially gets us no closer to our vision or mission than when we started. If we don’t ask, we won’t know.
Glad you caught that unperceived value comment. Technology companies really need this because when they succeed we don’t see them. How do they let others know their value without sounding like braggarts.
It’s not dumb per se, but difficult:
How can I help?
One of my favorite questions!
In an ADD-infested culture of “what’s next?” this is an important one:
How did that happen?
Ooooo.. could be awkward too. 🙂
Indeed. The answer could be: “You didn’t ____” or “When you ___” or “You told us to ____”
I would also add these questions, “What is the purpose of what we’re doing?” and “How would this change bring our vision to fruition?” We need to identify the reason that we’re taking certain actions and the impact those actions will have on the achievement of the vision of the organization.
Great add Tagrid. Thank you for being a regular contributor.
Thanks for sharing this post. With my brief interaction with other young people and others in the non-profit and academia, there is no gain-say that these questions are highly essential in getting certain evaluation on where we are, the level of our impact and relevance. what other things we can effectively and effeciently do, among other questions.
Just as it had been observed -in one of the comments- it is neccessary to guide against ambiguity by embrace simplicity. I will also suggest that answers to these ‘dumb’ questions be written down and critically read / listened to. It may also be important to ask ‘How sincere/truthful am I -to myself- with the answers?’, while recognising fallacies, assumptions and facts.
Collectively, we may also ask ‘What else can we do to achieve our vision’, ‘What else have we not done?’.
My most effective interactions have been asking dumb, even silly questions while getting coffee with my direct reports. We would go 3 to four times a day ( we developed software), and this interaction solved more problem and lead to more productivity than other mechanisms I have tried.
At the risk of sounding like a Neanderthal – I pronounce that with a “th”, a sign of how backward I am – I tend to avoid metrics. Yes, you need to measure but many times a more accurate word is gauge. I liken it to slalom and down hill skiing: in order to win you have to practiced, run the hill innumerable times, but during those runs you are not measuring, because when you think in detail about each nuance of the turn, you lose speed.
Most times my direct reports measured their progress more accurately than I could, and trusting them allowed me to gauge their workload. It gained me their loyalty, a rare thing these days.
how about: am I part of the problem, or part of the solution ?
Great post Dan, excellent topic and questions 🙂
Your posts are always spot on.
Along with number 6, “What’s Working”…we always ask it…”What worked? What didn’t? and Why?”
My team just apologize to me, why is that sir, ? I asked all the questions and wrote them in a blackberry group, translating them in my language, and they all felt guilty because they all haven’t been producing enough sales. What should I say to them Mr. Dan ? Is that what you expect them to feel, when leaders ask these questions ?
I think these are very important to ask and I think not enough people ask these questions early on when developing new projects/goals. Once these are implemented and employees have to fullfill these projects/goals, it’s too late to even ask those questions. You end up just having to do it, without understanding the real reason behind it.
It’s a good list.