There IS such thing as a stupid question and that’s ok, ask it anyway.
Have you ever been too afraid or too nervous to ask a question you think might be stupid? I have too, many times, but I ask it anyway. I would rather ask the question and clear up any confusion I might have, than waste time wondering what the answer is for the rest of the day.
I try to be a mentor whenever I can and share any advice or encouragement to people I meet. I mostly talk to junior developers and during some of my conversations, I’ve been noticing a trend. They don’t ask questions, because they are afraid it will make them look stupid or unqualified. Because of this trend, I decided to write this article and share my take on the matter.
Let’s just make something clear before we continue: it’s acceptable to ask one stupid question occasionally, we’ve all had an off day. Or for example, I’ve felt so overwhelmed with new information, that I can’t process it as fast as it’s being given to me, so some stupid sounding clarification questions come out of my mouth as I try to follow along. However, it’s another thing to not pay attention to what’s going on around you and ask stupid questions constantly. I will be talking about the former rather than the latter. Let’s begin.
Nothing is wrong with getting clarification
I used to be a very shy person, who never wanted to ask questions for the fear of looking stupid. However, I was also so tired of just being lost, because something wasn’t clear to me and I knew one question could clear everything up.
There have been so many times in meetings, where I have asked a question that I thought everyone in the room knew except me and people came up to me afterwards and thanked me for asking. They told me, they were just as lost, but didn’t want to ask the question themselves. Another example I see pretty often is, junior developers going on technical interviews and having no idea what they will be tested on. I was once helping prep a junior developer for their tech interview and the conversation went as follows:
Me: “So what programming languages are they primarily going to focus on in this interview?”
Junior Dev: “I don’t know.”
Me: “Oh…..are you going to write the recruiter and ask them what you should brush up on to prepare for the interview?”
Junior Dev: “No, I don’t want to ask, because they might think I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Me: “But, if you don’t ask…I mean…there’s a very good chance you might not know what you’re doing, right?”
I’ve been in that same situation as the junior dev and you know what I did? I e-mailed the recruiter and asked if they could give me an idea of what I would be tested on. If the recruiter or the interviewers look down on you for wanting to be prepared, I’m going to tell you right now, that is NOT the company for you. If they invited you to their office for an in-person interview, then they already have an interest in you and this is your time to shine. Why waste this moment by being unprepared?
This doesn’t just apply to interviews, the same goes for meetings, classrooms, learning office acronyms, etc. Don’t go back to your desk confused, because you just nodded your head yes through an entire conversation that you were totally and utterly lost in. If you feel as though you can’t ask the question in the moment, that’s totally fine. But there is no excuse not to write an e-mail with follow up questions later.
Why it looks bad not to ask questions
What’s worse, asking a question that sounds stupid, maybe making some people chuckle at your expense, but getting your question answered and being able to complete your work. Or, not asking the question, not getting your work done or doing the work wrong, because you weren’t sure what to do in the first place. No one wants to be that person, the one who never gets their work done and asks a ton of questions after it’s too late.
Asking questions shows interest in the topic, it shows that you can work by yourself to get answers, and it shows you want to learn.
It gets easier the more you do it
It all seems daunting in the beginning. Just like anything else, it gets easier the more you do it. The first time I asked a question in front of senior management, my voice was cracking and my hands were shaking. I didn’t even remember what I asked, after it came out of my mouth, but I hoped it came out coherent enough to be understood. After a few anxiety ridden moments of asking questions in the office, I no longer feel the nervousness of asking something stupid. There were even situations where my question was very serious, but it must come out sounding weird, because it gets a bunch of laughter before it’s answered. I’m totally okay with that, as long as it gets answered. I’m even pleased that my stupid question brought some happiness to somebody.