An ancient Chinese proverb says, “He who asks a question remains a fool for 5 minutes. He who does not ask, remains a fool forever.”
One of the biggest ways people are handicapping themselves today is by being too afraid to ask questions. While there is plenty of knowledge all around us to be gained, it would be foolish to think we can simply gain everything we need to know from first-hand experience. We need to rely on the knowledge of others around us to pass along information and assist in broadening our horizons of ignorance.
While it is very easy to talk about, it is often very hard for many of us to take the leap of faith and ask questions. In a study from Harvard Business School, they cited multiple reasons for people’s reluctance to ask questions but the most prominent response was due to fear of negative evaluation. While I don’t find it all too shocking, I do find it very concerning and therefore I have compiled a shortlist of reasons you should never be too afraid to ask questions:
1) You Don’t Know Everything
No matter what you may think, you do not know everything there is to know about a certain topic area, let alone life in general. While there are experts all over the world for any given focus, they would tell you that they still have a lot to learn. As the great philosopher, Socrates once said, “The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.” Coming from such a brilliant man who has provided us with so much information in the past, this quote should speak volumes about the importance of understanding how little we know. It should also create a sense of humility, allowing you to feel comfortable about asking questions.
2) You Aren’t The Only With A Question
It is highly likely that if you are curious about something, so is someone else. When you are in a meeting of colleagues, it can be intimidating to see everyone around you looking engaged and comfortable with what’s being discussed. However, if you have any doubt whatsoever in the subject matter, someone else in the room is likely feeling the same way also. With that being said, not only will you be helping yourself out, but you will be helping those around you by raising questions as well.
3) Questions Facilitate Discussion
By raising questions in a group setting, you are oftentimes enabling a further discussion within that group. Maybe what you asked will spark a thought of someone else or maybe your question was something the rest of the group hadn’t thought about yet. You shouldn’t feel like your questions will take away from productivity or be a waste of time. If anything, asking lots of questions and brainstorming will likely help the team get better and make sure you have everything covered.
4) Educated People Respect Your Desire To Learn
The most educated people in the world would never scoff or look down on someone with a desire to learn. In fact, in many of my experiences, leaders have a very high level of respect for those who show interest and ask questions. While you may be worried that it makes you look LESS intelligible, it is actually making you look MORE intelligible. Your desire to learn shows and the questions you ask are the first step in fulfilling that desire.
5) The Internet Isn’t Always Right
With the advent of services like Google and Answers.com, people sometimes think that they should be able to find everything we need to know via the internet. However, that is not true. Nowadays it has become extremely easy to host websites and circulate unverified information to the public that it can be a tall task figuring out how to filter the good info from the bad. This is where a trusted human element needs to come in. Reaching out and finding respected educators or topic professionals can be a great way to find the answers you are looking for. Aside from purely finding information, reaching out to credible sources can help to create new relationships for the future – something a computer and WiFi can’t replicate.
As a part of our constantly evolving society, you should take pride in your lack of knowledge and find a comforting humility in knowing that you have so much left to learn – whether it is at work, at home, or just life in general. So I challenge you to stay curious, challenge the unknown, and certainly ask more questions…
Besides, would you rather be a fool for 5 minutes or a fool forever?