There are no stupid questions, there are only questions.
Then why do we feel nervous about asking when we don’t know?
Because we are not the question, we’re the person asking the question, and we can feel stupid. We’re not even afraid that we are stupid. We fear feeling stupid. We fear others might think we’re stupid or worse.
‘What if I’ve totally missed the point?’
‘What if this is the most obvious thing ever?’
‘I’m in the room with senior people, what if I make a fool of myself?’
‘Will asking for clarity sound like I’m criticising?’
Asking questions moves things forward. It enables clarity, it gets everyone on the same page of understanding an issue. It challenges assumptions, that’s not the same as challenging a person’s authority, it’s not personal to want to understand a situation better.
One of the colleagues I’m working on a project asks the best question and asks it often.
‘I didn’t get point you just made, can you go over that again?’
Yes, of course. And yes, it is up to me to make sure there is clarity if I’m putting something across.
“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t really understand it.”
Who said that? Einstein? Richard Feynman? I don’t actually know, maybe nobody! But I like it and anyone doing a technical job would do well to remember it, speak in plain English and invite questions at every opportunity.
And when you get that feeling in your stomach that you have a question to ask, raise your hand, do it, it’s the responsibility of the person you ask to deal with it it’s not for you to make your questions unstupid. If there are others around you, they are probably wanting to ask the same thing, fight the fear.