Stupid Questions?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“Writing for a friend”.

It’s easiest not to ask questions especially when they trigger a reluctance, impatience, or inability for someone to invest in overcoming our ignorance. Sometimes we just don’t know what we don’t know until it feels too late: we’re in the moment when our less than adequate knowledge is exposed.

How we manage that is vital to our and our team’s progress.

Teaching lore

“There’s no such thing as a stupid question; only the stupidity of not asking it.”

Group in a meeting asking, 'what's in it for me?'. One is thinking, 'when's lunch?'


Our general psychology is set to protect ourselves from appearing stupid. We subconsciously work to remain socially accepted by our groups.

The origin may be our school or similar experience where formative social codes and other’s beliefs are injected under our skin. Teachers and parents play a part. As key influencers, we tend to carry their expectations of our behaviour as children into adulthood. 


In the competitive or collaborative workspace we work to a resource-restricted cadence. There’s little room enough to induct new team members and no one wants to be the first name fired during the next round of rationalisation. Everyone needs to get with the program.

The team meets up. Unfamiliar information is shared. No one wants to be the One unable to digest and store new information, or to admit poor storage of previously covered material. Everyone else seems comfortable. The topic is moving on.

Decisions are being made. Now? Is now the the time to admit you missed, omitted, or failed to internalise something? This cycle of thought can soon leave you drowning and listening for a lifeboat: someone asking the stupid question for you. What if there isn’t one?

It can take courage to admit when you are wrong. It can take more to admit when you don’t know what is right. Why? Fear.


Fear in the workplace is not common place. Some people create areas of fear to protect the control they manufacture for themselves. You know them: the passive and overt aggressives hired to manage difficult situations where empathy may disable logical decision making. Perhaps the team mate who scores points off you in front of leadership? That kind of thing.

Then there’s the fear of losing your team’s respect. As Subject Matter Expert (SME) you may not understand that when we talk about SMEs we mean Small to Medium Enterprises. That kind of thing. Don’t wonder how I know – I just do!

The other type of fear we may all experience is of breaking the rules we learned in childhood based on expectations of behaviour and collaboration. We don’t want to be selfishly rude and interrupt the knowledge sharing of the many; we can’t interrupt; and what ridicule do we believe will be signalled for asking the stupid question?

Why so much fear? There’s something very wrong inside that team when you need to have courage to ask a stupid question? That’s the way some teams are. Then we should look at the team leaders, their managers, and even the enterprise to “up their game”.

Lose one team member for one question and you lose all the skills and attributes you hired them for.

Life’s too short, too.

Ask the Stupid Question!

How? Just ask it. Sure, you can take time to frame it and save face in front of your peers and managers and meanwhile time is slipping away. You risk the “moment” of opportunity passing. You risk being stupid.

What if you don’t ask? Then how long is it before you have to ask a colleague quietly in a corner in the hope you can trust them not share your moment of stupidity? Or, what of the near future when your team is committed to a direction and you don’t understand the compass?


Just ask. Ask the stupid question.

It’s a guarantee someone else wanted to ask your question anyway, or at the least values the recap it prompts.

Here’s a short supporting interview with a known idiot who knows what they are talking about:


Most responses are positive:

  • 90% of Responses

    You should get an immediate and generous answer. You should receive the support you need in that area too. All’s good.

  • 9% of Responses

    A good team and leadership may not have the immediate resources to answer you and answer you they will. (Yoda said so). It’s the way things are at that time. Don’t be afraid to remind them of their commitment later.

  • 1% Response

    When you receive ridicule or other abuse then you know something of the people around you. They’ve not grown up.

    Speak up, “I thought there was no such thing as a stupid question; only the stupidity of not asking it.”

    The situation changes. Your team and manager will need to justify their response. No team leader wants their team to fear their similar own abandonment. When you do not receive support then you are (all) in the wrong workspace? Just leave. You’ll be glad you did—and healthier.

Benefit to Enterprise

Does the enterprise benefit from the stupid question? 100%!

“Stupid questions” have disclosed a wealth of things we didn’t know we didn’t know. Risks are highlighted and delightful updates made to projects and processes to accommodate the “one thing” no one else foresaw, or everyone else overlooked.

There really is no such thing as a stupid question. Is there? <– Yes. That was a stupid one.



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