Everyone knows the saying, “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” But a conversation with a coworker at Seilevel has made me reevaluate that. Questions are never stupid. In fact, I would argue questions are signs of intelligence. You don’t know what you don’t know, but if you can identify the gap in your knowledge, then you know what you don’t know. If you know what you don’t know, that’s a step closer to becoming knowledgable. However, some questions can make you look stupid and be detrimental to your credibility as a subject matter expert. So, we need to rephrase that saying, “Don’t ask all stupid questions aloud.” All questions are good–but sometimes we need to be careful about our audience.
So when should you ask questions?
When you first come into a project as a consultant, you come into a project blind. You don’t know how the organization works, you don’t know system names or the names of the people you are going to be working with. You have a greater allowance to ask stupid questions. However, by the end of a month or two, you need to be a subject matter expert. Instead of asking all the questions, people should be asking you.
What if you don’t know the answer to a question someone asks you?
Once you’ve identified a gap in your knowledge, find out. Communicate you will get that information and return that information back as soon as you can. By learning something new, you became a stronger subject matter expert while maintaining your credibility. Someone asked you a question and you were able to answer it.
What can you do if you have a stupid question?
This is a tricky because there is no good answer. You need to go with your gut sometimes to figure out when, where, and to whom it would be most appropriate to ask. My advice (which others have recommended) is to first research online. With a simple Google search, you can find a lot of information online. If you need more information, ask a coworker who may have a similar experience or a project stakeholder you feel comfortable asking questions. Make sure not to ask stupid questions when you need to demonstrate your subject matter expert skills. Credibility takes ages to gain, but can fall with one wrong move.