!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Stupid Questions

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Stupid Questions

Like most real-world rules, the adage that "there are no stupid questions" has important exceptions that should not be overlooked.

Certainly, when a sincere person asks a question that seems awfully basic or that seems to have an obvious answer, the best response is to take the question seriously and provide a clear answer. Or, if it fits the dynamic of a group situation (no oneupsmanship allowed), invite answers from the floor. Or, use an unintimidating version of the Socratic method to help the person work toward answering the question herself.

The exceptions to the rule involve insincere people and lazy people:
  • Sometimes a person poses a question in an effort to put a facilitor on the spot. For example, in a session on how to conduct one-on-one performace reviews, a manager might ask, "Why doesn't management just admit that the performance management system is never going to be fair?"

    Such a question is straying in the direction of being disruptive. The provocateur is not just indicating legitimate skepticism about the ability to do precise employee assessment, but suggesting that he is not willing to be part of the solution to the challenges of executing performance management tasks fairly.

    The question, of course, needs to be answered straightforwardly, perhaps with a preview of what the course will teach about how to be fair. Still, the question itself is not an innocent one, and it's OK for the facilitator to at least implicitly make that point.

  • Sometimes a person asks a question that he or she really can answer unaided with just a little thought and/or research in readily available materials (e.g., easily accessible FAQs). For example, an employee in a training session might ask, "Does our website list all our locations?"
  • Such a time-wasting question is an imposition on everyone else in the group.
Let me end by saying that the rule, "There are no stupid questions," is generally correct. No one should be made to feel they've brought up a stupid point unless it is very clear that some sort of hidden agenda or refusal to think for oneself is involved.


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