Please don’t use the phrase ‘It may be a stupid question but…’. You really don’t need to.

I try not to use the word ‘hate’ too often but it is warranted every now and again. With that in mind, I really do hate the phrase ‘It may be a stupid question but…’. This is despite me having uttered these words numerous times in the past, both in personal and work life, though I haven’t said this for some time now.

Why do we say this? I can’t speak for others but when I’ve blurted this out in the past, if was mainly due to a fear of looking stupid, of being judged, of being seen to be less knowledgeable than others. Thankfully, I came to realise that this is nonsensical and unnecessary. One phrase I do use frequently, usually when other people say ‘It may be a stupid question but…’, is ‘There is no such thing as a stupid question’. The long and short of it is that we either know something or we don’t. If we don’t, then we should feel wholly comfortable in asking the questions which increase our understanding. There is absolutely nothing wrong in doing that. We essentially need to reframe the situation; to have an inner conversation with ourselves and say ‘I don’t know the answer to this and my life will be improved if I do find out the answer, so I’m going to do just that.’

The old adage of someone else in the room, especially in a work or education setting, appreciating you asking is, in my experience, nearly always true. If you’re in a group, the chances are someone else will be thinking exactly the same as you are but may not be willing to ask the question. I’ve seen this happen many times. My day job is a Project Manager and I’ve seen numerous small-scale problems which have evolved and increased in severity simply because someone was nervous about asking a question, or not clarifying something important, and therefore didn’t ask and subsequently created bigger problems further down the line. I’m convinced that, in the vast majority of cases, people have kept quiet due to a fear of potentially looking stupid.

The real kicker here is that most people won’t judge us anyway. They’ll be too wrapped up in their own life / day-to-day issues / concerns to care too much about an innocuous question from someone else. It’s a classic case of creating an issue in our mind that really isn’t likely to materialise.

So, please, please, please go ahead and ask all the questions you need to, without ever needing to start them with ‘It may be a stupid question but…’. The world won’t cave in around you. People are highly unlikely to judge you (though, in the rare instance that they might, that is their issue, not yours). There is a strong chance that you’ll be glad you asked. It will likely make the situation you’re in feel much more comfortable and manageable.

Next week’s blog post is linked to this one, as I’ll be writing about how I believe ‘why?; is the most powerful question we can ever ask.

As always, thanks for reading, stay safe, and please do try to be kind to others and to yourself.

Best wishes and take care.

Mick

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