One of the worst phrases I hear from many people is “May I ask a dumb question?” Think about it. Why does anyone announce that they are about to ask a dumb question? Secondly, why does the person ask permission? Sometimes I’m tempted to respond “No” just for the shock value! Seriously, if you think about it, innovation is born from a question. I’m sure that some of those questions were considered dumb by those who didn’t understand the concept. As a PM, I think we ought to change how we view dumb questions. We ought to embrace them! Here are three reasons why dumb questions are so great:
Dumb questions are what everyone wanted to know but were afraid to ask. Many of us are too attached to what we know or think we should know. We are too afraid to admit that we don’t have the answer. The answer is simple: Get over it. PMs don’t have all the answers. It takes courage to ask questions and we should lead the way.
Dumb questions always uncover more questions that reveal the real issue. I use a common tactic of asking a question that I already know the answer to. It generally will get the discussion flowing, and will almost always uncover other issues. Somehow we get to the real problem and now we can solve it. Besides, the presenting problem is never the actual problem.
Dumb questions force us to re-align. When it comes to communication, we can experience major disconnects, especially with terminology. All too often we assume that we mean the same thing just because we use the same words. Every now and then, be intentional about defining common terms out loud. You will be surprised at the various interpretations that exist. Now you can all get on the same page.
My challenge to you is to never say “May I ask a dumb question?” again! As a matter of fact, never announce that it’s a dumb question and do not apologize for it. Asking a dumb question takes courage. Dumb questions answered smartly may open the door to your next great idea!
If you found these tips from Lakecia Carter, PMP of value and are a PMP looking to earn PMI PDUs, you might be interested in her self-paced, downloadable courses at PDUs2Go.com.
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