No Stupid Questions

by Jeff Justice, CSP

QuestionsI love when humor happens unexpectedly. Comedians understand that we laugh best at humor that is unexpected — we want to zig when the audience zags.

A favorite example happened in a boring training session where the trainer was trying hard to get people to participate. He told them, “I want you to know there are no stupid questions. I don’t care what you ask; we learn best by asking questions!” To encourage them, he taped a crisp hundred-dollar bill to the chalkboard and said, “Ask a question, and if the rest of the class decides by majority vote that it was stupid, you’ll get the hundred-dollar bill! But if we find by majority vote that it was actually a good question, you won’t.”

Later, he noticed the hundred-dollar bill was missing. He asked whoever took the money to return it. No one moved, until one man in the back raised his hand, holding up the hundred-dollar bill, and said, “I’ve got it — do you really want it back?” He got to keep the hundred dollars!

If you’re not naturally funny, plan your humor if you must.

I know a successful trainer who isn’t spontaneous at all. She plans well, and you could set your watch by her session breaks. As she prepares for her day-long sessions, she very purposefully schedules in times for fun! I tend to be the opposite — my schedule reminds me what I must teach, and the fun happens along the way.

Just as a good teacher wants to communicate that there are no dumb questions, you will build better, less stressed relationships by being able to laugh at your own “dumbness” from time to time while encouraging others to talk through their ideas and vulnerabilities and questions. Let them know there are no dumb questions — they are safe with you.

When you’re in stressful, impossible situations, it’s difficult to be a creative problem-solver. My advice is not to waste your time asking “dumb” questions — go right to “silly” ones. Call a friend who makes you laugh. You’ll free your subconscious mind to work on it while laughter puts your world back in perspective. Imagine how characters in your favorite sitcom would handle it. What would they do, knowing a “laugh track” will save them in the end? But, whatever you think Homer Simpson might do, just do the opposite!

If you found these tips from Jeff Justice, CSP of value and are a PMP looking to earn PMI PDUs, you might be interested in his self-paced, downloadable courses at

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