Curiosity is a uniquely human trait. Other animals will investigate what smells funny. Dogs, birds, and dolphins can be trained to perform. But asking deep questions is something only people do.
Unfortunately, too many of us have come to believe that our job is no place to be curious. Or, as the poet Robert Frost once quipped:
“The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.”
Work should be more than labor. It should require some level of thinking, or skill, or technical facility. At some point in your job you should feel free to think to yourself, “hmm…I wonder…”
From our ten point manifesto of what makes for a great workplace, here’s point #2: None of Us Knows Everything. It’s Always Okay to Ask Questions.
As an organizational tenet, this one sounds fairly clear. It’s mostly about ego. One of our speakers, Amy Woodall, explained why being humble makes for amazing customer service:
Everyone is important, but sometimes we need to look in the mirror and realize that humility is both highly elusive and incredibly valuable. When we put ourselves first, others take notice and don’t want to be around us. But when we put others first, they appreciate our sacrifice—even if it ends up being invisible!
That’s what it means to say “none of us knows everything.” No one is the ultimate expert on all topics, no matter how long they’ve been with the company or how much they might they might seem to be knowledgable.
It’s the second part that is a bit more complicated. “It’s always okay to questions.” Do we really mean that?
There Are No Stupid Questions
It’s an old adage, but it’s broadly correct. If you’re willing to ask, somebody should be willing to answer. The form of the question may not be reasonable, or it may contain hidden assumptions, or it may be hard even to parse. But putting yourself out there to say “I don’t know” is worth applause all by itself. We should never silence those who have questions just because the question wasn’t flawless.
There Are Disrespectful Questions
You can ask any question you want. But if you’re asking a question that you could have found the answer to yourself in a few minutes of research, you’re being disrespectful of others. If you’re asking because you are trying to prove that someone else doesn’t know, you’re being disrespectful.
In essence: asking questions means being curious, not being needy. When you want to know, seek to understand on your own. And if you can’t, seek guidance and support.
Fear and Failure
The worst part about not asking questions is this: people often do so because they are afraid to interrupt others or think they will look foolish. I remember a few years ago, an employee spent several hours doing a task incorrectly. When I saw them working I asked “why did you decide to do it that way?” Their response: “I wasn’t sure what was best, so I decided to do it this way.”
If you’re not sure, ask. Because the worst failure isn’t doing something wrong, it’s being too fearful to find out that you’re doing it wrong.
They say that silence is golden. But if you have a question and you’ve tried to find out yourself, speak up. We want to hear from you.
And be ready. Because soon people are going to be asking you for advice and information. That’s because none of us knows everything, and, it’s always okay to ask questions.