Asking stupid questions?
When I was in my early twenties, I earned myself a reputation for asking ‘stupid’ questions. I was working in my first proper corporate position, in an internal sales support role. I was part of a team, and attended regular meetings.  Sometimes the meetings were about planning ahead and making forecasts. Sometimes they were more creative, aimed at generating new ideas for solving existing problems. I was curious about and questioned EVERYTHING. I wanted to check and double-check what people meant when they talked about things like ‘raising the bar’ or ‘tightening our belts’. I wanted to be clear on jargon, vague terms or buzzwords like ‘profitability’ and ‘customer-centric’. When meetings invariably overrun and I was STILL raising my hand to query another point, my colleagues would groan.

People who didn’t know me thought I was new or dumb. Those that did know me knew I was neither of those things, but still didn’t understand why I was asking so many questions. They would tease that I was being attention-seeking or being manipulative by playing dumb. But the truth of the matter was that I was asking questions about stuff that everybody said they knew, but no-one ever actually discussed. These were the taken for granted rules of working: the situations that everybody knows full well; the assumptions we all thought matched everyone else’s; the limitations we just have to put up with. I quickly learnt that once a question like this was raised, the ‘truth’ was up for debate! People saw these supposed universally agreed areas very differently once you scratched beneath the surface. I learnt that when I said “This may be a stupid question, but…” – What followed was a very necessary and important clarification. To do this I needed to be both brave and a little bit naive.

Over the years I’ve continued to ask so-called ‘stupid’ questions and it’s become the cornerstone of my career. Clean Coaching could be considered the art of asking stupid questions. By asking another person to clarify the meaning of their words, you raise questions about apparently obvious things that need no explanation or exploration. But the answers you get are far from obvious, as the assumptions we make about people’s meanings are rarely correct. Clean questions hold a mirror up to the coachee, so they can see their own meanings reflected back at them. This allows them to explore and develop their own thoughts in sometimes astounding ways.

So called ‘stupid’ questions can evoke especially clever answers.

Excerpt from book “Clean Coaching: The Insider Guide to Making Change Happen” by Angela Dunbar. Buy from Amazon here.