September 21, 2019 ~ 2 min read

'There are no dumb questions'

Weekly TipsSpeaking

I was just reading a post on asking questions from Farnam Street, and was struck by the statement "there are no dumb questions".

I know a lot of people I talk to certainly are worried about asking dumb questions. And it makes sense! We don't want to look dumb, especially in front of people whose opinions we value.

The Farnam Street post says "there are no dumb questions", and that's true from one perspective: If you don't know the answer, you are more likely to learn the answer by asking than by not asking.

Then why are we all still uncomfortable with this?

The reason is there are multiple goals behind every communication. There's the immediate objective — learn something we don't know, in this case. But there's also the relationship — how will this impact our relationship with the people we're talking with? And there's a respect/self-respect aspect: How will this change the way people view and treat me?

The reason we're worried about dumb questions is we're paying attention to the relationship and self-respect pieces. Those are key aspects of communication, and the simple "there are no dumb questions" rule ignores them.

So you're right to be uncomfortable. And yet.

And yet if you're like most of us, you're over-adjusting. Most questions we think of as dumb are not dumb. And most times, asking questions actually makes people think more highly of you than not. Because it shows you're strong enough to make yourself vulnerable, and smart enough to know what you don't know.

So even though it's hard, and even though "no dumb questions" oversimplifies things, you should still probably ask the question.

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Kevin Ball

Hi, I'm Kevin Ball (alias KBall). I'm a software engineer turned trainer and coach focused on communication and leadership skills. You can follow me on Twitter, or check out my software-focused work at