We all know that feeling. From our earliest school experiences, no one wants to ask a stupid question, even when totally lost. We fear being ridiculed, with our ignorance revealed for all to see. But we all also know that feeling of relief, when some brave soul asks the very question we’ve been thinking about, and saves the class from massive confusion.
Unfortunately that fear follows us into the workplace as adults. At work there’s more at stake than public embarrassment – there’s a job, a career, and a salary that pays the mortgage hanging in the balance of how we are perceived. So even though asking questions could facilitate doing a better job, fear of projecting incompetence keeps many people quiet and thus limits their growth.
The good news is that – asking questions at work not only doesn’t make you look stupid, it makes people think you are even more competent than less inquisitive employees. As reported in the NY Times, a recent study by researchers at Harvard Business School and the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania found that college students and working adults responded with positive impressions to people who sought their advice in various written tests. In my recent interview with the Legacy Project, I described the importance of asking advice in finding success:
One strength that has been critical to my success is learning how to ask for help and advice. When I was younger, asking for advice felt like it meant I didn’t know things I should, and I hesitated. But I eventually pushed myself to approach experts in whatever I was pursuing. It was scary at first, but incredibly useful. People who are successful in their field usually are a) very happy to share their experience and wisdom and b) have information that will save you from wasting your time spinning your wheels. Their achievements can provide inspiration and a road map for your goals.
Of course there are important caveats here. Feeling free to ask questions doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your homework and be as prepared as you should be. But asking useful, clarifying questions shows commitment to getting the job done right. And asking advice about learning new skills or taking on new responsibilities benefits both you and your employer. The workplace is an environment uniquely rich with resources. So why not make the most of it? Ask away.