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To Ask or Not To Ask, That is The Question

Updated: Jul 5, 2022

I call this The Question Conundrum for dramatic effect.

I am an inquisitive person by nature! You would think that people mention this as a point of pride about themselves. Truthfully and somewhat sadly, there are many people who mention this for more apologetic reasons. If you've ever started a new job or have been the "beginner" or "newbie" anywhere, you have undoubtedly felt the urge to ask questions in order to learn more about the tasks which are your responsibility. The more you learn about a topic, the better you can perform the tasks associated with it. Makes perfect sense! But when it comes to asking questions, we are sometimes met with resistance, dismissal or even outright anger.

There are some people who are happy to guide and coach you to better understand the topic at hand. As a matter of fact, there are even people who are happy to help.

On the other side of that coin there are those who react to questions as a personal affront. Like I mentioned earlier, I am inquisitive by nature and I have rarely stopped asking questions due to receiving a negative response and believe me when I tell you, I have gotten plenty negative responses over time.

I have had people yell at me, hang up on me, scream at the top of their lungs at me, ask me why I ask so much, and provide responses such as "figure it out", which is not bad on its own but what about when they carry the responsibility of helping me "figure it out"? I've even had situation where the person got so intense, I thought they were going to take a swing at me, yikes.

My favorite of these responses is the person that answers "It's common sense!" to a new person who may not be totally familiar yet with what they are doing (still makes my skin crawl a little).

Which in reality what they are saying is "your capacity to ask questions has surpassed my knowledge of the topic I am supposed to teach you and I don't like it". During my life enrichment process, I have learned a few things about people's responses to questions being asked of them. Here are a few of the lessons.

  • Many people are making it up as they go along.

  • Their harsh responses may just be a way to take attention off of them because they really don't have answers, they've just gotten it done somehow, not really knowing how.

  • Most people are not experts in their fields.

  • Many people are just somewhat competent at what they do and are not equipped to handle someone with a deep passion for learning new things.

  • Some people view questions as "being questioned".

  • This makes them go on the defensive and respond as if they are being attacked.

  • Many people romanticize their struggle.

  • They didn't have anyone to train them so they think "why should I train you?"

  • Some people just don't like people.

  • but we knew this already

I'm sure there are many more reasons for responding negatively to an excitable new person starving for knowledge and wisdom but I'm sure you can relate to some of these.

The Other Side

You can never exclude self-reflection and looking at your process as well. We need to be aware of what is (and is not) appropriate for the job at hand.

Is it a high pressure, fast-paced environment where most people are extremely stressed? May not be a good fit for someone who asks many questions.

Does the environment have a "just get it done" mentality where knowledge does not really matter as long as you "get the results"?

Are the people you are asking burnt-out and simply there because they have to pay bills and make sure they do enough to not get fired?

I think that figuring out the environment before we jump on board on any project or job, is our responsibility and it is up to us to make sure that the company culture allows for someone with an inquisitive nature.

Can you think of any times when you were treated wrongly, simply for wanting to learn and be good at something?

What tactics have you developed over time to survive in a new environment, whether it be work, play or anything else?

How to make the best of a situation

  • I guess this topic begs for a statement like the one above. It is up to us to tease out the lessons from every negative experience in order to live a more enriched life. We can talk for years about how people have treated us wrongly and how unfair it was but what did we glean from these experiences?

  • Did we get better at reading the room?

  • Did we learn how to ask the right amount of questions in order to not get a negative response?

  • Did we establish assertiveness and strong boundaries to use towards people who are uncomfortable with questions?

  • Did you learn to figure these things out before joining a new venture?

There are plenty of ways to take advantage of unexpected negative situations such as these. They are especially useful if we are to live enriched lives. What are your approaches to such situations?

Make sure to join our community forum in order to discuss these and other topics in more detail.


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