If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play.

~ John Cleese ~

Just Ask

April 26th, 2013 ~ Est. reading time: 2 mins, 48 secs

Be bold and ask!

Be bold and ask!

Ask anything you like. But be prepared to get something unexpected in response.

It’s amazing how often we don’t ask questions when we really need to. Sometimes it leads us astray and, occasionally, it’s downright dangerous.

Then again, posing questions isn’t always the safest either (even if it does save second guessing).

Take most small group situations. Chances are there will be one or two people who prefer not to ask too many questions. They feel more comfortable letting the others do the talking and the asking.

And, how about a large group scenario where plenty of people prefer not to query anything? Even if they are actively encouraged to participate, the weight of group pressure puts some individuals ill at ease and unwilling to ask a thing.

The same goes for every situation where people feel that posing a question will make them lose face. For many, fitting in and not making a fuss often feels more important than finding out what’s happening.

That was a major factor back in 1977 at Tenerife Airport when a junior KLM flight officer didn’t dare question the company’s most senior pilot when he decided to take off when the Tower had told him to wait. As it happened, another 747 – Pan Am flight 1736 – had already landed and was taxiing towards them, looking for their gate. At full throttle and starting to take off, the KLM 747 struck the Pan Am plane, and was thrust 100 feet into the air before exploding in a massive fireball, killing all on board. Ablaze and breaking into several pieces, the Pan Am plane also suffered massive loss of life. In all, 583 lives were lost in the worst air disaster in history and it all could have been avoided had a junior flight crewmember dared to ask a potentially “embarrassing” question.

We all too easily assume that we shouldn’t ask the obvious and nobody wants to be snubbed for posing “ridiculous” questions. But if we feel it’s worth knowing then it’s certainly worth asking.

Of course it doesn’t help that some people are social bullies. They see questions outside of their narrow band of acceptability as “stupid” and when they put social pressure on someone trying to ask an honest question, it can be downright humiliating.

Perhaps the answer is that we all develop a clearer head for such situations, and be prepared to ask what we want to know in ways that limit such antisocial behavior. After all, you have a right to ask questions about anything that concerns you – even if it’s not appreciated or approved of by the people present.

As a person who helps people learn, I spend considerable effort dealing with people’s fears. Young students are often made to feel ashamed that they don’t know certain information, or can’t master a task on demand. To me, that’s an anti-learning approach, as all kids need to know it’s safe to ask unexpected questions and make learning mistakes. After all, isn’t that why they are at school?

Once children (and adults for that matter) know that you seriously do believe in helping them learn and accept genuine errors as part of the process, they relax. That’s when the quality of questions asked starts going up and, coincidentally, when learners get more involved.

Centuries ago, to ask too often about anything was considered dangerous, bad mannered and ignorant. These attitudes still persist in some cultures. While, the belief that asking questions was something to be frowned on was certainly alive and well at least in the 1960s. Better to just do what you were told and try not to ask anything.

Thankfully that approach has been discredited for its limiting effects, as everyone benefits from the process of discovering for themselves. To ask considered questions is an excellent way of learning, and demonstrates true engagement. So for these reasons alone, do yourself a favor and dare to be brave. If you want to know anything, go ahead and ask.

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