Why don’t people ask questions?
by Jon Gjengset
You probably know me. Or someone like me. The guy who always raises his hand in class or who has a question or comment regarding whatever idea is being discussed. You might find people like me annoying. I’ve never understood why there seems to be so few of us though. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to question things; to figure out why or how. Unfortunately, it seems most people don’t. Or rather, it seems as though people are afraid of asking questions. Whether it is from fear of showing that they don’t know or from not wanting to take up other people’s time or something else entirely, I’ve never been able to understand. I do know, however, that it disturbs me.
There are many quotes on questions, like “better to ask and be thought a fool for five minutes than to remain a fool forever” and the likes, but to me, there is something deeper than that. Asking questions often reveals a lot more information than just the answer to the question, almost regardless of the situation. At university, questions can not only reveal errors in the material, but they can spawn discussions on aspects of the topic that suddenly makes it so much clearer why things have to be the way they are. If you strive to understand, questions tend to give a deeper understanding of what’s going on than trying to fill the gaps yourself.
Questions are important in the professional world as well, whether to make clients think properly through the problem they are presenting you with so you don’t go solving the wrong problem or to your peers to come up with the best solution to a problem. I’ve lost count of the number of times a solution has been accepted simply because no-one asked questions at the time it was proposed, only for it to later turn out that it was a terrible solution, and several people in the group saw that it was. This is not because the person with the original idea was an idiot, but rather because there was no feedback process. Without questions, without questioning, ideas are never refined. They need critique and thought, things that are incurred by asking questions.
Indeed, even in personal relationships, questions are important. Asking others questions about themselves serves both to show them that you care, but also for you to learn more about that person. And not only whatever the answer to the question is; you often learn a great deal more about a person simply from digging a little bit. One question often turns into a deeper conversation. Even asking others questions about yourself can be hugely rewarding; what better way of getting a better understanding of how people perceive you than to ask? Many might find this difficult because they are afraid of what they might learn, but if you truly want to improve yourself as a person, then asking is the best way of finding out where you should start.
So, given all the benefits asking questions have, why are there so few people like me? Why is it that there’s “that one person always raising his hand” or that “that one person always questioning people’s ideas”? Why is it that during lectures, I’m the only one who asks questions nearly every time? Why is it that such a low fraction of people account for such a large fraction of the questions? I refuse to believe that other people aren’t curious or have doubts about things. My deepest fear is that people just don’t care. That they don’t care how a particular project turns out or whether they get a complete understanding of whatever is being taught in a lecture. They just want to get by. This is a terrible, terrible attitude, one that inhibits innovation and exploration. Come on people, raise your hands and speak your mind! Develop. Learn. Explore. Question. Care! Or go do something else.