There are No Dumb Questions, Thanks for Asking

When you were in grade school I bet you had teachers who said, “There are no dumb questions. Thanks for asking.” Why did they say this? Because they understood kids could be self-conscious about looking dumb in front of their peers and that can stifle the learning process. Your teachers also knew the same question was probably on the minds of other kids.

When it comes to persuading people much of the time it entails dialogue and true dialogue means asking questions then listening. Unfortunately, too often people are not actually listening. Stephen Covey put it this way, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” According to Covey, true listening happens when you “seek first to understand, then be understood.” That usually starts with a question.

A few weeks ago I reached out to a friend via Facebook messenger with a question because I wanted to understand his opinion on something he posted. I asked him about the Megyn Kelly controversy where she said she didn’t see anything wrong with someone dressing up as Diana Ross for Halloween because she’s an icon that many people – black and white – would love to be like. I wanted my friend’s opinion on the topic. He gave a thoughtful response but then told me how disappointed he was in me for asking.

Right or wrong, every step of the way in life we learn. The current views we hold on race, sexuality and many other things in life are learned. What was acceptable 25, 50, 100 years ago is very different than today because we grow and learn. The more “enlightened” views we hold today versus those of the past might be considered racist, homophobic, ignorant in 25 years.

My friend asked why I would come to him, a gay white male, with my question rather than going to a black person. He wrote, “have you ever sat down with a person of color and asked them these hard but informative questions? Based on what you and I have talked about I’m guessing not. Believe me they want us too.” For me the answer was simple; my friend was the one who posted the story along with his opinion so I was curious to know more about his thoughts.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you know I’ve not shied away from issues of race. If you’re curious about my thoughts follow this link to see a few of my posts on the subject.

Russell Barrow, an African American, has been my best friend for more than 40 years. He was the best man in my wedding and stood with me at the renewal of my wedding vows. Because he’s so close to our family our daughter Abigail calls him “Uncle Russell.” Russell and I talk almost every day on my drive home from work. We talk about race, politics, President Trump, Colin Kaepernick, times where Russell experienced racism, and many other issues. Nothing is off the table because I love him, respect his opinion and I know whatever question I ask I won’t be judged. That leads to the kinds of conversations most people don’t have. At work I’ve spoken with dozens of African American coworkers over the years and a common question has been, “What’s it like to be an African American working at State Auto Insurance?” The answers have always been eye opening!

I would hope most people who’ve experienced negative attitudes and behaviors from others would welcome the opportunity to change their hearts, minds and actions, especially if they’re approached in a spirt of openness to learn. A great place to start is non-judgmental dialogue that allows people to get to know each other.

What’s to be learned from this experience that might help you in the future? A couple of things come to mind:

  1. First, just because you disagree with someone, or cannot fathom how they might hold an opinion different from yours, don’t make sweeping judgments about them or their psychological state. The truth is, you probably know very little about them, their life experiences or their thinking.
  2. Second, and most importantly, don’t shut down the conversation by making some feel ignorant or bad for asking a question in good faith. Show some grace and be thankful that they asked because it’s the first step towards better understanding. If we stop talking we’re screwed!

Remember, when it comes to persuading others – changing hearts, minds and actions – there are no dumb questions. Be grateful the other person is curious enough to approach you with a “help me understand” or “I’m curious” attitude. Saying, “Thanks for asking,” before sharing your insights will go a long way towards having more constructive conversations in the future. The more we do this as a society the better off we’ll be.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. His Learning course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed nearly 150,000 times! The course teaches you how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process. Not watched it yet? Click here to see what you’ve been missing.

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