Why are People Afraid to ask Questions?

by Karen on July 9, 2010

My three year old constantly asks questions: Why is grass green? Why is it going to rain? What does the sun do when it’s raining? Why is that baby crying? Why is he tired? Why is it nighttime? Why is that lady mad? Where are all of the cars going? Why? ……ughhh. Clearly she has no fear, nor responsibility to deal with the answers.

It is expected that a new sales person will feel nervous asking questions on a call with an important customer for fear of looking under-qualified or stupid. Experienced sales people, on the other hand, should be comfortable posing most any business question to their long-time customers.

As a sales coach, I was taken off guard to learn that this was often not the case. The bolder new representative felt relatively confident asking copious questions, it showed they were keen, inquisitive, eager to learn and wanted to build a relationship. The experienced sales person, on the other hand, was often hesitant to ask new questions, for fear of looking stupid.  They were supposed to know everything about the customer by now.

I vividly recall the glare from an embarrassed senior sales representative when I asked a long-term customer a pretty basic question, “Do you have product moving to the U.S.?” The customer replied, “Yes, but I use somebody else because nobody from your company has ever asked that question before.” Yikes!

Without a doubt, asking questions can be intimidating to the person on the other end of it, and does put the person on the spot if it isn’t handled with care. In fact, my eagerness has bit me a couple of times.  One of my husband’s friends said it felt like he was on a job interview when he first met me. Whooops!  I just wanted to get to know the person, for real.

A close friend was pondering why when old friends or distant family get together, nobody ever really asks about anything meaningful? The conversation always includes the standard weather discussion and a string of obligatory questions that seek only a one-word answer, “How are you? Been busy? Watching the soccer?”  Or, the conversation turns to a re-hashing of the past  A safe place, the past.

Oh, I’ve been told not to “poke the bear with a stick” when I’ve asked questions about service failures in front of the wrong people. Why?  Because it would mean a full investigation, a string of meetings and a potential process redesign or worse.

So the answer to “Why are people afraid to ask questions?”

  1. Fear of looking stupid
  2. Fear of making the other person uncomfortable
  3. Complicates relationships
  4. Creates work
  5. It’s a signal you really care and now you are invested – TIME!
  6. Might stir the pot, cause trouble
  7. Don’t want to face the truth
  8. Don’t want to change

And so on…..

Asking questions is our passion.  We believe asking meaningful questions is respectful, and asking the right questions without bias will reveal opportunity. Let us ask the deep questions, we’re not afraid.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Laurie Desautels July 9, 2010 at 9:12 am

Karen, great post. As I’ve grown as in my role as wife, mother and career I find myself asking even more questions. The older you get, the less you know it seems ;-).

Laurie July 13, 2010 at 11:31 am

So true Laurie! Wouldn’t life be dull if we weren’t learning and growing all the way along.

Bonnie July 23, 2010 at 7:58 am

Karen, great thought provoking blog. Makes me ask, what happens when we stop asking questions? I am inspired to keep asking!

Karen July 23, 2010 at 8:57 am

Thank you Bonnie. To stop asking is to stop learning. It’s not in you to stop challenging yourself, I know that for sure!

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