No Such Thing As A Dumb Question
Minh Tran, Former Senior Designer
"There's no such thing as a dumb question."
We all know this statement, and yet we still take it for granted.
"Dumb" questions are actually the foundation of most learning — they become the basic starting points for conversation, and help us better understand people we work with and their business goals and needs. Don't be afraid of them.
Over the years, we've found that the simplest questions create a strong foundation for our projects.
- Who are you?
- What do you do?
- Why do you do it?
- What are your priorities?
- Define success
- Why now?
These are examples of simple questions that are necessary if we want to successfully understand and empathize with our clients and others. What makes these questions complex is how the answers are interpreted. Learn to read between the lines and understand what information is missing. The skill is highly underrated and underutilized, but it can lead to key insights. As you interpret answers, focus on these three things:
1. Clarity of Communication
How people communicate often defines their confidence in the topic. Be aware of how directly or indirectly they answer questions. Concise answers communicate confidence and hard parameters. Convoluted answers usually indicate that the respondent is still working out the details, and that you need to dig deeper.
2. Unspoken Language
Not all communication is spoken or written. Reading body language is one of the most important skills when interacting with others. Recognize how people respond to your questions:
- Are they comfortable?
- Are they uncomfortable?
- Are they confident?
- Are they confused?
- Are others influencing their answer?
Having a good sense of these non-verbal indicators will help you refine and personalize your follow-up questions.
3. Dig Deeper
Honing in on the right ideas takes time and experience. We focus on defining key business problems and goals clearly at the beginning of every project. Don't take anything for granted; there are always assumptions to debunk and opportunities to unpack participants’ responses. Get it down on paper. It never hurts to ask “Why?” multiple times.
While this seems like a deceptively straightforward approach, you’ll find many clients have never been asked to concisely answer such simple questions. When executed well, you start to get great work.
Remember that there are no such things as “dumb questions;” think of them instead as “foundational questions” that establish a groundwork for communication and building blocks for learning. Answering them and interpreting them well can lead to great results.