There is no shame in not knowing something.
For some people, that’s hard to admit and even harder to do something about. Whether it’s ego, stubbornness, or just plain apathy they just don’t dive below the surface.
My oldest daughter is in the home stretch of the long process toward gaining her driver’s license. One of the last steps is to take a Behind-the-Wheel course. As I was leaving for work and she was getting ready for the class I left her with one last bit of advice which I’ve always utilized in my own life.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
I told her that if there was anything she didn’t know or was hesitant about, just ask the instructor. The intent of the activity was to learn. You aren’t expected to show up at the class with all the answers. Their job is to supplement what you already know and to hone your skills to the point where you are confident and able to perform to the best of your ability.
The same bit of advice is also applicable in the corporate world. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in meetings and people will put on a facade of knowing what’s going on or understanding the intricacies of how a system functions. I know they don’t really understand what’s going on, yet they are afraid to ask. They don’t want to come off as ignorant or inexperienced. Yet after the meeting, when they are left to perform the task themselves, everything falls apart. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there in order to better understand something.
I have no shame in asking questions. It may be a stupid question to the rest of the group, but I’m still going to ask it if it’s something I don’t know or understand completely. What I’ve found over the years is many times this allows others to relax and to open up with their questions as well. It also provides a richer understanding of the topic at hand by having an engaging and deeper discussion about the “how” instead of just the “what”.
I’m not saying you should overwhelm the group with questions or ask questions just for the sake of it. I’m also not encouraging you to get too deep in the initial setting. Ask a couple of clarifying questions and if it requires additional discussion, do what’s known in corporate-speak and “take it offline”. Scratching below the surface will not only benefit you, but will help the entire group going forward.
Next time you find yourself in a meeting, seminar, or just casual conversation, don’t be afraid to ask the “how”.