Barriers to Learning - Avoiding Looking Stupid! LO22050

Fred Nickols (
Wed, 30 Jun 1999 05:30:41 -0400

Replying to LO22034 --

Keith Cowan offers up some insights from Arno Penzias about people's
reluctance to ask question for fear of looking stupid. I believe the
insights are valid. I also believe there are other reasons people are
hesitant to ask questions (or give the appearance of being hesitant).
Here are a few I've noted over the years: It Ain't Safe. I've been in
sessions where the CEO or some other "boss" was leading the discussion and
where it was also clear that the boss did not like being asked questions,
even innocent questions of clarification. It wasn't fear of looking
stupid that was at work, it was fear of getting on the wrong side of the

I Understand Perfectly. Another reason some people fail to ask questions
is that they actually believe they (and often they alone) really
understand what is really wanted and thus there is no need to ask
questions. They aren't afraid of looking stupid, they're convinced that
everyone else is.

Maybe It Will Go Away. The silent treatment is often applied to messages
with which one disagrees but chooses not to oppose. It is also applied to
what people view as a bad idea. Commenting and questioning give it
legitimacy. By being silent, the hope is that it will go away. Silence
is also a way of communicating dissent or disapproval without having to
say so overtly. I've seen bad ideas withdrawn in the face of silent
dissent. (Actually, in this case, people aren't reluctant to ask
questions, they're pretty deliberate about not asking them.)


Fred Nickols
Distance Consulting "Assistance at A Distance"
(609) 490-0095


Fred Nickols <>

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