I used to lack the confidence to say “I don’t know” or “What does that mean”. Being an intuitive thinker and a great impromptu speaker put me at a disadvantage in this case. I could normally fake understanding. I was really pretending to know everything. But, it stunted my growth as a person and in my career. It may be stunting your growth as well.
Our pride gets in the way of our ability to be better when we refuse to allow ourselves to learn and grow. No one person can not possibly be expected to know all the information in the world. Even in a small domain of knowledge things are changing rapidly and people in different groups occasionally use different terms or even pronounce things differently.
Pretending to know everything will hold you back
The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask. – Unknown
You may be able to look up the answer online after the meeting, but asking in the meeting not only gets you the understanding sooner, it helps you with context for the rest of the meeting. It also brings transparency and honestly to the conversation. If you show yourself as humble and willing to ask questions you will be taken more seriously. Seek first to understand and then to be understood and all that.
Questions and conversation bring understanding between people. I have built relationships on the foundations of good questions. I remained curious and humble and I was able to understand people, projects and processes better. When people realize you are actually curious about something and that you are asking questions to learn they appreciate you more. They will begin to have a greater trust for you because they know if you don’t understand you will ask questions.
Pretending to know everything will hold back your organization
As a consultant, I can’t tell you how many times I have come into a project and started gathering information only to find out no one knows. I usually start with a glossary of terms and abbreviations. Normally, I have to talk to many people to fill it in because no one knows what these terms really mean. People use the term without a full understanding of what it means or why it is used. Even without a shared understanding of the term, it means different things depending on who you talk to.
These types of things cause miscommunications that can lead to larger issues. If we don’t ask questions we may find ourselves perpetuating these types of misunderstandings.
When I stopped pretending and became curious
This change happened when I moved into consultant work. It was easier because no one expected me to come in knowing everything about their company. I was freer to ask the questions I wanted to ask. I had an excuse you could say. I started to see all the benefits I talked about above. I helped clients create a shared understanding of their own terminology and environments. I was able to bring teams together by asking questions others were afraid to ask.
I could lead by example. I started to see more questions come my way because I set the standard. I was able to improve my communication by hearing more of what others thought. There have been a few times where, in the moment, I asked an obvious question. Because it was my practice to ask a lot it was normally laughed off by all involved.
The only real downside to asking questions is an assault on your pride, which is purely an internal injury.