He who is afraid to ask is ashamed of learning.
– Danish proverb
I am, I must admit, afraid to ask.
I have always felt an apprehension to ask questions when I don’t know or I’m not sure of something. Could be a procedure, or a process step, or a concept being discussed, or, maddeningly too often, an unfamiliar acronym …
I think what’s underneath my reticence is a fear of being embarrassed.
My mental process goes something like this: asking questions is an admission of not knowing … and if people think I’m not knowing something that they think I should know … that’s embarrassing!
Is this normal? Do you feel this way? Does everyone do you think?
I honestly don’t know how commonplace this feeling is.
I know I have this feeling with some regularity. But I can also see in my interactions with others an apparent absence of that reticence.
I suspect that, while we all may have this feeling, some of us have it to a much greater degree than others.
But, what I don’t quite get is that, according to this proverb, those of us that are afraid to ask are judged as being ashamed of learning.
Don’t you think that’s a little harsh? I think that’s a little harsh.
I’m ashamed of learning?
I don’t think so.
I’m ashamed of not knowing, but not of learning!
Do you equate my being embarrassed at not knowing with being ashamed of learning?
I really do perceive my apprehensiveness to ask questions as a personal weakness. I wish I wouldn’t be so worried about what others might think.
But just because I don’t ask a question when I don’t know something doesn’t mean that I don’t learn. (I realize, though, that it may mean I miss an opportunity to learn.)
But, more often that not, I get my questions answered some time later, usually with my own research. So you might say I compensate for my weakness by utilizing a different approach to learning.
Now, I admit, this is not very efficient. There’s time and effort involved.
But I’m not worried about that.
The irony here is that the job of the OD consultant and practitioner is to ask questions – the tough ones! You are exceedingly good at asking questions. However, I think that you are more comfortable with the complex ones that prompt positive change rather than the questions that might tip your hand to your colleagues around the corporate poker table. The feeling that you’re describing above seems pretty normal to me – authority = strength in influence/negotiation.
However, asking the simpler questions can have a lot of value. Even though it puts the person asking the question in a more vulnerable position, a well placed question can change basic assumptions that might act as an obstacle (i.e. a new employee asking about the unwritten rules in a too established business culture) or the dangerous “Emporer’s New Clothes” situation with leadership. Plus, you might be getting an answer to a question that another colleague didn’t have the courage to ask…
John M. Greco said:
Eileen: Yes. And yes!
I’m really only talking about the simple questions. I am more comfortable ferreting out the dynamics in complex, dynamic situations. It’s the easy ones (how do I mail a package?) that are embarrassing and may not get asked at all …
And you bet the simple questions have value (hence my shame!) yet, when I do the math, they fall short of the tougher ones. I really like the tougher ones! (Too much, sometimes, methinks.)
Always, always good to see you here!
I wonder if that’s not a man thing. It’s a trait I think women recognize in men they’re close to, as in the stereotypical unwillingness to ask for help when they’re lost. I’ve heard most every woman I’ve known over the years, express frustration over their man’s unwillingness to admit they don’t know something and also, as a rule, to say they’re sorry; both admittance of vulnerability in their mind, or so we’ve all decided. Not that we talk about you men behind your back…
Jim Greco Sr said:
I discovered, while in college, that my confidence level and understanding of some issues, increased when I asked questions. This stage was one where I was studying during my college years. I realized that asking questions also would often level the playing field.
John M. Greco said:
Jamie: It’s a man thing? Hmmmm …
Jim: Ahh, great point, and I think you’re right about the possibility of asking questions serving as an equalizer of sorts. But I would bet those aren’t the “can you tell me how to ship this package?” kind of question … Probably more of the more complex kind (see Eilleen’s comment above).
Being Swedish, trust me when I tell you that those Danes are tough cookies. LOL j/k
I’ve never seen you shy away from asking questions. Go figure!
My problem is that I don’t ask enough questions and make too many statements. In the end, I look like a know-it-all. Embarassing? Ummm … yeah.
John M. Greco said:
I don’t shy away from asking the tough questions … it’s the stupid silly easy ones that I pass on!
You know a lot. A LOT. While a advocacy/inquiry balance is desirable, you are in my view very justified in making the statements you make … Because you know a lot!
Pingback: Are fundraising professionals “ashamed”? Too busy? Too lazy? | Donor Dreams Blog
Lynn Pavlis-Jenkins said:
Might I reframe this issue for you. By asking your “simple/easy” question you allow others the ability to share what they know with you. This allows them to give you a gift. If you do not ask you inhibit theri ability to gift.