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The Art of Asking: Neglected Questions

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Afraid of looking foolish? Waiting for a better time? Don't want to make waves? Terry J. Fadem explains why you should speak up.

15. If I Ask a Foolish Question, I’ll Look Foolish

If you do not ask the question, you will almost certainly be foolish—eventually. The only way to improve questioning skills is to use them. More often than not, others are also thinking about the same question and do not want to ask.

One of my former fellow managers was an ex-government administrator who had a tendency of allowing acronyms to slip into his conversation. Most of the time, they were easily discernible. On occasion, it was not possible to figure out what he meant.

I decided to look foolish in front of my boss and peers one afternoon when a particular acronym confused me.

  • Ex-military officer/manager: Our plan called for us to lead a price increase—get the announcement out to our customers before our competitors had a chance to react. That is OTE.

I had never heard this expression being used before, so I assumed that everyone knew what this had meant. But, that did not stop me from asking. I had, as you will recall, already been fired once, so I was unconcerned about this happening again.

  • Foolish me: What is OTE?
  • Boss: Yes, what is OTE?
  • Ex-military officer/manager: Overtaken by events.

I learned three things. First, my boss had no idea what this expression meant, and he did not want to appear foolish. Second, I learned that I did not feel foolish after I asked the question, only before. Finally, I picked up a neat expression to use as a label on many of the files in my office.

Foolish questions are often neglected and should be asked.

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