When You Aren’t Sure Whether or Not to Ask the Question… Ask the Question

We’ve all learned that if you have a question, you should ask it, because chances are at least a few other people have the same question. The author describes why this is always important, even during times in which you feel shy about asking.

Funny story. After my mom received her doctorate in psychology, she took one of those all-day prep sessions to study for the board examination.

Soon after class began, the student sitting next to my mom began looking very confused and anxious. The man became increasingly fidgety over the next two hours. Then, finally, he whispered to my mom, “What does any of this have to do with selling real estate?”

Speak up and ask the question

There’s a valuable lesson here, one that we’ve all heard before but that is worth reminding ourselves of every so often. If you have a question in a public forum, don’t be shy. Don’t worry about being laughed at. Don’t worry about what other people will think. Speak up.

This man lost a good part of a day simply because he was uncomfortable asking a legitimate and important question as soon as he sensed something was off about his “real estate” prep session — which he clearly did within the first minutes.

Had he raised his hand as soon as the instructor first mentioned clinical diagnoses, or patients, or therapy, or whatever the first clue was, the man could have saved himself that whole day.

He also would have been only a few minutes late to his own prep class, the one he paid for, as opposed to being several hours late or maybe even missing it entirely.

And finally, he would have spared himself what must have been an agonizing internal dialogue as he sat in my mom’s class, arguing with himself over whether or not to raise his hand and ask if he was in the right room.

An overlooked consequence of not speaking up

I think this third lesson, the psychological one, is as important as the others, even though it gets much less attention. Most of us are taught in school that if you have a question, you should ask it — and as encouragement our teachers often tell us that several others probably have the same question.

That argument points to our insecurity, our fear of being embarrassed for publicly asking a dumb question or making an irrelevant remark. But isn’t the flip side also important? What about the psychological toll it takes on you not to raise your hand, when part of you is screaming to speak up?

Yes, sometimes you’ll ask a question — “Hey, is this the room for the Overeaters Anonymous meeting?” — and someone will chuckle at you. But even if you’re embarrassed, that awkwardness will be over in an instant.

But when you don’t ask the question because you’re afraid, you’ll probably suffer a maddening internal dialogue — where you berate yourself over and over for not having the nerve to speak up. And that pain will cut a lot deeper and last a lot longer than if you’d just raised your hand.

About the Author

Robbie Hyman is a professional communications and public affairs writer. He has 15 years’ experience writing for nonprofits, small business and multibillion-dollar international organizations and is available as a freelance writer for federal agencies.

Robbie has written thousands of pages of content, including white papers, speeches, published articles, reports, manuals, newsletters, video scripts, advertisements, technical document and other materials. He is also co-founder of MoneySavvyTeen.com, an online course that teaches smart money habits to teenagers.