“He who asks a question is a fool for a minute; he who does not remains a fool forever” – Chinese Proverb
How can you and I possibly use this leadership quote?
If you don’t understand something and you just sit there without opening your mouth, what happens if nobody else asks? You may never know the answer.
This Chinese proverb, unlike many inspirational leadership quotes we use in business, holds true for other areas of life as well.
Memories from childhood
When you were a young child, you asked and asked, until the adults around you sometimes became frustrated. “Why?” you asked. “Why is that like that?” “Why did that happen….?” Then as you grew up, you learnt that it was polite to be quiet. Over those early years, asking questions started to make you embarrassed. You didn’t want to disturb anyone. You were told it wasn’t polite. And you certainly didn’t want to be made to look a fool!
You sat there in class and the others (who also didn’t know) laughed at you when you asked that question. You felt uncomfortable because of the peer pressure.
Where does this leave you now?
Sitting there and sometimes not knowing. That isn’t better than knowing, is it? You are sitting in the company of somebody who knows more about the subject than you do and if you don’t ask a question, when you leave you will know maybe a tenth of what you would have learned if you had asked some searching questions.
When you go to a big meeting, sit near the front. When the speaker says something you don’t understand, put up your hand and ask. Do it because you want to know. Do it also because the room will be full of people who don’t understand and you will be helping them too.
If you are sitting together with somebody and they say something you don’t understand you can make a note of the question and then ask them when the right time comes. That way you don’t have to interrupt them.
Successful people are generally very happy to share their knowledge. We wouldn’t have such a huge treasury of famous leadership quotes and guidelines if this weren’t true. If you ask a question, you will find that you gain the respect of the speaker as well as most of the audience. Far from looking a fool, you will gain in stature and knowledge. You may even have the chance to follow up later with further clarification and learn even more.
When you’re sitting there deciding whether to ask or not and it’s 50 – 50, come down on the side of asking the question. Listen to what is said, ask your question, safe in the knowledge that if you haven’t understood it then it probably wasn’t explained clearly enough. Perhaps the speaker made some assumptions about basic knowledge because they are an expert. So, every time you don’t understand something, ask! You won’t be the fool who goes through their life in ignorance. You will be the one who understands.
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