Do you know what people know?

How can you possibly know what people know without asking? Of course, some people tell you but most don't. Do you ask people if they have gotten your message - if they have understood? The honest answer is no in most cases. Mos of us either donät like to make other feel stupid or don't like others to make us feel stupid. Some of us don't like either or.


We are not afraid to ask our children very basic control questions - over and over again. They call it nagging. Some of us do the same with our spouses but far too seldom do we dare to ask the simple control questions at work or in business.

Have you for example hired someone to fix your pluming or do some building for you and ended up getting the wrong result or the wrong price? I am pretty sure the answer is yes. We don’t like to ask silly questions and show how little we know. Silly since we are not expected to be plumbers or builders. 

How about at work? We don't want to embarrass people by questioning if they have heard and understood. But what if they were thinking about their sick mother, were checking an email or were dreaming about the next holiday just when you were saying those most important things? You can’t really see what people are thinking and the only safe way to confirm that a message has gone through is to ask and check.

I had a very interesting business meeting where I had very limited knowledge compare to all the others. I was at the same time supposed to prepare a structured and easy to understand documentation for the decision process. It was really difficult to get an understanding. At a very late stage I got a feeling I had all through the process confirmed - that they really did not understand! I had not dared to ask the basic questions since I was the one without the expertise. Should I question their knowledge? Well actually I should have because somewhere during the process, long before I joined, a few steps in a change process had not been communicated in an ideal way. Afterwards I can see how a few basic questions to verify the starting point and a couple of control questions in each meeting probably had made a big difference that might have led to a success instead of a mediocre result.

In another business meeting where I knew more but the Managers attending my meeting were on a very high level in the organisation and I was new as a Management Consultant I was so much braver. I actually explained basic accounting to them to make sure that the complicated effects of taxes and currency transactions were understood. Afterwards my colleagues at Ernst & Young did almost not believe that I had dared to be as basic as that with such important people. Result? Several of them stated “now I understand” and that was one reason I continued to have new assignments for them for many years. Dare to be basic and if you have the feeling the question might be too simple - ask it anyway! 

Do I need to be reminded to ask simple basic questions? Yes almost daily.