Dumb Questions

We hear it so much it's become cliché: "There's no such thing as a dumb question" or "The only dumb question is the one you don't ask." Well, I disagree; there are many dumb questions.
But dumb questions are actually good and useful -especially when it comes to troubleshooting a computer. Dealing with dumb questions is a large part of the technology support I provide for a living. I must ask and answer lots of dumb questions daily. I've learned to enjoy them.

First, we should define a "dumb" question. For me a dumb question is one with an answer that feels like it should have been obvious. If you hear the answer to your question, then hit your head with the heel of your hand and say "Oh, of course" then your question was dumb. But is that so wrong? It's OK because everyone has asked a dumb question and will eventually ask one again.

Dumb questions are great because they almost always have simple answers. I find that people tend to focus on the sophistication of today's computers so much that they forget that most computer problems are just a bit mysterious at first, but very rarely are they complex. When clients call me for help many will overcomplicate their computer dilemma by expecting me to walk them by phone through a long series of mouse clicks and intricate computer configuration changes on the screen. They are surprised when I ask a carefully chosen "dumb question" that 9 times out of 10 will provide an answer that solves the problem. Some of my favorite and most effective dumb questions to ask are:

"Is the cable plugged in?"

"Is the light on the monitor on or off?"

"Can you feel air coming out of the back of the computer's case?"

"Does the printer have any paper?"

And finally, "If you turn on the speakers can you hear the sound then?"

These are the questions that lead to clients calling me a "computer genius" if they are willing to answer them.

Some people calling for help with their computer problems seem offended at my dumb questions. They offer are all sorts of auditory responses. A single, exhaled nose-puff of disgust that I'd ask someone to get under a desk and check a cable is a classic response to my attempt to help.

Occasionally, when asking if a comatose laptop had been dropped, there is a long silent pause before I hear laughter from the caller at the audacity I've shown to ask such a thing! But you'd be surprised how many times I've spent 30+ minutes on the phone checking on-screen setting with a person before he/she confessed to having physically damaged the computer. So now I offer no apology for beginning my tech help with a dumb question.

The sarcastic "tooth sucking" sound is another response to my dumb question. This typically happens right before the dumb question provides the answer the caller wants so badly. I never return the sarcasm. They can't shake me of my dumb questions because the truth is that dumb questions work!

Dumb questions are great because others with the same question will love you for asking one. Have you ever been in a class with a question running through your mind that you thought was dumb only to hear someone else ask it out loud? Didn't it feel great to get the answer without having to be the one to ask? Did you also notice that the "asker" didn't suffer any physical harm or ridicule for his/her courageous "dumb" question? The adoration of others is just another benefit of being willing to ask and answer dumb questions!

Dumb computer questions are cheaper to answer. I bill by the hour. The dumber the question called in, the less time I need to answer it and the more money clients save. Dumb questions can be financially rewarding!

Dumb questions don't always have to be asked. A client called me with a laptop that would not play the sound on a web page. Recalling the user's computer skill-level and the unlikely possibility that the sound was broken (I had worked on the laptop the day before) I asked him to slide his hand, dragging it along the side of the laptop from the bottom of the screen toward his body. Suddenly the sound of blaring music swelled from the laptop. He had found the volume dial without me asking the dumb question "Is your volume knob turned up?" He appreciated it and belly-laughed at the simplicity of the solution. I explained to him that I'm very good with computer dials [grin] then promised to not tell anyone in his office of this incident. Indeed, the dumb question had been answered without having to be asked.

So what's the point? (Is that a dumb question?) The point here is to be willing to get back to basics. Don't be too proud to ask (or answer) a question that may seem dumb. The simple answer to a dumb question can save you time, money and others that are listening in will dig you for being brave enough to ask it for them!

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