In a conversation, people balance competing concerns. They want to gather information, and at the same time, they want to create a favorable impression. Impression management is an important social skill; you don’t want to look like someone who is always nosing around deeply personal secrets. And sometimes, you don’t want to look like you don’t know the answer.
“There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question.” —Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World
The idea that people should feel comfortable asking dumb questions has strong support. Economically speaking, a community wins if its members have all the information they need to make good decisions. By allowing people to ask stupid questions, a community strengthens its ability to share knowledge.
And our questions convey information. Listeners will learn about us from our questions. If nothing else, our questions will tell a listener what we’re interested in.
Questions are not just useful for gathering information; they are a brilliant conversation tool.
- Questions can be used to express interest in others. People like to talk about themselves, and they like when someone shows interest in them. Simply being curious about someone will build rapport and help you earn social credit.
- Questions create opportunities to share information. You can direct the conversation by asking someone about a particular topic, and they might respond by asking a complementary question.