Sometimes people assume that we know more about a particular subject or situation than we actually do. When that happens, we are usually reluctant to let them know they are wrong. We are afraid to look stupid. We are afraid that asking questions will make us look ill informed or unintelligent. Unless people are terrible snobs, they usually admire people who ask about what they do not know.
One of the best stories I know about the power of questions involves Barbara Bush. When George Bush was first running for president, she had to choose an issue to promote, should she become First Lady. She describes in her autobiography, Barbara Bush: A Memoir, how, after much though, she finally realized that her issue should be literacy - that everything would be better "if more people could read, write, and comprehend."
"So the campaign was told that literacy was my interest - but we forgot to mention that I knew absolutely nothing about the subject, at least not yet." One day, on a campaign stop, she was led into a meeting where her hostess said, " 'We are so excited about your visit. I have collected literacy experts from all around Milwaukee, some forty-five of the most informed people ... we can't wait to hear what you have to say.' "
"I was lucky," writes Mrs. Bush, "for it suddenly came to me what to do. After saying a very few words, I asked them a question: 'If you were married to the President and had the opportunity to really make a dent in the field of literacy, what one thing would you do? How would you go about it?' " Needless to say, the room came alive with excellent suggestions.
"I certainly did learn something there," she concludes. "People would rather hear themselves talk than someone else. So when in doubt, keep quiet, listen, and let others talk. They'll be happy and you might learn something."