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There Are Stupid Questions

There Are Stupid Questions

We seem to direct our lives with a variety of humble, good-intentioned, ideal, yet completely nonsensical apothems that tend to constrict our success and options. One of the worst of these is, “There is no such thing as a stupid question.”

Au contraire. A stupid question is one which the asker can readily answer for himself or herself if the time were invested, or defies logic, or refuses to blink in the face of the egregiously obvious. I shall demonstrate.

A woman asks why she hasn’t received her free teleconference download which I promise “within 48 hours.” The answer is that she’s registered for a teleconference the next month, and I can’t provide a recording of something that is yet to be delivered.

A man asks why he didn’t receive his book, which is ordered with an advance, prepublication discount for a publication date on August 15. He asks this on July 10.

I’m sometimes asked by a consultant something like this: “I have a meeting with the CEO of a $500 million firm tomorrow. What should I do?” Oh, I don’t know, what about singing something? Or: “Three people gave me business cards after my speech. What’s the next step?” Avoid a paper cut.

Then there’s the general and unanswerable: “What should I do when networking?” Or, “What should I consult about?” Could you be less specific?

“Would you please make it warmer in here?” No, there are 150 people in this room and I’m not adjusting the temperature per every individual request. (One woman complained about her poor seat, the only one remaining in the room, and asked me if she could have a better one. She had arrived ten minutes after I began.)

It’s a good idea to ask yourself whether you already know the answer to your question. It often resides in a rare lobe of the brain called “common sense.”  Apparently, some people have had it surgically removed.

© Alan Weiss 2013

PS: I’d welcome here your best examples of stupid questions you’ve been asked. Example, to AT&T:

ME: My phone has no dial tone and I can’t call out.

THEM: Are you on that phone now talking to me?

Written by

Alan Weiss is a consultant, speaker, and author of over 60 books. His consulting firm, Summit Consulting Group, Inc., has attracted clients from over 500 leading organizations around the world.

Comments: 13

  • Peter McLean

    August 12, 2013

    After telling a Vodafone ‘customer service’ agent repeatedly that my phone was not sending texts, having spent about 30 minutes on the phone with her, and having removed the sim card and restarted twice and given her my details three times, etc. etc. etc.,

    SHE: Have you tried removing the sim card and restarting the phone?

    ME: Yes, I’ve told you that repeatedly. You don’t have a clue what you’re doing.

    SHE (amidst lots of background noise and then the sound of her munching on something): Well, we are having a celebration back here for all of the great customer service work that we are doing as a team, so I’m sure you can understand why we have some noise?

    ME: I’m hanging up now, you obviously don’t have a clue how to fix this, and I am going to sort it out myself.

    I hang up. She calls back.

    SHE: We seemed to get cut off. Was there a problem?

    ME: You can’t help me. I’m hanging up. Don’t call me.

    SHE (as I hang up): Is there any other way I can help you today?

    (I’d also like to volunteer an entire presentation about C-Suite buy-in that I was listening to, which spent the first five minutes with the speaker asking the audience things like, “It’s difficult when you don’t have CEO buy-in. Can I ask you to raise your hand if you agree?” and the rest of the time delivering boring self-promotion and repeated appeals to “hearts and minds”, followed by “how did we do this?” at 16 mins in, which she did not then answer!)

    • Alan Weiss

      August 13, 2013

      I LOVE the part about the celebration of customer service!

  • Guido Thys

    August 13, 2013

    Alan, don’t “misunderestimate” the fun we can have while answering these questions.
    Prospect: I have received your proposal. Can I have a discount?
    Me: We can certainly talk about a discount, I charge $ 250 an hour for that. Last week another client managed to obtain a rebate of $ 300. It took him 2 hours.

    Client: we are a large company that employs over 25,000 people. Surely you understand that we can not meet your payment conditions (pre-payment). We normally pay after 90, but would 60 days be acceptable?
    Me: I am honoured to hear that over 25,000 people will be involved in the payment of my $ 5,000 invoice. Can you tell me how that works?

    I am sure there are many more examples.

    • Alan Weiss

      August 13, 2013

      Of course, 90-day payment rules means that the invoice sits on a desktop for 89 days for no reason other than to make money at the expense of small businesses!

  • Alan Weiss

    August 13, 2013

    Here’s another great one: I ask for the sales manager at a major hotel to book a full-week, mid-five-figure meeting. I’m told she’s in a company meeting and can’t come to the phone. I ask, “What kind of meeting?” I’m told, “She’s learning how to better close business inquiries.” (I am NOT making this up.)

    I said, “Don’t you think she’s better off actually closing one right now than learning how to do so in a classroom?” She never did come to the phone. I called the hotel manager, who just kept muttering, “Unbelievable….”

    • Guido Thys

      August 14, 2013

      In 2001 I wrote a book (in Dutch) called “Closed During Customer Focus Training”. On the cover is a picture of an actual sign I saw at the front door of a High Street mortgage advisor. Cover.

      • Alan Weiss

        August 14, 2013

        You can’t make this up!

  • Dave Gardner

    August 13, 2013

    Me: My cable TV isn’t working.

    Dish Network: Grab the remote control and push the button in the upper left hand corner. What happens?

    Me: A red light came on.

    Dish Network: Terrific. I’m going to hand you off to Level 2 Technical Support now.

  • Larry Kutner

    August 14, 2013

    This happened to me 20 years ago at a store:

    Clerk: “I’ll need to see two forms of I.D.”

    Me: “But I’m paying cash.”

    Clerk: “We have our rules, sir.”

  • Patrick Nelson

    August 18, 2013

    A client once asked me if I could do anything about the fact that her website looked smaller on her iPhone than it did on her desktop computer in the office.

    I was tempted to suggest that she tried standing further back from her desk…

    • Alan Weiss

      August 22, 2013

      I was told once that a customer was told to put the fax on her screen in order to send it, so she held the hard copy fax up to her computer screen. Maybe it isn’t true….

  • Guido Quelle

    August 18, 2013

    Coachee to coach: “Is there anything else I should have asked you?”

  • Alan Weiss

    August 19, 2013

    Him: “If you could ask yourself one question I haven’t asked, what would it be?”

    Me: “Why am I in this conversation?”

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