At some point, the common fortune cookie seems to have turned into an “advice” cookie, which is probably just as well. Posting this photo from my fortune cookie / advice cookie the other evening generated some interesting comments on Facebook about asking honest questions.

Is there any harm in asking honest questions?

A current teacher that I went to grade school with said she has to work hard to get her students to feel comfortable asking questions without concern for being laughed at for not knowing something. A college friend pointed out that “never is a long time” and that there a variety of situations where even honest questions can be too honest or sensitive and indeed cause harm.

What do you think? Is there ever any harm in asking honest questions? – Mike Brown


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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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6 Responses to “Asking Honest Questions – Is there ever any harm in asking them?”

  1. Hi Mike. Great ‘question’ – and I appreciated the thread on Facebook.

    I think there can be harm if the answer to the question is none of our business. However, sometimes we are compelled to ask for ‘other’ reasons – perhaps noble, perhaps because the good will outweigh the harm. What is the ROI on asking? Do the rewards outweigh the risk? Is it REALLY the right thing to do? 

    Good question. Difficult to answer! 

    • Mike Brown says:

      The other person can always refuse to answer if it’s none of our business. Maybe as you get into the other reasons for asking, Jacqui, that’s when what’s “honest” and what isn’t becomes confusing.

  2. Mike Brown says:

    Here’s another take on the question from Twitter: https://twitter.com/acharlieh/status/289723103368597504

    • Yep – agree with that twitter thread.

      Unfortunately, ‘veiling legitimately negative intent’ and an ‘excuse not to think’ both are spot on. I had almost written a follow-up comment saying that sometimes people have their own agenda when asking purportedly ‘honest’ questions. So, in reality they are advancing their own agenda at the expense of someone else’s reputation or to hijack the other person’s message vs. ‘really’ being sincere in their questioning.

      Mostly, I think it’s good to be free to ask ‘honest questions’ and fear shouldn’t override openness. As you said, person can decline to answer. Being on pins and needles vs, having open dialogue not a good thing, generally. And, sometimes, we are so consumed by our limiting thoughts that thinking outside our ‘square’ becomes difficult, so we must feel unfettered to ask even the simplest, most seemingly ‘obvious’ questions to get unstuck. (So, while it may appear we aren’t ‘thinking’ things through, it may instead be that we are blocked from clear thinking.)

      Yes yes, a complex topic for sure – and a thoughtful one. Thank you for posing and expanding upon this discussion, Mike.

  3. AlexanderG says:

    Yes, there is if you care what myopic people may think of you. Otherwise, no.

  4. Annie Pettit says:

    Why not try asking teenagers what their favourite music is – in front of people who aren’t their best friends. Just as horrifying for them.