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No Bad Questions

Here’s an excerpt from an actual conversation I had on the bus the other day:

Man sitting next to me: “My son plays horn in an orchestra and … [talks about his son being in the orchestra”

Me: “Cool, so what musical instrument does your son play?”

Man: “…He plays horn.”

There may be no stupid questions, but there are definitely inattentive questions.

Some of us just have more than we should.

People don’t always enjoy being asked questions that they explicitly answered thirty seconds ago. Sometimes the look on their face will tell you everything you need to know about your question, even if you have absolutely no recollection that they’ve already answered it. Other times, it’ll occur to you before you’re even done asking the question that you just half-heard the answer but didn’t process it – the good old “heard the words, didn’t think about what they meant” phenomenon.

This is the biggest problem I see with, uh, communicating by speech in general. Once something is said, it’s gone. You have one shot at paying attention!

The nice thing about work environments and school is that some of the important stuff tends to be written down, so you can go back and re-read. When you ask inattentive questions in social situations, at least it’s not going to get you fired – it’ll just make people think you’re rude or not very interested in them! So that’s some consolation.

Dealing with someone with ADHD can be like dealing with a lawyer: if it isn’t in writing, it didn’t happen. Actually, it’s more like dealing with an unreliable lawyer because even if it is in writing, sometimes the documents get lost.

You might think that since we’re more prone to asking inattentive questions, at least we’d also be more understanding of other people asking us inattentive questions. But I’m not sure that’s the case. In the end, no one likes being not listened to!

OK, so that’s the problem. What’s the solution? This is the part of the blog post where I share my tips for not asking so many inattentive questions, right?

Sorry, I’ve got nothing. In fact, sometimes you should ask inattentive questions, even if you know they’re inattentive. After all, there are definitely situations where asking someone to repeat themselves is preferable to never having your question answered at all – although I’ll concede that my conversation with the man on the bus might not have been one of them.

Image: Flickr/Andrew Steele

No Bad Questions

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2017). No Bad Questions. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 15 Dec 2017
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