Defining Moment: Ask A Stupid Question

It might change you.

Have you ever been the person in the room digging deep for the courage to ask a question? One you know you will feel stupid for asking but having no other choice.

I have a crystal clear memory of one of these moments, it should have been forgettable and insignificant but instead a five minute ordeal seems to have greatly contributed to my personality.

I’m standing in the office at my previous workplace, it’s open plan with work stations along each wall and a large desk in the centre for the store manager. It’s always slightly hushed in here because several different departments share the space. There are receptionists on the phones or signing visitors in at the window, different levels of management flit in and out constantly and occasionally a floor level employee will hover nervously in wait for who knows what.

I have recently been promoted, I am now on the first step of the management ladder and my superior has sent me in to copy some documents. Now here’s my dilemma. I don’t know how to work the photocopier.

SIMPLE? Right? Actually no. Not for me. At 21 years old I have never had cause to use a photocopier. I understand the concept, put the documents in the tray, push the green button and the copies come out the other side. But I need to select the amount of copies, the paper dimensions, content enlargement, and I saw a girl last week get her copies all jammed up. Every person in here uses this machine every day with ease, who can I ask that isn’t going to laugh at me? They’ll have to be soft-spoken, if I ask the wrong person the whole office is going to over hear, then they’ll all know what a fool I am. The store manager is right next to the copy machine, there are five other senior managers nearby as well as the gossipy administration team and a handful of sales floor employees. 

I made the wrong choice.  Easy to do when you’re in a store full of colleagues vying for the same promotional opportunities. I asked help from a girl of my own age and management level, we’d been working together a few years by then. She laughed loudly and talked me very slowly through my task with a false bubbly tone as if I were a child tying my shoe laces.

In my mind I thank this girl. Those few moments whilst all the workers stared at me, my face burning as I silently admonished myself, stuck with me. Its irrelevant but needs to be said that I moved on to bigger and better things.

The point is I make certain to ensure no-one ever feels any sort of negativity when approaching me for help. If you ask anyone who presently or previously worked with me for a summary of my management style the same words always surface. Approachable. Understanding. Fair.

As far as I know the girl of my story bolted up the management ladder at that particular company, only to be made redundant in a series of budget cuts during the supermarket price wars a few years back.

The smallest events can have the largest impact.

I’d be interested to hear some of yours…

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