It's pretty clear that whoever said “there's no such thing as astupid question” never worked in the insurance industry.

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The other day I got a text from a friend of mine that said “Ijust talked to the dumbest person on earth.” This has to be good, Ithought, so I called to get the story. It turns out that one of hisclients had an employee who wanted to add her husband to her policybecause he was in a waiting period with his new job.

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But when the employee saw the rates, she said they were too highand she didn't want to pay them. The employer explained they hadshopped the market at renewal time, that they were offering a dualoption, and that she had signed up for the most expensive optionbut could switch to the core plan if she wanted.

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The employee didn't like this answer, so she called theinsurance company directly and asked to speak with someone in theactuarial department so she could renegotiate the rates. You canimagine their reaction. Since the employee was directed back to heremployer and the broker, my friend now had the unenviable job ofexplaining to the employee why the rates for her 15-life group arehigher than the premium for the 30,000 employee company her husbandworks for.

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Stupid questions come in all shapes and sizes, but they do fitinto a few general categories. According to Darrell Causey, alongtime teacher and coach in the Houston area, “one of the mostcommon stupid questions is the one that asks about something thatwas just announced.” This, he explains, just shows that the personasking the question isn't listening to the speaker.

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Another type of stupid question is one that's not meant toclarify the listener's understanding but is only asked to get thespeaker off task. This often happens when an employee decides tomake the group enrollment meeting all about him and his personalopinions.

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The final type is the question the person asking could haveanswered himself because he's requesting information that's alreadyin his possession.

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“All this question does is confirm the inquirer is too lazy tocheck their handouts,” Causey says.

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So what should be done about stupid questions? Make people awareof them, he says.

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Of course, he works with high school students—it's a little moredifficult to tell our clients and co-workers they should thinkbefore they speak. Still, there are subtle ways to wean people offthe habit.

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I do a lot of public speaking, and I've discovered an effectiveway of dealing with the first two types of stupid questions. Whensomeone asks about a topic I just addressed, I'll actually back thePowerPoint up to a previous slide and go over the material again.The point is quickly made that the information has been coveredalready, and the person is usually embarrassed enough to pay betterattention going forward.

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I also rely on the audience to control the person whose solemission is to hijack the conversation. I explain at the beginningof every presentation that there's a lot of material to cover andask that attendees hold their questions until the end, noting thatthe presentation is designed to answer most of their questions aswe go along. This way, when somebody interrupts with an irrelevantor unrelated question, I can quickly answer it but then remind themthat we need to stay on topic so we don't have to stay late. Thenext time that person asks a question, the audience will begin toturn on him.

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For the final type of stupid question, I like the way a friendof mine deals with it. She has a lazy co-worker who doesn't likelooking up answers herself. Every time this person asks aboutsomething she should know already, my friend types out the answerfor her. When she asks the same question again, my friend printsoff the same answer and hangs it on her cubicle wall. She also hasa “stupid questions” folder in Outlook.

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So instead of getting irritated, she puts them in a folder andanswers them all at once.

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Most people don't understand insurance, so we're bound to getstupid questions from time to time. The good news is that as longas people keep asking them, there will always be a job forinsurance advisers. Plus they make great happy hour stories…

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