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How to answer stupid questions.

It's pretty clear that whoever said "there's no such thing as a stupid question" never worked the insurance industry.

"The other day I got a text from a friend of mine that said "I just talked to the dumbest person on earth." This has to be good, I thought, so I called to get the story. It rams out that one of his clients had an employee who wanted to add her husband to her policy because he was in a waiting period with his new job.

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

"The employee didn't like this answer, so she called the insurance company directly and asked to speak with someone in the actuarial department so she could renegotiate the rates. You can imagine their reaction. Since the employee was directed back to her employer and the broker, my friend now had the unenviable job of explaining to the employee why the rates for her 15-life group are higher than the premium for the 30,000 employee company her husband works for.

Stupid questions come in all shapes and sizes, but they do fit into a few general categories. According to Darrell Causey, a longtime teacher and coach in the Houston area, "one of the most common stupid questions is the one that asks about something that was just announced. This, he explains, just shows that the person asking the question isn't listening to the speaker.

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

The final type is the question the person asking could have answered himself because he's requesting information that's already in his possession.

"All this question does is confirm the inquirer is too lazy to check their handouts," Causey says.

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

Of course, he works with high school students--it's a little more difficult to tell our clients and co-workers they should think before they speak. Still, there are subtle ways to wean people off the habit.

I do a lot of public speaking, and I've discovered an effective way of dealing with the first two types of stupid questions. When someone asks about a topic I just addressed, I'll actually back the PowerPoint up to a previous slide and go over the material again. The point is quickly made that the information has been covered already, and the person is usually embarrassed enough to pay better attention going forward.

I also rely on the audience to control the person whose sole mission is to hijack the conversation. I explain at the beginning of every presentation that there's a lot of material to cover and ask that attendees hold their questions until the end, noting that the presentation is designed to answer most of their questions as we go along. This way, when somebody interrupts with an irrelevant or unrelated question, I can quickly answer it but then remind them that we need to stay on topic so we don't have to stay late. The next time that person asks a question, the audience will begin to turn on him.

For the final type of stupid question, I like the way a friend of mine deals with it. She has a lazy co-worker who doesn't like looking up answers herself. Every time this person asks about something she should know already, my friend types out the answer for her. When she asks the same question again, my friend prints off the same answer and hangs it on her cubicle wall. She also has a "stupid questions" folder in Outlook.

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

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

Eric Johnson can be reached at 817-366-7536 or
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Title Annotation:ON SeCOND THOUGHT
Author:Johnson, Eric
Publication:Benefits Selling
Date:Oct 1, 2011
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