I was leaving my accounting class last Thursday morning and was talking to a girl from my class on my walk back to my dorm. Our professor has been covering material pretty rapidly and a lot of people in our section have seemed to want clarification on some of the methods used for finding various values, and we were discussing this issue as we walked. I mentioned that I felt uncomfortable about asking him to repeat a couple things throughout the class that day, and she agreed, saying “Yeah, I was confused about some things and wanted clarification on some equations, but I didn’t want to be that person, you know?”
I agreed. But as we parted ways for the morning, I asked myself why.
Why is it so bad to be that person? Why do we feel pressure and awkwardness around asking for clarification on classes we pay to be in that will help us throughout our lives in the corporate workforce? When did we become so afraid of hindering others’ learning experiences by asking questions that will, more often than not, help people in similar situations who are wondering the same thing and are also nervous to ask?
I’ve noticed the That Person phenomenon in other parts of my life, like when I have to ask the hostess at a restaurant for change or call a store about their hours for a holiday weekend. I always preface questions like this with “Hey, I’m so sorry to bother you, but is there any chance you could [break this $20/let me know where the restroom is/check if this item is in stock or tell me where it is]?” Having worked in retail my senior year and this past summer, I’ve noticed that this problem isn’t limited to just me. Almost every time this summer a customer came up to me to ask where the burnout velvet fabrics were or if I could unlock a pair of Gingher shears for them, there was an apology prefacing the request. It’s a generational issue. We believe that we should be completely self-sufficient and every time we have to ask anyone for anything, it’s a huge burden that needs an apology to be considered valid. As someone on the receiving end, I can promise you that it was no bother to me at all to help answer a question or show someone to a product- that was my job, after all. And yet, when I’m the person asking for help, it’s suddenly a huge issue and my prior knowledge that asking a question isn’t a burden goes straight out the window. I don’t know why this is, but I do have one piece of advice, though it’s a bitter pill to swallow, and one that I’ve been struggling with for a long time: We just have to stop caring.
Not as in not caring about people at all, but we need to stop worrying so mcuh about what other people think and whether our questions are a burden to the people who are there to help us. Chances are, the clarifying formula questions I asked in my accounting class were things that at least three other people in my class were confused about. You never have to feel bad about asking a question to gain more information about a situation. This isn’t an overnight change, and I know this because I’ve been working on it for what feels like an eternity. But we can start with a little mindset redirecting and trying to omit apologies before we ask questions and trying to rest in the fact that there’s absolutley nothing wrong with clarifying something. There isn’t a single thing wrong with being that person. The sooner we embrace our identities as those people, the sooner we’ll feel more comfortable and empowered by collecting necessary information and asking important questions.
Cheers to being that person. It’s not a bad place to be.