“This is probably a dumb question, but…”
Gah. Stop it. I hate that sentence.
When I hear someone say this my desire for an air horn becomes overwhelming. If there’s something you’re curious about or need to ask, how could it be dumb? I think what’s actually dumb [and dumber] is not asking a question out of concern for what others might do or say. If you think I’m foolish for asking a question, then I think the same of you for dismissing my learning style. So there.
This isn’t to say there are no silly or inappropriate questions out there–there are plenty of ’em–but prefacing a query with doubt will suffocate your credibility. Be confident in your uncertainty–own it–that’s how we learn. I’d rather have people ask me simple or unrelated questions than stare blankly in silence because at least then I know they’re making an effort to understand.
Inferring that a question is unnecessary can be a double-edged sword. You might position it this way to shield a fear of appearing naive or disengaged, but it can work against you.
“This might be a dumb question, but do smoke and flames mean we shouldn’t be walking into this building?” You’re assuming: clearly everyone sees this, and since they’re going forward, it must be fine.” But if I was a few steps ahead of you and unknowingly entering a burning building, I’d wonder if you were on drugs if you didn’t immediately just speak the facts.
Learning is a maze but there’s more than one start and one end, so be confident in understanding things your own way at your own pace.