I think the best policy is to do everything you can to mask the fact that you think the question is “dumb”. Gracefully assisting without letting on how you feel is an art unto itself! I recall a user who called into helpdesk wanting to know why her laptop wouldn’t see the cd rom. The system shipped with an external cable. I asked her politely if that cable had a tag on it, she confirmed it did. I asked her what the tag said and she read “for use with floppy drive only”. I just waited for a moment for that to sink in and said nothing. Suddenly the light went on and she said “Ohhhhh, ok, I’m a dork!”. Well at least I didn’t say it! – ha
People who are asked questions that they consider “dumb” have to realize that everyone has a different skill set. Consider some questions you might ask a car mechanic; he might consider your questions dumb. Or what about questions you might ask a doctor; to him the questions might be dumb. Even someone like me, who has been in IT for over 30 years, cannot know everything. I ask questions of people, who have different expertise, that they might consider dumb.
I am a DBA and am constantly asked questions. There are two types of people who ask questions.
1) those who want to learn
2) those who want me to do their job and don’t want to learn
I do not believe that people in the first group ask stupid questions. Their questions come from ignorance, which is merely lack of knowledge.
It is the second group that gives me head aches.
Sometimes I will make a point of cracking a manual (even the electronic manuals, although they don’t crack as loudly) and read the answer to the one who asked.
Sometimes I give a long answer full of tid-bits and sidebars and background information. Frequently, this causes the one who asked the question to go away.
Sometimes I give short answers, such as “yes” and they go away.