Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Power of "I Don't Know"

It was the perfect answer when I was a kid. The phrase "I don't know." What a perfect way to plead ignorance and hopefully get out of trouble. Of course, I pronounced it differently then. More like "Aaahh dunnooo."

My mom would say, "Cliff! Who left the barn door open?"
"Aaahh dunnooo."
"Cliff! Why aren't these dishes done?"
"Aahhh dunnooo."
"Cliff! Why is your sister emotionally scarred for life due to the pranks you used to play on her involving darkness and rodents you found in the field?"
"Aahhh dunnooo." (This is a more recent example)

As kids, it was such a convenient phrase. As adults we see it differently though. We tend to feel that saying "I don''t know" is a sign of weakness or inferiority in many situations. We like to feel that we know and hate to admit we don't, even to ourselves. We tie our egos to our knowledge in many cases. That is when it gets very hard to say "I don't know."

In reality though, saying "I don't know can be a very powerful tool. Here is how:

1. It opens doors to learning.
We all know the guy who pretends to know everything. There is nothing you can tell him because he knows it better than you do! From football to knitting to the JFK conspiracy theories, he has all the answers. Don't you get sick of that? Do you want to share anything with him when you know he is just going to pretend to know it already? Nope. By pretending he knows everything, he really limits his chances of learning anything new. 

If you are the kind of person that can admit when you don't know something, then you are the kind of person people will want to share information with. The humility shown in saying "I don't know" is something that almost everyone will respect. At the same time, these people will be excited to share what they know with you. Why? Because you make them feel smart, and we all like to feel smart!

2. You gain credibility and trust.
The moment you say, "I don't know." you prove your honesty to your listener. As soon as you admit to not knowing something, then they can trust that you are confident in everything you have said up to that point as well as anything you tell them in the future. Why? Because you just proved that you are smart enough, strong enough (and dog gone it, people like me) to say that you don't know something instead of trying to make up a bunch of BS to attempt looking smart. 

The phrase, "I don't know" is not a sign of weakness, it is a declaration of strength. The person who can say it is strong enough to know that no one knows everything. Admitting that, first to yourself and then to others, can open up some wonderful doors of learning and deeper relationships.

Embrace the power of "I don't know"!

In the next blog, I will interview recording artist Shaggy regarding the power of "It wasn't me." Heehee

(Just one caveat: If you should know what it is you don't know, you may want to prioritize preparation over this technique. I.E. If my doctor says "I don't know" when I am on the operating table, I won't be putting more tryst in him.)

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