The Power of “I don’t know”

My teammate, an experienced and wise System Architect, related an experience from a meeting where they reviewed and discussed processes.  He provided feedback along with everyone else.  When they read back everyone’s contribution, his was missing or skipped.  He asked about it and they assured him his feedback was included.
When the facilitator emailed the minutes of the meeting to the group, he found that she placed his suggestions under the “Other” category.  Mildly frustrated, he responded simply “Sounds good”.  A few minutes later, the facilitator wrote back.  She said she recalled some of his comments but they were a little technical for her.  She was hoping he might provide more detail through email.  In other words, she didn’t understand what he said during the meeting, and did not feel comfortable enough to ask for clarification.

When I hear things like this, I get frustrated, and then motivated.  In this case, I was motivated to encourage people to express “I don’t know” more often.

6OctTweet

I was overwhelmed and humbled at the response – thank you!

I want to encourage you again.  When you aren’t following along with a concept, or have trouble grasping an idea, or the language is unfamiliar, you have two opportunities: explore the limits of your fear, and help others who may be experiencing the same.

Form your response clearly in your mind, politely request the speaker’s attention, and say it: “I didn’t follow…”, or “I don’t understand how…”, or “I’m unfamiliar with some of those words, would you…”.  Make it clear that you “don’t know”, and that you really want to know!

The Flip Side
If you are the speaker and a participant in the meeting, the lecture, or the conference presentation bravely confronts their fear with strength and humility, you have, in my opinion, an obligation and an opportunity to engage them fully.  Welcome their comment as you would feedback from a peer for that is what it is.
Neither of you is uniformed/lost/dumb; both of you want to communicate and understand because you both found value in some expressed idea.  Messages between people are garbled for a variety of reasons.

“Thank you for your honesty”, I would start.  “Where might we begin again?”

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