The Wisdom of Not Knowing
When reflecting on the last two years, it’s impossible to ignore how much we’ve learned, both as individuals and as a community. We learned how to work remotely, how to nurture friendships from afar, and just how much family time we can actually take.
One lesson, above all others, hit us the hardest: whether we’d like to admit it or not, we do not have all the answers. We simply can’t. In these unprecedented times (a turn of phrase we’d be okay never hearing again), we had to learn the hard way that the problems we face are very complex and nuanced—no matter how much worldly experience we possess.
In short, we were all forced into a state of vulnerability. We were all forced into a state of “I don’t know.” And for months, it was a shift that united the entire world. So, as we’ve been able to exhibit this vulnerability in our day-to-day, it’s only natural that it’s seeped into our professional lives.
Vulnerability—a very human trait—can prove to be advantageous to relationship-building. It makes us more real, more communicative and more trusting, while also helping us build stronger connections. Though admitting a lack of knowledge has, in the past, been seen as a net negative in a business environment, it’s an impactful way to build rapport with a client, a manager, or a teammate.
So, let’s embrace the power of saying “I don’t know.” Moreover, we need to get comfortable with accepting it as an answer.
In addition to exhibiting humility to all those in the room (or on the Zoom), a simple “I don’t know, but I will find out” in a tricky situation can help to:
- Improve trust. Vulnerability lies at the very foundation of authentic connection with others, and transparent communication can help build meaningful and trusting connections.
- Foster creativity. Engaging with the larger team—utilizing all of the brains in the room—allows teams more access to more knowledge, leading to more innovative solutions while creating a sense of community.
- Avoid misleading others. By allowing the time and space to conduct research, we can come to confident conclusions, provide accurate answers, and avoid miscommunication.
- Demonstrate an openness to learning. The ability to say “I don’t know” is the first step toward learning. It invites conversation and encourages information sharing.
All of this is to say—get comfortable with saying “I don’t know.” There’s absolutely no shame in it. As we move toward the future, a future filled with uncertainty, knowing where your own knowledge falls short is an important skill to have. There’s power in being self-aware, and even greater power in being able to admit vulnerability. Even if it’s scary.
If you’re not sure how to embrace vulnerability, try this: the next time you are asked something and you’re not sure how to answer, kick it off with “I don’t know…”