May 15, 2020

Why We Should Practice Saying I Don't Know


Do you find it hard to say “I don’t know”? Are you ever out in the weeds in a conversation just because you don’t want to say “I don’t know what that means”?

I know it happens to me. But why?

You Can’t Know Everything

There are things that you aren’t going to know. Sometimes it’s because you don’t really care to know. Sometimes it’s because you didn’t even know there was something there to know, ya know? Thanks, Rumsfeld.

The thing is, we have these amazing malleable brains that forever soak up new information and create new pathways. There’s evidence that keeping your brain learning new things keeps dementia at bay. Might explain why Donald Trump’s brain seems to run on repeat.

The bottom line is that there are a lot of things to know, even within a topic with which you are familiar, so for sure at some point in your day, you’re going to hit the weeds.

And That’s Fine

There is strength in admitting you don’t know something. Here’s a fancy phrase you can use next time you face having to tell someone you don’t know what they are talking about:

“I am practicing intellectual humility. Can you tell me what you are talking about?”

Just kidding - don’t do that.

Intellectual humility, though, is a valuable skill. It leads to cognitive development, and will help you learn more easily because it allows you to shelve your ego and allow your mind to get at more than one angle on a problem.

It’s Even Great

There are always things that we don’t know. You might be one of the 10,000 that day. It might seem embarrassing if you have to ask someone to break something down for you, but just for a moment, shelve your ego and think of it from the other side.

Everyone has a thing that they can talk about passionately or voluminously. You do, too, I know it. How do you feel when someone you are talking to says I don’t know much about that topic. Could you explain more?

If you’re anything like me, this is just an invitation to never stop talking about things you love to talk about. It’s like I’ve just won the lottery - a captive audience! There’s no escape!

Don’t you feel the same when someone reaches out and asks you for more about something you know quite a bit about?

So next time you’re in a conversation with someone and you’re out in the weeds, but it’s obviously a topic of interest for them, shelve the ego! Practice some intellectual humility and be open to learning something new about a topic, or about the person now talking to you passionately and voluminously.

Let’s Practice

Out of the 3 partners, we have some pretty diverse interests, but sometimes they overlap. Technology is one spot where we can all get wound up and excited, with each of us getting a bit more wound up about specific subtopics.

So give one of us a try on our go to gabathon topics:

Jared loves to talk about web technologies and how they keep growing with potential. Get him talking about the potential for the future, and he’ll wander around in that topic for days. He only gets sidetracked if you ask him about odd regional foods, and more specifically canned meats.

Fateme is a nuts and bolts tech wizard. She’ll dig down into a specific topic and talk about where and why and how to solve a technical problem. Still waters run deep - she’s a listener but if you ask her to explain something, she’ll take the time to do it right.

I’m less technically inclined, so I prefer to talk more about how tech and business problems collide. What technology can do to help you get from a ‘work night and day just to keep up' business owner to a ‘barkeep grab me another drink while I watch my pile of cash grow' business owner (don’t we all wish). I’m VERY easily sidetracked into politics (a very calming topic), so just step carefully because I may not stop talking about it until you actually lose consciousness.

Your Turn

What’s your ‘I wish someone would ask me more’ topic? The one that gets you excited about finding one of the 10,000 that day? Let’s talk about it!

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