The Power of “I don’t know”

During the past three months, I’ve been confronted with the following challenges from colleagues and clients …

  1. “This approach would not work with Indians.” (from a colleague who has never been to India and never worked with Indians)
  2. “I think in terms of the ‘average client’.” (from a colleague)
  3. “Your approach is revolutionary for us.” (from a potential client, remarking on my participative approach, which he liked)
  4. “Why does this case present the problem person as a woman?” (from a female participant who did not like the fact that a true case study related inappropriate behaviour of a woman)
  5. “What are the objections to this approach?” (from a colleague who assumed there must be objections and questioned my statement that I’d never had any until this day)

My responses

  1. I have used the approach in India and frequently with Indians elsewhere.
  2. I’m not sure that I ever have or ever will meet “the average client”. I see people as individuals and organisations as individual entities.
  3. I understood this client and informed him that I’d heard similar comments 20 years ago too. He laughed.
  4. The case was individual and had no connection to gender questions. It could have been a man, but here it wasn’t.
  5. I’ve been confronted with very many questions, but not a single objection.

I find it extremely disconcerting that all the colleagues in question claim to be working in leadership and/or change facilitation.

The client is HR Director for a multinational corporation. His perspective was fresh. That of the corporate leadership reflects their reality, which is cause for concern.

One benefit of modern media is that, as Thomas Friedman claimed some years ago, the world has become flatter enabling reasonably open access to knowledge, wisdom and markets for many more people than in the past.

One side-effect is that it is very easy for anybody to claim expertise, whether or not the work is founded on substance. And perhaps the flood of expert advice hitting us daily via Facebook, LinkedIn, TED, and numerous other fast-moving platforms leads many to believe that they need to leap on to this “I-am-an-expert-too-bandwagon”.

Personally, I’d feel more at ease if we all stepped back to reflect more often.

There’s power in asking questions.

By becoming comfortable with “I don’t know”, we enable ourselves to source wisdom.

After all … How else can we progress?