The Positive and Negative Sides of “I Don’t Know”

“I don’t know.”  Sometimes it’s true.  Sometimes we truly don’t know the answer to a question that’s posed to us, or to a decision we need to make.  In either case, I love this answer when it is coupled with a plan of action or next steps to get the information needed in order to answer the question or make the decision.  In this scenario, “I don’t know” shows a confidence in ourselves, knowing that we don’t need to have all the answers.  It shows that we are willing to investigate and learn in order to increase our understanding.  It implies humility, self-assurance, and a willingness to be taught.  I love that!

As much as I love a genuine “I don’t know”, at other times, it can also be an extremely frustrating answer.  Specifically in response to a question that is asked in order to gain a person’s thoughts, opinions, or ideas.  “I don’t know” can often be used to hide behind when we want to avoid having to think or come up with a thought or idea.  For some, this response is almost automatic.  Before their brains have even begun to grapple with the question, their mouths have shut down the thought process completely with a simple “I don’t know”.

For me, when I initially get this response I gently encourage people to give some thought to the question and consider another answer.  Usually it’s as easy as saying, “No, really.  What do you think?”  Often, this is all people need to know that you really are interested in what they have to say, and will cause them to open up and share a well thought answer or opinion.  For others, their “I don’t know” stands.  When this is the case, I politely, but quickly, either change the topic or end the conversation.

Cause something to happen in your own communication starting today by trying the following:

  • Be quick to say “I don’t know” when it truly applies, and be open to gaining the knowledge or understanding needed.
  • If you ask someone a question and they come back with a quick “Oh, I don’t know”, press a little by asking them “No, really.  What do you think?”
  • When you’re asked for your opinion, thoughts or input, engage your mind and exercise your ability to think and reply thoughtfully versus giving a knee-jerk reaction of “I don’t know”, simply to avoid having to think.

Be mindful of these suggestions during your conversations in the days ahead.  By doing so, you’ll be making an effort to better engage the people you’re communicating with.  Who knows, you might even be putting yourself in a position be an influence in someone else’s life.

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