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.

It Doesn’t Define You

None of us enjoy when we inadvertently make ourselves look foolish.  Unfortunately, sometimes, it just happens.  When it does it makes us feel awkward and embarrassed ashamed.  For me, this usually occurs while asking a question, making a statement, or presenting something I believe to be fact that turns out not to be the case.  All of a sudden I realize how foolish the last thing I just said or did was and begin thinking, “Everyone here must think I’m’ a total idiot!”  This actually just happened to me earlier this week.

The truth is that this happens to all of us at one time or another.  It’s the risk we take when putting ourselves out there to interact and share our thoughts, ideas, and lives with other people.  When this occurs, it is imperative that we be mindful not to let the experience cause us to shrink back from being fully engaged in life.  Usually we want to pull back to avoid the risk of looking foolish again in the future.    That is the last things we should do!  As much as we may feel like disengage, it’s important not to let a single moment define us or negatively shape our behaviors moving forward.

I believe there are some more constructive things we can do, such as:

  • Realize that one embarrassing moment does not define you or diminish your value as a person.
  • Tell someone close to you that you trust and feel save with about your experience.
  • Look at the situation through the lens of humor.  Was it funny?  If so, give yourself permission to laugh at the situation; and at yourself.

If you really want to cause something to happen that will benefit others, try the following when an embarrassing moment happens to someone you know:

  •  Empathize with them.  Tell them you understand exactly how they feel.
  • Tell them about a time when you embarrassed yourself, or made yourself look foolish in front of other.  As you’re recounting the event, freely laugh at yourself, and let them know it’s ok for them to laugh along with you.
  • Here’s the best thing you can do for them:  Tell them you still think they’re great.  Let them know the event doesn’t define them in your eyes, or diminish their value to you by telling them:  “I still think you’re pretty great, special, cool, fantastic…” you get the idea.

Let’s not let one embarrassing moment keep us from being fully engaged in life.  We all have too much of ourselves to offer the world to keep it hidden away, for fear of looking foolish.

As long as we want to be engaged in life, we’re all going to experience moments where we may look foolish or not present our best selves.  It’s going to happen.

The only way to avoid it is by never sharing your thoughts or ideas with others, and that’s no way to live.  Instead, just remember that when it does occur, go easy on yourself.  The moment does not define you, and it will pass sooner than you realize.  And don’t forget to encourage others not to be too hard on themselves either.  They’ll appreciate your kind words and be encouraged by your example.

You’re Unique

Whenever I’m in a large crowd of people I’m amazed at the fact that each person has a unique and different appearance (identical twins notwithstanding).  With all the combinations of facial features, body types, skin and hair color, height and weight possibilities, no 2 people are exactly alike in appearance.  Each person is unique.  I love that!

In addition to physical features every person is also unique in their mix of gifts and talents.  Unlike hair color or height and weight, a person’s gifts and talents are not always visibly recognizable to others, or to the person who possesses them.  It’s easy for us to see a talent being used in other people, but we can often miss, or even dismiss the unique talents and gifts that we possess. When we see others’ talent being used it’s easy to think, “I wish I were talented like so-and-so“ or “I’m just not that talented”.   Of our own talents, we may even think, “It’s not a big deal” or “There’s nothing special about that”.  I disagree.  Your talents are a big deal, and they are something special.

I think we are at our best when we are using our gifts and talents on a regular basis.  We perform our greatest work, give our greatest effort, and make our greatest contribution when we engage them.  That’s why it’s so important for us to be aware of our gifts and talents and seek to use them often in the course of our daily lives.

Spend some time over the next couple of days reflecting on your unique gifts and talents.  As you do, think of opportunities to use them to cause something to happen in your personal or professional life. Also, realize that no one else on the planet has the exact same make up of gifts and talents that you do.

You truly are unique!


Help Someone Get What They Want

The entire world, with one tiny exception, is made up of other people.”

~John Maxwell

This is such a true statement.  If you’ve ever tried to cause something to happen that required the assistance of others, you’ve most assuredly run into this reality.

This quote reminds me that, while we all have my own unique goals, agendas, mindset and world view, so does everyone else on the planet.  I think it important for us to remember that to each person, their goals and agendas are the most important ones to them.  Any agenda I have, to them, is secondary to their own.   That makes sense right?  Most folks are concerned for other people, but their primary concern is for themselves.

This can be challenging when we need the assistance of others.  How do we get assistance from someone who has focus and priorities that are different from our own?    I think Zig Ziglar’s signature saying is a great guide:  “You can get everything you want if you just help enough other people get what they want.”  If we need help from someone who is busy with their own priorities, why don’t we offer to help them first?  Before seeking assistance from them, what if we first offered assistance to them?

I know, you’re thinking, “They’ll just take my help and not help me in return.”  It’s possible.  But I think we’d be surprised how often people are willing to help you when you first offered to help them.

Let’s look for opportunities to help others get what they want.  Not as a way of being manipulative in order to get our way, but as a way of conveying to others that we understand how important their goals and agendas are to them.

Cause Something to Happen… For Others

I’m currently co-leading Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU) course at church with my friend Steve.  This is the second FPU course we’ve taught together.  I am a huge fan of Dave Ramsey and solid personal finance principles and am passionate about sharing them with others.

There are 2 things I really love about teaching this course.  The first is the openness and transparency that develops within each class.  I’m always amazed at how willing people are to open up and share what’s really going on in their lives when given a safe environment with caring, supportive people.  The second, is listening to people tell me about the progress they have made, or are making, with their finances and in their marriages as a result of the courses Steve and I have taught.  Every time I hear one of these stories I’m so honored that I’ve had the opportunity to play a small role in adding value to their lives.

Throughout this blog, I’ve talked about causing something to happen that will move us toward our goals and the “ideal life” we desire for ourselves.  I truly believe we have the power to direct and change our lives if we continuously take the initiative to cause something to happen.

As I was thinking about the people in the current FPU class that Steve and I are teaching, and the successes they’ve been sharing with us, I thought about my favorite quote, “Cause something to happen”.  I was thinking how that quote is not only relevant for our own lives, but it’s also relevant for the lives of the people around us.  As we’re causing something to happen for ourselves, we should be mindful of opportunities to do so for others as well.

Steve was the one that caused the latest FPU class to happen at our church.  Through his action, he gave people in church the opportunity to sign up for the course and learn personal finance principles that can change their life.  Steve’s initiative created opportunity for others.  Whether he knew it or not, Steve caused something to happen that is benefiting everyone in the class.  Way to go, Steve!

I want to follow Steve’s example by causing something to happen for others.  How much more satisfying would life be, knowing that as we’ve not only caused something to happen in our own lives, but we’ve also sparked opportunity for others to do the same?

Where can you cause something to happen in someone else’s life, today?