Chris Markiewicz's Blog
Every Monday – thoughts, observations and ideas that hold up a mirror to who & how we are

To know or not to know?

The girl on the Personal Impact course I was running asked me “What if I don’t know the answer when a colleague or customer asks me something?”

Afraid that her credibility would be blown, she was worried that not having the answer to something would stand against her. However, there are likely to be times for all of us, when we simply don’t know.

We are so often brought up to believe that we must know the answers to things and, that if we don’t we are incompetent or lazy. The education system propagates this – asserting that we must learn information and then regurgitate it onto an exam paper. The more we know, the more successful we are deemed to be, and receive grades accordingly. Woe betide those who don’t know!

However, one educational institution seems to take quite a different approach, at least according to the eminent film maker, Roger Graef. Speaking in a radio interview he shared how his alma mater taught him that it was actually OK not to know things. That institution was none other than Harvard.

In Graef’s words:

“ What Harvard has given me, all through the decades of film making with top politicians, diplomats and scientists is the confidence to say ‘I don’t know’ “

So, if Harvard suggest that it’s OK not to know things, then I’d guess we’re all right!

Nevertheless, I’d explained to the girl on the course that it’s important to express our ignorance in an empowered and assertive way. Genuinely confident people have the ability to do this, rather than flannel or pretend they understand. They don’t know, but are interested in finding out.

Given that I heard the radio interview the very day following the course, I was quite chuffed that my thinking had been on a par with Harvard – and that’s from a guy who went to a Polytechnic  and flunked!

Perhaps Harvard would have suited me better. I don’t know.



One Response to “To know or not to know?”

  1. Absolutely! When you say “I don’t know the answer to that one”, you are saying by implication “And everything else I have told you … I did know”! It reassures the customer that you are not trying to pull the wool. The best response is “I don’t know the answer to that one, but I will find out for you. Tell me … why did you want to know that?” (because if I know that, I will get the most personally relevant answer for you). That question opens up a whole new level of dialogue with your customer, and can tell you what they are really looking for … or indeed whether the enquiry was significant.

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