“I don’t know” is sometimes the ONLY answer.

“I don’t know” is sometimes the ONLY answer.

A few weeks ago I attended Shankminds, an entrepreneurial conference I’ve always wanted to attend, and was able to do so this year because it was virtual. I’ll take the silver linings as they come, right? It was a day filled with great speakers who got me energized to move forward with my business.

Aside from the closing keynote speaker, Olivia Amato of Peloton (if you aren’t familiar, click here), one of my favorite speakers of the day was Richy Glassberg, digital pioneer, who – among other things – helped start CNN.com. He shared with us some great advice which I would argue did not apply to just work, but life in general. Some of his quotes I tweeted that day during the conference included:

“There’s never been only one way to do something.”

“If you’re the only one talking, you’re never going to know what the client needs. Just shut up and listen.”

“It’s ok to not know the answer.” Now this was the one that got me.

I grew up in the eighties when Dry Idea’s “never let ’em see you sweat commercial” came to be. Every commercial was a person literally trying to hide their nervousness, anxiety or lack of knowledge. And maybe that stuck with me. Or maybe because I’m a woman, or maybe because I’m 4’8″… I’m not sure. But whatever the reason, the idea of letting someone know that I don’t know the answer was not something I’d ever be comfortable doing.

If a client asks if I know what they’re talking about.. some example of some technology their competitor is using, my instinct is to say yes, then go figure it out later. If a friend mentions some news story that I may have missed (because with so much news it’s easy to miss something) I am most comfortable staying silent and pretending I know what they are talking about.

But the statement “it’s ok to not know the answer” literally freed me.

When a client wants to know about a new technology, it’s ok if they heard about it first. I’ve often said I’m not an expert (in fact I wrote about it back in 2013). So if I’m going to say it, I need to live it. I truly don’t know everything and even if my clients are depending on me to know all the answers, it’s ok to be human and to let them know I may not know about it yet – but I will learn about it, and then we can make an educated decision on where to go next.

I have found this especially true during COVID but I’ve gotten better at saying “I don’t know.” My clients are looking to me for an answer and I truly don’t know. I mean.. really… who knows the right next move? Who knows how to create a successful strategy during a pandemic? None of us have been here before. So to not know – and to be able to tell someone I don’t know has really just set me free.

I will never claim to know everything about anything. I’m not an expert, I’m a practitioner. And being able to tell someone I don’t yet know puts us on the same page to collaborate and work together. Does it make me feel a little more vulnerable? It can. But is that a bad thing? No.. it’s a human thing.

Note: It’s also a dog thing. Gramercy, in the photo above, is fully aware of what it means when my son’s camp duffel appears and gets packed. TriBeCa, on the other hand, is not afraid to admit she really doesn’t know much of anything.

 

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