The Power of "I Don't Know"

Once it's your turn to speak, notice the urge to reply immediately. Then wait.

by Brian Curtis, Ph.D.

"What do I really know?"

The next time you're in a conversation, possibly having just been asked a question, try running the following quick experiment: 

Once it's your turn to speak, notice the urge to reply immediately. This seeming imperative to download your opinion ... and then wait.

Maybe for only 1 second.

In that second, ask yourself a question, and be honest: "What do I really know?" 

Knowing the whole truth about any given topic isn't likely. Even if you know bunches, pontification with dramatic hand gestures aren't likely to be useful.

What if you don't know about the topic? 

For me, history and geography are areas of human knowledge that are shockingly absent. This used to be embarrassing. When asked about X or Y historical event, for example, I'd usually just nod, knowing I had no idea what was going on but being too embarrassed to admit that.

Here's a different game to play: 

Friend: "Hey, Brian. I just watched this documentary on Julius Caesar. Can you believe he demanded the Senate make him dictator for life?!?"

Me: [Notices urge to nod head ... It would be so easy just to say, "Crazy, right?" ... but ... What do I really know? ... Oh ya ... I know I don't know ... ]

Me: "My 7-year-old probably knows more about this than I do. What did the Senate say?"

Friend: [Continues the conversation, reduces my ignorance, gets to know me on a more personal level, likely appreciates my vulnerability and the opportunity to share something he obviously is excited enough about to bring it up in the first place. Our friendship deepens].

This is the power of "I don't know." 

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