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Those three words can cast doubt. I dislike not knowing but there are many times when I just don’t know. Clueless.

Some people see that as weakness or just being plain stupid. According to some, smart people don’t say “I don’t know”.  Once, my intelligence was questioned because I told my boss I didn’t know the answer to his question. Ridiculed is a closer match to that particular situation. I didn’t want to make up some reply to satisfy his immediate need. I wanted to be thorough and thoughtful in my response.

The executive told me directly,” If you don’t tell me yes now you’re fired. And, I will keep asking people and firing people until I get a yes.” He just sat behind his desk, holding an unlit cigar between his left index and middle fingers while he pushed carrot sticks into his mouth (he said that the no smoking rule was causing him stress).

It was clear that he wanted someone to agree to a undoable task and possibly get fired trying. I was completely unmotivated … except I was young. And, this creepy guy was testing my mettle. I needed the job and I needed to be taken seriously.

I locked eyes with him and said “Then you’d better get your next candidate in here.” I stood up and started to leave the office when he said sit down. He asked, “Why won’t you say yes?” There were hundreds of reasons but insufficient data was top on the leaderboard. Not enough information. Lack of a context. Too many unknowns. Yet, he wanted a yes.

And thus began my journey into the land of fake it until you make it. He wanted a yes. I wanted time.  There was a compromise: a yes with caveats (a management technique to stall until all the facts are corralled).  You are still held accountable until overwhelming data proves the concept incorrect or unfeasible. Or death. Yours.

In this same time period, I discovered another management device I call “The Sin of Omission”. Not lying. Just certain pieces of information deliberately withheld. I have seen more careers derailed with this style of management. If it feels like a setup, it is.

Clearly not a healthy environment to learn business ropes which is why I am so pleased to see transparency taking a head chair at the table. Enough with the ego games and narcissist manipulation that kill good business initiatives and suck up valuable time. And, saying “I don’t know” won’t demean the person but rather call attention to a need for more thoughtful data mining. It feels more embracing that way.

With today’s access to information, saying “I don’t know” has never felt so right.

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