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"I Don't Know"


I know it sounds strange, but I love hearing employees and managers say "I don't know" (IDK). It isn't because I take some perverse pleasure in their lack of knowledge, it is because of what it says about the culture and what you can learn by watching what happens after it is said.

In many cases, IDK is a sign that the team and manager feel comfort and psychological safety - key things to a highly performing team. If you and your team feel uncomfortable or hesitant saying IDK, there is a problem.

After you see if a team is comfortable, observe what happens next. High performing teams see the IDK as the first step, lower performing teams see the IDK as the last step.

High performing teams take the IDK and develop a plan to learn the answer or to find away around needing the answer.

So Great Managers really have 2 goals:

  1. Make the team comfortable saying IDK. Managers do this by saying it themselves (comfortably) and by not reacting negatively when someone on the team says it. Not knowing isn't the end of the world.

  2. Use the IDK as a starting point to learning more. Once someone admits they don't know, what can be done to learn. This is where we set the expectations and possibly brainstorm. In some cases, knowing will not be hard. It may simply be asking someone for data. In other cases, it may take some deeper learning (such as learning how to create a specific report).

The key is that you reframe how you think about not knowing. Instead of seeing it as a shortfall, see it as an opportunity. You and your team will grow and start to accomplish more.

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