Monday, July 13, 2009

Being Confidently Unsure

We all profess that we do not know everything. For sure, there will always be instances where we are asked a question that stumps us. That said, I think its important to remember that there is a difference between "not knowing" and acting as though we are "incompetent because we do not know". The former is reasonable and proper, the latter is unnecessary and potentially damaging.

A mentor once taught me that "you do not need to know everything as long as you know who knows, or where the answer can be found." Consideration of this axiom is critical if you want to develop the ability to be "confidently unsure". Often I encounter people who don't know something, which is one thing, but then they are viscerally ashamed and unnerved by the fact that they do not know as though they additionally lack confidence in the fact that they are resourceful enough to find the answer. This always tempts me to doubt their competence. I wish that this person were more skillful in: 1) simply expressing that they do not know, 2) expressing why they do not, 3) assuring me they will find the answer, and how, and 5) engaging me in a collaborative discussion about my suggestions for how they might find the answer.

Understand that as say this, I have compassion as this is hard-developed skill on my part. I internalized from my upbringing that I should always know the answer to every question, and that not knowing was a sign of stupidity or laziness revealed as a lack of preparation. I have matured to understand that this is not the case, though I still struggle with this at an emotional level at times. I have learned to reframe to understand that "no one has every answer but everyone has almost all the answers" and that it is better to maintain the posture of the "curious student" who can learn more than the "incompetent" who should have known it all.

Additionally, I now accept that those who think I am stupid are going to think that no matter how many answers I can produce. They will even make my correct, answers out to be wrong because they are not into giving benefit of any doubt. That is more about them than me. These types will always be with me. It is part of being in the world. It is just a test that can be passed, so its good to let this go.

So all that said, let's study to be more "confidently unsure". If you do not know, own up to it. That is a part of your humanity. Assure people you can find the answer and even collaborate with them to get suggestions on how you might. This is a mark of resourcefulness, a key success skill. Be accountable to find the answer in the timeframe and format you committed to. Do not vaccillate, dissemble, give shaky body language, be overly apologetic, or self condemning. Doing this inspires others to worry about whether you can find the answer. Even if you really cannot find the answer after all your searching, you can confidently own up to that by being ready with an explanation of all the methods, contacts and resources you used in trying. This shows the effort you put in and will often trigger some memory in the person you are engaging which then helps you do get closer to an answer.

Be confident even when you are unsure!

1 comment:

Chaneal said...

Good post Brother Craig..i had to become the curious student myself when i arrived at Temple..It wasnt as hard as I thought. Curiousity actually devolped me into a better student and no matter if other students got upset at me asking questions I had the teacher's attention and he/she was willing to invest in me and my career...Good job stay encouraged