This week I’m turning for inspiration to one of my favorite writers, Louise Penny. Her wonderful mystery series is set in Québec, and it features Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.
Gamache tells his protégés that there are “four sentences that we must learn to say, and to mean.” He is referring to people in his field, law enforcement. But learning to say, and to mean, these four sentences is valuable for all of us.
The first is “I don’t know.”
The need to be right, to know the answers, serves us for a long time in our lives as students. But this need starts to supercede the function of communication, which is to move understanding and work forward. And in some work environments, admitting that you don’t know something is a sign of weakness, of vulnerability.
But what can you do when you really just don’t know?
Is it better to brazen it out, try to buy time to get an answer, or to simply state, “I don’t have an answer, but I’ll find one.”
In the first instance, your default intention is “to not be wrong,” or “to not be found out.” It’s a default intention because it serves you, not the people you’re communicating with. You’re protecting yourself (which is so human and so understandable!)
But in the second example, your intention is “to get an answer, to find a solution.” That intention pushes the communication and the work forward.
Try saying it right now. “I don’t know.” How does that feel? When does it feel safe for you to admit that you don’t know, and when might it make you feel vulnerable?