Start with I don’t know

Michael Lewarne - unmeasured
A simple flip of starting by choosing to learn rather than being stuck with only what you know.

As I get older I hopefully know more than when I was young. Yet conversations with my daughter constantly catch me out showing me how much I don’t know. By the very nature of these conversations I’m willing to admit I don’t know and to let’s find out the answer. The hesitation to admit I don’t know only starts in a professional context. It can be hard to admit I don’t know something, especially professionally.

It’s not a good posture to maintain.

First of all, it’s almost impossible to know everything to know about architecture and coaching. Secondly, there’s a diversity of views and opinions, indeed it’s a tsunami, and ultimately not everything is right and worthwhile knowing. So why the resistance to admitting I don’t know? It feels vulnerable, potentially unprofessional and sometimes a point of personal failure. An alternative, in a context where there may be no definitive answer, is to be over-confident, hubristic and unwilling to learn. Neither are good positions to to take.

There’s a quandary at play at the poles. Constantly stating you don’t know, and people will cease to ask you questions or value your input. Equally, by regularly asserting knowledge that proves to be inaccurate you’ll lose credibility. The alternative is to embrace humility and a growth mindset. A posture of I don’t know as a starting point and intention. A mindset more so than statement. We’re allowing for the possibility there may be more than we know and, on occasions, that we simply don’t know.

When you know the answer, it might be better for example to start with “Here’s what I know and I’m open to hearing about where I may be wrong.”

When it’s your responsibility to have an answer, but you’re not entirely confident of it. You might then start with, “I’m not sure, here’s what I currently know. If you’ve time, let me come up a better answer for you.” Which might require research and/or reaching out to others.

Sometimes questions blindside you and you don’t have an answer off the top of your head. You might then respond with, “That’s a great question deserving of a considered answer, which I’m unable to give right now. Let me think about it and do a little research and I’ll get back to you asap.”

And then there’s just the times you simply don’t know. Be willing to admit that, but also show a desire to find out the answer and follow through.

Of course all this might be an internal dialogue, with no other party to these conversations. Embrace the possibility that you don’t know. That’s the growth mindset, the willingness to learn.

Seeking out more information is a choice. Establishing where you might be wrong, where you might learn more and if you might need to rethink what you know.

Keep in mind that it’s not just about your own mindset, it’s also about how others perceive you. I’m allergic to people who are self-confident and overly certain of their position. They’re the people that are typically unwilling to learn or rethink. It makes me want to test and challenge their thinking. I start questioning what else they’re unwilling to consider and why. Not only impacting what they’re currently professing but anything they might have a position on.

Here’s the challenge. Start with humility and “I don’t know” and take the time to open yourself up to learning more.

[Hat tip to Margo Aaron – That Seems Important]


Photo by Vitaly Kushnir [cropped and edited]

Hi! I’m Michael

I’m an architect and coach, helping the professional culture of the architecture profession. I believe the best way to do this is support leadership development.

I’ve worked in architecture for almost 30 years, and ran my own practice for 14 years. I understand architectural practice from the inside out. Fun Fact: my NSW architect’s registration is #10 007 and I have a license to skill.

I help practices work on their leadership team and strategies. Supporting practices to become more open, fluid, and adaptable. Realising the collective energy, passion, and capabilities of their people.

Interested in hearing I can help? Let’s chat about the leadership development of you or your team.
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