So, can you remember a recent time you were in conversation with someone and said, openly and honestly, “I don’t know.”? And, felt completely at ease and at peace with “not knowing”?
Why we feel we need to know
In life – at work, at home, at play and in relationship – we’re expected to have certain capacities and competencies – i.e., “know-how.” Others often expect or depend on our ability to have, be or do.
But, what happens, inside us, when facing a dilemma, a conundrum, a challenge or problem and we just “don’t know?”
In Western culture, it’s common to want (or need?) to “save face” and so when we feel challenged, we conjure up the “appearance of knowing” so we can feel we’re in control and be recognized for what we know. In our culture, we overemphasize how much we know. While we may feel that “not knowing” is unacceptable, the fact is we often just don’t know from time to time. Isn’t that true?
Why “not knowing” puts us on the defensive
When we don’t know, we move into an unconscious reactivity to “defend” ourselves in some way, shape or form – i.e., clinging to jargon, double-speak, techno-babble and the like to mask our unknowing, or espousing a facade or fakeness about knowing – sometimes resorting to facts or figures to cloud an issue, or muddying already-murky waters, or avoiding, feigning “exclusion” or seeking allies to support our not knowing, or blaming someone else in order to deflect our discomfort, fear, insecurity or uncertainty. All of this to be in control and protect our fragile egos.
The benefit of not knowing
In Eastern cultures, “not knowing” is often seen as a self-supporting, personal-developmental practice that can actually bring one to be ever more effective in experiencing life. Welcoming a conflict or problem with a sense of “not knowing” can be an opportunity for creativity and insight. The darkness of the unknown supports us to access our inner strength, our inner wisdom and higher self. Asking positive (not-fear-based, reactive) questions from a place of curiosity can support us to overcome our fear, uncertainty, doubt or feelings of lack or deficiency.
Actually “not knowing” gives us an opportunity to consciously slow down, “take a deep breath,” delete our assumptions, misperceptions, , misunderstandings, “stories” or expectations so we can be present in the moment, right here and right now, without the intensity, irritation and agitation to “get somewhere else,” “to have an answer, to be right.” “Not knowing” gives us an opportunity to relax into our body and mind, focus on the foreground and the background, to “see beyond our eyes,” to jettison “my knowledge” and be curious about what I don’t know. “Not knowing” is all about curiosity, the adventure of “finding out” from a place of “Hmmm, that’s interesting. I wonder what that’s all about.”
“Not knowing” is about “punctuation,” – i.e., more question marks and fewer periods. It’s about being inquisitive, not about ego, personality, blaming, judging or “being right.” When we “don’t know” we invite, we are open, we ask and observe, watch and listen. We slow down, give up our need to be “the expert.” We “allow” life to unfold; we don’t “make” life unfold.
Rather than defending against “not knowing, we can relax into “not knowing” as a part of who we are, knowing that it’s a part of our everyday life and an opportunity to grow and learn something new about ourselves in the process.
Two sets of questions:
- Questions that evolve from a place of “not knowing:
- If there is a deeper reason for me to be here, what is it?
- What’s important to me about this situation and why do I care?
- What’s my intention here? What’s the deeper purpose – the “big why” – that is worthy of my best effort?
- What stands in the way of my being fully present in this situation?
- What draws me to this interaction?
- How much does the first person who speaks set the tone for the ensuing conversation?
- Can I by-pass some of the trust issues that normally keep /me from opening up and moving into deep conversations?
- Can I step into the unknown?
- To what degree might it be possible for me to see the world/issue/problem through another’s eyes?
- What am I hiding?
- Do I give myself permission to be fully myself?
- Does my “expertise” distract me from exploring the essence of the issue/question?
- How comfortable (am I with not knowing?
- What would someone who had a very different set of beliefs than I do say about this situation?
- What is missing from the picture so far? What am I not seeing? Where do I need more clarity?
- What could happen that would enable me to feel fully engaged and energized in this situation?
- What’s possible here and who cares about it?
- How can I support others in taking the next steps? What unique contribution can I make?
Some questions for self-reflection:
- Is it OK to “not know”?
- How do you feel when you “don’t know?”
- What behavior(s) do you engage in when you “don’t know?” Do you ever “pretend” you do know? Why?
- Do you ever see “beyond your eyes”? (observe what’s around you that you’ve never noticed before…e.g., a crack in the ceiling, color/shapes of plants in the office, another’s tone of voice, color of lights in the elevator, a client or friend’s usual way of talking or their body-language, softness of the carpet in your office, others’ email signatures, pictures in the taxi, store, etc..)?
- What in life are you curious about? Have you explored further?
- Do you resist “not knowing?”
- What is one upcoming opportunity where you can practice “not knowing?”
- What was always needing to “know” like for you and your family when you were growing up?
(c) 2021, Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D. and True North Partnering. All rights in all media reserved.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to share this reading with you and I hope you find it insightful and useful.
Perhaps you’ll share this with others, post it on a bulletin board, and use it to generate rich and rewarding discussion.
What is the one thing that is keeping you from feeling successful, happy, confident, in control or at peace as you live your life – at work, at home, at play or in relationship? Maybe you know what that “thing” is…maybe you don’t. You just have a feeling that something has to change, whether or not you embrace that change. And how would that change support you to show up as a “better you?”
I’m available to guide you to create relationships that reflect honesty, integrity, authenticity, trust, and respect whether at work or outside of work. I support you to focus on the interpersonal skills that enable you to relate to others with a high level of personal and professional satisfaction – unhampered by personal inconsistencies, beliefs, “stories,” and behaviors that create barriers to a harmonious, pleasant, conscious, compatible, healthy and productive relationship.
I coach by phone, Skype and in person. For more information, 770-804-9125, http://www.truenorthpartnering.com or pvajda(at)truenorthpartnering.com
You can also follow me on Twitter: @petergvajda.