In collaboration, there is a notion that we share thoughts and perspectives of what we know to make better decisions.
What we know and share is important for context to any decision and you may have seen or heard something similar to one, or all, of these:
- What you know you know,
- What you know you don’t know, and
- What you don’t know you don’t know
It is not practical to strive for expertise in all areas; to the 2nd bullet above.
Clearly, a rational person understands that you can not have seen or will have time to acquire all the knowledge available and you simply may not know; to the 3rd bullet above.
However, there is a 4th bullet to this:
- What you think you know, but really don’t know
In a healthy environment, admitting what you don’t know is part of the process to come to a shared understanding.
In an unhealthy environment sticking to a point you think you know, but do not really know, drives people to defend positions from a point of weakness that can easily turn into an indefensible point of embarrassment.
Why is this bad? People who know enough to be dangerous, but do not know enough to realize they are wrong do not back down or admit their lack of knowledge. Their position is a position of absolute: they are absolutely correct.
The challenge comes to gently move awareness of what they thought they knew to a space of owning they really did not know what they were talking about.
And if this is a senior person to you AND you do not do this with tact, not always a wise career move.
In a 8 steps to better decision making I made a case for a series of steps we go through to filter, to engage, to improve, and to conclude what is noise and what is needed to get to a decision.
- Noise – all the 0s and 1s/bytes and bits throughout the web, over the airwaves, across the spectrum;
- Research – the initial question,
I wonder if…that sends you to seek answers;
- Information – the all-source return dump from your question or a 1-way flare (information is different from communication: see below);
- Data – the filter to makes sense of what is valuable and what is garbage;
- Communication – the 2-way relay of what you find and what needs further refinement;
- Interpretation – the unaccountable and unseen layers of values, wants, needs, bias, emotions, and agendas (to name a few) that your communication target has filtered your communicate through to draw their own interpretation of the information or data: Note: you have no control on how or what you communicate is interpreted as you intended; proceed with caution;
- Conversation – the deeper dialogue to clarify responsibility; and
- Decision – the shared commitment
When you inquire you allow someone to answer a question. Answering a question, in a healthy environment, provides clarity to both the person who inquired and to the person who answers.
If you inquire, or ask the question, framed around any of the above points, particularly 2 through 7, you give someone, who clearly does not know what they think they know, options to come out of the wilderness.
The greatest challenge, is the art of your question.
How else can this help? If you also turn this back to yourself, as great leaders would, you could preface a comment about what you think you know with, “now I may not have all the information about this, but from what I know today … “.
Would a leader or manager who said the above be viewed as weak? I do not believe so as a statement like this is the basis of every strategic plan ever devised, if it is not the basis of strategic planning, your leaders is delusional and their plan is in prime position for obsolescence.