Don’t Protect Your Ignorance
April 30, 2021
A few weeks back, I was in conversation with a very distinguished senior executive regarding a business proposal. Somewhere in the middle of the conversation, the gentleman brought up a technical point on something I was proposing, and I was utterly stumped. I did not comprehend the point he was making because I did not know my facts. It was clear he expected me to know the facts, and I was unaware.
For a moment, I felt like a deer caught in the headlights, unsure of what to say.
If I say I don’t know, it will become evident to that gentleman that I was not well prepared for the meeting. Alternatively, I could try and wing my way through the conversation and hope that he would not push me deeper on that point.
After a few deep breaths and the discomfort of silence, I decided to play it safe. I told the distinguished gentleman, ” I am sorry, sir. I know I should be aware of the facts here, but I am not. Can you please clarify the details for my benefit? I can then provide my view based on that.”
The conversation eased up after that initial hiccup and ended on a positive note.
Far often in work meetings and conversations, we encounter situations where we don’t understand some details.
- Your boss tells you something, and you clearly don’t get it. But, you smilingly nod your head to indicate you understand, just because you want to avoid looking bad. You think that you will figure it out on your own later.
- Or, you are in a meeting with senior colleagues where there is a discussion on a memo where you are expected to confirm that you have read the memo and agree to the facts. You have not done your homework. But, you see your colleagues saying ok to the proposal, and you take solace in the numbers and provide your support, in complete ignorance.
Challenge Your Ignorance, Seek To Understand
Saying “I did not understand” and seeking clarity is always the best thing to do. But, somewhere, vanity comes in the way. You think, “There are people around, why should I show my ignorance” or “everyone seems to be getting it. I seem to be the only one struggling. If I say I don’t understand, everyone will think I am not competent.”
When I was younger, I have had my share of such moments where I have held back from saying ” I don’t know” or “I don’t understand,” thinking that I was protecting myself. The truth was- I was protecting my ignorance. Over time I have realized that there is no upside in trying to hide your ignorance.
In the current knowledge era, our value is in the choices and decisions we make every day. The quality of your choices and decisions is impaired when you don’t fully understand the facts. By trying to protect your ignorance behind the veil of ego, you are only harming your interests in the future.
So, whatever be the circumstances and the consequences, If you don’t understand something, fearlessly admit that you don’t know and seek out the knowledge. You will help yourself.
Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignoranceConfucius