Don’t Be Afraid To Say I Don’t Know

One of the best phrases I have ever learned is “I don’t know”. Not so I can avoid people and appear dumb, but so I can get out of my own way and actually learn something new. In this article I am exploring how to learn from the people around you and get a useful education from everyday experts you may not be aware of. Learn what other people do best. Not only when you need help you will know who to call, but it may just save your life. Let me tell you a story.

A coworker of mine recently had surgery to remove his prostate. His doctor was also a surgeon by specialization. Seems normal there right? Well before the surgery he was asked if he wanted to take part in a study to compare treatment with drugs and treatment with surgery. Both had similar chances of success and he had the choice, invasive surgery, or a drug regimen. My friend got to choose which group he wanted to be in. He chose the surgery. Not because he thought it was better, but he thought his doctor was better at surgery, then managing the complex interactions of cancer medication. He went with what the doctor was best at, because that’s where his biggest survival gain was. It seems like such a simple idea, and it is.

Now health care decisions are not something we make frequently. Medicine is an area where self-reliance is sometimes best abandoned in favor of dependence on the expertise of medical professionals. Sometimes we have no say in this matter at all.

That being said, there are still things you can do to leverage other people’s skills while increasing your own self-reliance.

First thing I do is I talk to people and see how much info people give up freely. I used to be surprised and how much they share. I now understand that I was tapping into their passion. They often don’t want to stop and if you keep it up they will talk to you for years. Coincidentally, this is also one way friends are made if the exchange of information flows both ways.

The second thing I do is just ask them to teach me. I say something like “will you teach me portuguese?” Or “I would really like to learn that, can you show me how?”. In my experience people rarely say no, provided the scheduling is done on their terms.

The third thing I do is I don’t say no when people ask for me to teach them something. I will only say no when there is no possible way for me to actually help them. That just wastes both of our time.
A supporting skill is to learn is how to read people. Being able to spot when they get excited and how they show confidence. When they show both at the same time, pay attention. Also, watch their eyes, if someone is lying or has low confidence in what they are saying it is harder to lie in the eyes.

I’m not suggesting manipulation because that will only work for a short time before people wise up and stop helping you. A continued resource is better than an ended one.

I have done these things for most of my life and I have a learned more than I ever imagined and made life long friends in the least likely places.


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