Interpersonal Edge: The power of not knowing

 By Dr. Daneen Skube

Tribune Content Agency
 Q. I’ve been in my job for 20 years. When I started in my career, I thought I knew just about everything. Now most days I wrestle with how much I don’t know. How do you deal with getting good enough at what you do to see how much more you don’t know?
  A. My coaching clients all have the orientation that the price of expertise is the death of arrogance and the birth of humility. Only the truly young and the stupid believe it is possible to know everything.
  Yes, it is uncomfortable to enter our workplace with more questions than answers. Then again, since we are asking better questions, we are in a constant state of learning. No one can learn much if they are full of themselves and of certainty.
  There is a story about a man who went to a famous sage to ask important questions about his life. The sage invited the man to sit and have tea. When the sage poured the tea, he kept pouring until the cup was spilling over. The man, of course, pointed out that his cup was overflowing. The wise man winked at him and said, “It is hard to teach a man when his cup is full.”
  There are situations during interviews or marketing moments when brimming over with self-confidence works just fine. The business world tends to be impressed with those who can appear to know everything.
  However, there is a huge difference between the external theater of appearing confident and the internal awareness of your ignorance. When you appear confident to others, you actually lower their anxiety about having you help them. When others around you relax, you will get a lot more done for and with them.
  If you make the mistake of actually believing you have all the answers, you will stop growing and learning in your career. Unfortunately, the more you learn about your job, the more you will see you don’t know. The good news is you will start to ask truly brilliant questions about how to do things better.
  If we grow up in our careers, we will go through three developmental phases:
  Phase 1: We feel a bit like kids walking around in our parents’ shoes. We desperately hope no one notices that we don’t know what we are doing and often act arrogant.
  Phase 2: As we “fake it till we make it,” we are pleasantly surprised to see we do know what we are doing. 
  Phase 3: The expanse of our expertise reveals the depths of our ignorance and we develop genuine humility. We can now ask really smart questions, some of which no one has answered yet. We develop a willingness to live with uncertainty.
  Developmental phases are optional in our careers, not mandatory. You can see what phase people are in if they actually believe they have all the answers. 
  If you can cultivate a grand affection for curiosity, your career will never get old and neither will you. You will always bring a fresh perspective and an open mind to your work.
  The last word(s)
  Q. My boss is arrogant and often wrong. I’d like to be able to help him not screw up our important projects, but I can’t figure out how to point out his mistakes. Is there any way to give arrogant people advice?
  A. Yes, focus your advice on data that will help your boss get the outcome he wants rather than forcing him to admit he is wrong.
  Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel’s “Workplace Guru” each Monday morning. She’s the author of “Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything” (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.
This article was printed in the November 2, 2014 – November 15, 2014 edition.