I Said “I don’t know” So Many Times…

I took the lead designing a story during planning today. The work was somewhere between simple and complex; the scope was neither large nor small; and my name is certainly on previous commits in the code base. Still, I think I said “I don’t know” at least 15 times in under 2 hours. The audience included the entire Development Team, our Scrum Master, the Product Owner, and my manager! I would not be surprised if Microsoft was mining the speech in our Teams meeting and sent me a template for a resignation letter!

The Deeper Meaning of “I Don’t Know”

Saying “I don’t know” or other similar forms like “Not sure”, “It’s unclear at the moment”, “Interesting! I wasn’t expecting that” all lead to a basic truth:

In this moment, given what I know, a reasonable answer is unavailable.

That’s it. That’s all it means. To assume much more and you’d likely be jumping to a unfair conclusion.

How to Move Past “I Don’t Know”

By making it clear what “I don’t know” means, we can easily build a statement to guide us towards knowing…

At some point in the future, I need to expand on what I know, to the point of having a reasonable answer.

How quickly and how much effort is needed will depend on the priority and value of having the answer.

What’s for dinner?=> Look around your kitchen
How do I fix the heating element on my stove?=>Watch some videos online or call a repair shop
Should I have kids?=>Why are you asking me? You need to do some soul searching.
That escalated quickly…

Help Others

Have you found other people stuck on the “I don’t know” phase? It can be a scary place to get stuck. Try some of these questions to help them past:

  • Can you tell me more about the situation?
  • What have you tried so far?
  • What support or resources do you need to take the next step?
  • What options can you think of to move forward?

Parting Thought

Give yourself and others permission to not know!

Posted in Reflecting.