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.|
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?
Give yourself and others permission to not know!