Thursday, August 13, 2015

Best statement for humans, worst for bosses: I don't know

You realize there are several ways to interpret the title, right?

One reading is the best statement for humans and the worst for bosses to utter is the mini sentence "I don't know".

Another reading is I, the reader or the author, have no idea what the best statement for humans and the worst for bosses is.

A third could be the best statement humans can make and really upset a boss in the process is the phrase I don't know.

Which one is this post about? All three, really, because claiming to know the best thing other people can say requires an extremely good grasp of a given context or a puffy ego. So, take all of this with a grain of salt.

Let's start with an apology to bosses, because the title can be interpreted as saying bosses are not humans. Which would be grossly insulting. The phrasing merely is a clumsy short version for "humans in a culturally defined position of real or imagined power ranked higher than others", okay?

So many words for a simple declaration of love for "I don't know".

The blogster loves these three words.

If you use them around the blogster, you will be well respected even if our opinions on a subject or our general world views couldn't be more different.

The problem, at least in the blogster's limited Western-ish understanding of the world, is that this wonderful phrase is undervalued or frequently draws immediate punishment when you use it.

When and where to use I don't know?
I don't know is best not used in high school unless the question is on a subject not previously taught, because the odds of having one of the rare teachers who appreciates it are small.

Unfortunately, there is no ultimate rule on when and how to use I don't know. As a manager, it is up to you to tell your team that you value the statement but you have to be honest and follow through.

As a worker, in the absence of a credible policy of your manager, which is most of the time, you need to decide for yourself.

The blogster has always used it, driving a couple of managers crazy while winning unwavering support from others, even a departing Human Resources Director in one company stopping by to say good bye - to the great surprise of the blogster and co-workers.

The point for workers is: if you say I don't know, try to explain how you are going to find out, whether you need assistance and by when the issue will be resolved.

Only hardcore dickhead managers will still go after you, and then it is time to find another job anyway.

Will this post help you?

I don't know.

You might be better off trying more wishy-washy sentence introductions, such as "as far as I know", "to the best of my knowledge", or similar phrases, though the blogster maintains they make you seem -- right in line with the dictionary definition of whishy-washy -- weak or indecisive. Which may be worse than standing tall.

So, enjoy.

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