Monday, July 24, 2006

Can You Admit What You Do Not Know?

California is HOT! Today it was so hot I saw a bird pulling worms from the ground using oven mitts! I walked to a local eatery for lunch and have never wished more that law firms would adopt a t-shirt/shorts dress code. But the world continues to spin and I must get work done.

When I was a VP of Sales we would teach our sales reps to admit what they did not know on a sales call. No matter the reason for the question (devious or in earnest) truth about personal knowledge is ALWAYS the best answer. At Fast Company Now they have an interesting short that begins, "You can stop pretending you know what you're doing." It is a refreshing opinion supporting the concept that; it is more positive to admit to knowing less than to lose resources by insisting you know what you are doing (when you do not).

At law firms just about everyone is caught in this trap. The attorneys, at least according to clients, NEED to know everything. With this monstrous, and unrealistic expectation hanging over their heads the attorneys learn how to not know all of the answers without giving away their lack of knowledge. This attitude between clients and attorneys is so pervasive that it carries over into most of all other relationships. It is a terrible circle that works more bad than good... and here are my suggestions for escaping the cycle:
  • Recognize that solving "this problem/deal/issue" is not about knowing what to do at this exact time, but about knowing what to do with the time that is at hand. Most legal problems or issues are not resolved within moments. Being able to say, "I don't know right now" combined with "I have the resources to find out" is a powerful statement.
  • Learning the right answers WITH your clients is an incredible bonding experience.
  • Saying you know when you do not is a lie. Intuitively many clients know this might be so. Even if you save the day they will wonder.
  • Saying you know what to do if you do not will close you off from resources the client may have that will be a benefit to the solution.
  • Saying you know what to do if you do not will add significant stress to your task... and affect the members of the team you form to solve the problem.
I have learned a lot by saying I can do what I did not know how to do... But it would have been easier if I'd asked for help by admitting I didn't know quite enough. It's OK to admit ignorance. People, in general, love to help! It's cool and it's OK.
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