Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt, author of The Goal, would tell his students and colleagues to never say “I know”. I completely agree with this sentiment. Let’s explore this a bit.
Let’s start with the arrogance. When someone is trying to tell me something, and I say, “I know”, I’m essentially telling them that I am so smart and experienced, there is nothing left to learn about the subject. Ironically, by attempting to demonstrate my knowledge I have really shown my ignorance. Even if I’m an expert in the subject, I still don’t know everything. If I ask any true expert in any subject, I bet they can give me a list of things that they still don’t know but would like to learn.
Another reason to not say “I know” is because I really should just listen to what they have to say. Not only is this a common courtesy, but it can also further my understanding by getting their viewpoint, whether I agree with it or not. If the discussion is related to a negotiation or a problem, it is of great value to understand their viewpoint. And of course, there are certainly things that I simply don’t know I don’t know. If I listen, I might discover them and learn something new. Buddhists practice something called the Beginner’s Mind. The idea is to just experience the event as a curious beginner with no preconceived notions or opinions. It isn’t easy to do, especially if I am supposed to be the expert in the room, but it can be very useful.
Then there is the insult. I’m basically telling the person that they couldn’t possibly be intelligent enough to have any knowledge that I don’t already possess. Ouch! That’s not a good way to maintain any type of relationship.
I considered naming the blog Don’t Say “I Know”, following Goldratt’s lead, but I really want to not even think I know in this context. I really do want to have a beginner’s mind and see what I can learn. Instead of trying to prove what I know, I want to ask the right questions and perhaps my counterpart and I can learn together. In short, I want to be more like Benjamin Franklin who said: “I find a frank acknowledgement of one’s ignorance is not only the easiest way to get rid of a difficulty, but the likeliest way to obtain information, therefore I practice it. Those who affect to be thought to know everything, and so undertake to explain everything, often remain long ignorant of many things that others could and would instruct them in, if they appeared less conceited.” Well said, Ben!