We have an affliction running rampant in the workplace.
It is a misfortune called MKIA: Must Know It All.
MKIA is an assumption we burden others with; a symptom of our own self-righteous indignation. Once someone is in a position of any authority or expertise, we assume they are supposed to know absolutely everything there is to know ”“ everything and anything that could possibly be associated with their position.
When we stop to think about it, MKIA is really absurd. Yet we lay this unfair and unreasonable expectation on others constantly. Why?
“Well, he works there for crying out loud, he should have known.”
“She’s the boss; she should know: Why should I be the one to tell her?”
“Isn’t it his job to know these things, or at least know how to find out?”
“Why is she the one in charge if she can’t even answer my questions?”
“Why is this taking so long, you’d think they’d know what they’re doing by now!”
Let’s think about this a bit more.
Do we expect people to have fully arrived once they land a job? Do we really expect everyone to be an expert, completely qualified and experienced, and not needing to learn a single thing more? Of course not.
In fact, don’t you get even more upset when someone says they know something and they intentionally misrepresent themselves or try to fake it?
It’s okay not to know everything.
However it’s not okay to stop there. We’re expected to do something about our not knowing when it becomes important that we learn, and find out.
“I don’t know” is a Beginning, not an Ending
Managers, this is where you can make such a profound difference in both the workplace atmosphere and in the customer service you offer. Banish the MKIA affliction once and for all.
Here are 5 tips to start with. I don’t know, there may be more ways ”“ I’m still learning too ”“ but I do know these represent a great beginning!
1. Make it crystal clear that it’s okay not to know everything. Make ‘not knowing’ safe and be sure it is never embarrassing. Thank people for admitting to what they don’t know, explaining why it is the information YOU need to know so you can help, and get things to improve.
2. Model your own vulnerability in being able to say, “I don’t know, but I aim to learn, and find out!” Work on your approachability, and improve your listening skills. Self-protective walls will come down and people will openly tell you what they need to learn too.
3. Evangelize and celebrate continual learning. Don’t just say learning is valued, prove it. Demonstrate how learning starts with ‘not knowing’ as a highly desirable open-mindedness, a potential growth capacity eagerly waiting to be explored. Fill the workplace with easily accessible resources (remember that people are resources too).
4. Equip people with both the armor and aloha of professionalism. Work on this critical knowledge: What is it to be an expert in one’s position, and how does that happen? How do you handle yourself, and how do you handle the customer when you’re at the in-between place of still learning your expertise?
5. Get rid of ALL assumptions and seek clarity and intention. Mentor a workplace culture where people are constantly asking clarifying questions to be sure they are working on the right thing at the right time, and for the right reason. Graduate to “Why?” questions which will herald in reinvention and fresh ideas.
Go ahead, you can say it: “I don’t know.”
Now we’re getting somewhere!
Let’s talk story; I’d love to hear from you.
My mana‘o [The Backstory of this posting]
Each Thursday I write a management posting for Say “Alaka‘i” at The Honolulu Advertiser. The edition here on Talking Story is revised with internally directed links, and I can take a few more editorial liberties. One person — managers — will do both things; manage and lead. They are action verbs! Exploring them as separate postings helps us dig deep and get to the good stuff.
Photo Credits: “Expert” and “Expert (Outtakes)” by Pete Prodoehl on Flickr