In talking with my own coach the other day, she offered me some interesting insight into a counterproductive habit that I have made all too common in my everyday conversation. The habit that I am referring to is my “go-to” response: I don't know.
My response to simple questions as well as the more complex was far too commonly being answered with an I don't know. My coach proceeded to ask me what I meant by it.
Did I mean:
“I don't want to talk about it”
“Leave me alone”
“Help me” or
“Tell me what to do”.
These are all common interpretations when someone answers a question with the simple I don't know.
When asked a lot of questions by family and friends regarding my current romantic relationship, future plans and career, I often cop out with an I don't know. Reflecting back on this response I realized that I don't know is a complete lie. It's my life, of course I know what is going on in all of those areas. The truth is sometimes I'm just not in the mood to discuss my personal life or I'm not ready to speak on any of those topics to my family and friends at the time.
So, why wouldn't I just tell them that?
You see, communicating can be tricky. Saying what you mean and meaning what you say takes practice, patience and a hell of a lot of “think before you speak”. I could take my time and explain in a genuine, heartfelt way that I do not wish to get into all that, but instead I just shrug it off with an I don't know, whats up with you?
The effect of this type of response however is that it opens the door for those people in your life to start offering you suggestions or help for what you “don't know”. By trying to dodge the questioning of a nosy family member or a gossipy friend we are often actually triggering them to want to talk about these things even more. They want to offer their help, their insight or their perspective on the situation. Or, they want you to figure out what it is that you don't know by asking more questions and prying out more information than you intended NOT to give in the first place.
Now, this is only one example of the problem with the I don't know response. But, you and I both know-- there are more. Consider a time when you did not want to tell the truth or say how you really feel out of fear of rejection, judgement or uncertainty. Do you think it is possible to have everything that you want out of life by holding back your truths? It's time to analyze your I don't knows and start finding answers within yourself (even if you are not ready to share those answers with others!) If you are asked what you want for dinner and you respond with an I don't know, you can't complain when the meal does not turn out to be what you wanted. When we fail to communicate how we feel, what we want and what we need, we cannot expect to get all of these things.
Next time you throw down the I don't know card, consider what you are getting out of that response. Are you indirectly eliciting unwanted advice or insight from others? Are you getting what you want from yourself, your partner, your life?
The truth is you do know.
You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You're on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who'll decide where to go.