Friday, July 11, 2014

I don't know

Fair warning, this post is going to be very "professional developmenty".

I've watched this scenario play out a number of times already in my relatively short career. A manager asks a question of an employee, and the response is, "I don't know." Followed by an awkward silence while the manager waits for more.

In technology no one knows everything. Even in a specific job function the most qualified, brilliant, senior employee will have to look something up or ask for help every once in a while. So while true, the right answer is very rarely (if not never) "I don't know."

In a lot of ways this is a strength of the "Google Generation". The Google Generation gracefully accepts that there are a lot of things they don't know. We don't know how old Michael Jordon is, we don't know who directed Space Jam, and we don't know how many servers are in the DMZ. But we know how to search the internet, or the environment for the answer.

Here are some suggestions of responses you can use other than, "I don't know."

"What are you trying to accomplish?" - Maybe something you do know will help them.

"Are you looking at a problem?" - If it's a non-technical person asking, they might not know what they really want to ask.

"When do you need to know by?" - If it's not urgent, you can take some time to find the answer or find someone who can.

"Who wants to know?" - Give the question different priority if it's someone important asking. (TIP: Don't say this like a guy who is answering cops knocking on his front door.)