Ask & Listen—You Can’t And Won’t Know Everything
Knowing everything is impossible. Considering yourself an expert on all things can get you in trouble. Pretending to know everything is seriously dangerous. Imagine being an airline pilot who pretends to know how to land. That wouldn’t end well. Or what if you told everyone that you knew how to handle wild tigers? And then you were put on the spot? Even Google Assistant doesn’t know everything, and she admits it. Teenagers act like they know it all, but they just want to learn on their own without being told by adults. Of course, they won’t admit it.
“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” —Socrates
Whether you are a CEO or a college graduate, knowing everything isn’t always in your best interest, and it’s also not the end of the world. Developing your skill set as a leader or in a particular job market is a constant path to development. If you are promoted to a higher position within your company or accept a new opportunity somewhere else, you can’t expect to immediately know everything there is to know the first moment you take that seat. As individuals, we are constantly learning on a daily basis. Whether you choose to engage in that learning or if you choose to think you already know enough, is entirely different.
“Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.” —Albert Einstein
You should never feel down about not knowing everything there is to know about a new position you are applying for, a new role within a company, a career change, or even different aspects and responsibilities within your own current career. A manager in technology development may not actually know how to perform an algorithm or calculate a finite detail of the finished product. A nurse may not be able to diagnose a certain disease or disorder. An office manager probably shouldn’t know how to give vaccination injections. Does this mean they can’t learn? Absolutely not. And when you are trying to elevate your career, apply for a better job, or simply improve your skill set, it all starts with asking the right questions.
Asking questions when you are unsure or want to learn is not admitting weakness. Learning new information and skills will allow you to elevate yourself as an employee and will effectively make you a better communicator. To show that you don’t know everything will humble yourself and allow you to obtain more knowledge than you ever thought you would acquire. However, this takes a certain personality approach that not everyone is capable of. Asking questions will gain the respect of your peers, colleagues, and managers. Don’t ever worry about asking stupid questions, because that’s part of the process. Asking questions also helps you develop listening skills, which enable you to hear different points of view.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.” —Harper Lee
Some individuals cannot be educated or presented with a new idea that they didn’t already come up with because they refuse to believe they didn’t already know something. These individuals could possibly be brilliant, but in most cases, they are usually known as a ‘Know It All’. And for the lot of us, there are things we think we should know and feel either disenchanted or at a disadvantage because we don’t. Know It All's can’t handle that feeling, which prompts them to act like they are the smartest one in the room or entire organization.
Regardless of the tone or perception of a certain individual, it is always healthy to hear different points of view when trying to educate yourself. This is critical especially in the work sector because there are always different ways to perform job duties or manage a team. If you try to experience different points of view, it will help you be more well-rounded and capable of working with others.
Hearing another point of view will enhance your listening skills. As humans, we eagerly want to communicate, because that’s our natural reaction. It’s super easy to “listen” to someone and wait to reply when in reality, the whole time they are talking, we’re not really listening and instead carving out what we want to say next. If someone tells a story, it might inspire you to immediately respond with your own story. If a co-worker shares a piece of information or an idea, it might entice you to want to share some relatable information. However, are we really listening to each other or are we just waiting for our own time?
“Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” —Douglas Adams
In order to develop yourself and become comfortable with the fact that you don’t know everything, you have to throw yourself in the fire. Get your hands dirty by trying something new. This is the only way to learn new skills and to get out of your comfort zone temporarily until you become stronger and smarter and your comfort zone grows.
Rookies drafted into professional sports always have a lot of pressure on them to perform well, but they don’t always have the comfort or experience that a veteran or all-pro would have. They need to experience it for themselves to gain that perspective. It doesn’t matter where you start. It only matters where you want to go.
Albert Einstein couldn’t speak fluently until he was the age of 9. Van Gogh only sold one painting in his entire life. If you want to up-level where you are in your career, or just improve as a leader, you have to brace yourself for a hard landing once in a while. Remember that these experiences will always be some of the best learning experiences of your life. Asking and listening with the intent to acquire more knowledge is fantastic, and getting acclimated by trying something new is the next best step. If you are able to do this, you will become a great leader.
“People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives.” —Theodore Roosevelt
Calibration and Collaboration
A strong leader asks and listens. Leaders don’t know everything. Strong leaders understand this. Calibrating is measuring, taking readings, and setting gradations on a machine or contraption. This is equivocal to a leader delegating to certain people for specific tasks. Knowing where to put the right talent and knowing who will excel in certain positions while knowing which individuals need improvement is a leader calibrating their team. Collaborating is the openness to expand your mind and be flexible to other ideas. Using these different ideas from different places and fusing them together to achieve an overall goal is expansive thinking, and the type of role a leader fulfills when they don’t know everything about everything. Both collaborating and calibrating are two positive characteristics of a great leader who is constantly asking and listening to the talented and important people around them.
Jon Hauer is a freelance writer and digital designer originally from Minnesota now based in Del Rey, CA. He received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communication Studies from the University of St. Thomas and graduated from Pepperdine University in 2015 with a Master’s of Fine Arts Degree in Writing. He has worked in the tourism/hospitality industry for years and writes professionally on a number of topics including travel, business, marketing, tourism, home services, art, sports, entertainment, news, etc.