I know. Jack Nicholson said “You can’t handle the truth,” but we’re adapting today.
I ask a lot of questions in the course of a normal confusing business day, and quite often I get a lot of hemming and hawing in response. That leads me to try to explain an apparently difficult-to-understand concept: “I need the answer and I don’t care if it isn’t the answer you think I want to hear.” That seems clear enough but, for some reason, it almost never is. Here are few typical questions:
• Who wrote this?
• What’s the budget?
• What made you choose this medium?
• Is there an objective in this plan?
• How long do these meetings usually last?
• Someone leaped straight from objective to tactics, was there a strategy in here at one time?
• When is this due?
• Why do you want me to delete X?
You probably ask questions like this a thousand times a year and you probably get real answers as rarely as I do.
Often there are no answers, in which case you should be able to ignore the issue that made you ask the question by, say, not deleting X. But that’ll inevitably force you to ask another question. “Why can’t I ignore it?” And there’ll be no answer.
Just as often, the real answer to a question is “I don’t know.” I wish people would just say that. I do all the time because, in addition to asking a lot of questions, I get asked a lot of questions. And usually I say “I don’t know.” Unless I do know.
There are probably only five acceptable answers to any question: 1) I can’t tell you 2) none of your business 3) I don’t know 4) I don’t know but I’ll find out, which should lead, eventually, to … 5) whatever the answer really is.
I guess a lot of people find it hard to believe that you don’t care what the answer is, even though you need to know it to do your job.
There’s a word that describes not caring what the answer is but needing it. It’s “disinterested”. People think it means “not interested”. It doesn’t. A baseball fan might not care who wins a game but, as a fan, he’s interested in the game itself. He’s disinterested but interested enough to show up and watch. An umpire doesn’t care if a runner is safe or out. He’s disinterested but interested because his job is to make the call.