How To Be Gracious When You Don’t Know

When you don’t know what’s next, what’s going on, or what is expected of you, it’s important to accept the momentary lack of clarity and be gracious with the situation, yourself and others. Graciousness means bringing kindness, ease and generosity of spirit to a situation rather than additional pressure, conflict or reactivity. This then sets the stage to learn all you can and have greater clarity after the fog clears.

How To Be Gracious When You Don’t Know

Don’t over react

Not knowing something isn’t the end of the world. It IS uncomfortable. But any tendencies to become overly anxious, demanding, critical, or angry about it will only make matters worse.

Just admit it

Sometimes just admitting that you don’t know something can be helpful. We’ve all been around the person who always has to be right. When a person covers up what they don’t know with the pretense that they do, it doesn’t inspire confidence. Have you noticed how, over time, you can find yourself not trusting the person who is full of bravado?

Grope with the best

Albert Einstein once said, “How do I work? I grope.” I love this. He’s so honest about what it takes to work through the fog of not quite seeing the whole picture yet. We all have foggy patches where we simply can’t see or don’t understand what is going on. Sometimes you need to just stop for a moment and get your bearings. Feel out the situation and pay attention to what’s going on around you.

For example, in a job interview, when asked a question that you’re not sure how to answer, take the proverbial deep breath and look around at the people you’re talking with. What is important to them? What is the context for the question? What is the tone and feeling in the room? That information can often help you form your answer.

Keep moving and assessing

Often we need to keep moving forward even though we can’t see clearly. Unless it’s an emergency or you feel very lucky, it’s usually best to not plunge forcefully forward. Instead, take one step at a time and reassess as you go. As the fog clears, and your footing is secure again, you can pick up the pace.

Question your assumptions

When you are in new or unfamiliar territory, your operating assumptions need to also be re-considered. For example, tactics and strategies that worked in one organization or industry may be quite ineffective in another. When you discover that you’re working from a flawed or incorrect operating assumption, it’s amazing how much clarity and vision into what is going can suddenly illuminate the situation.

Ask for help

When you don’t know the answer, or don’t have the whole picture, there may be someone else who does. So reach out and ask for help. If you’re not used to doing this, remember that most people actually enjoy offering what they can. You need to use some discretion with whom you ask for what. But when you’re open to it, you may find more safe, excellent sources of assistance than you imagined.

Ongoing Inquiry

Inquiry is a matter of asking the important question over and over again, and staying open to answers as you go. It helps you stay connected to important issues that should not be put to rest. For example, questions about what you want to accomplish before you die, next steps in developing your career or what kind of a legacy you want to leave in your current professional role. Don’t expect to make the answers appear on your timeline. Some questions don’t have an immediate or certain answer. You need to live with them until the answers are revealed.

The choice to be open and gracious

Being gracious in the face of the unknown is a choice. It’s one that most of us need to make over and over again in the face of any tendencies to be fearful, tight and controlling. Which direction do you want to go? Contracted and closed, or gracious and open?

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Barbara Bouchet

Barbara Bouchet is President of Contact Point Associates and author of "The Enlightened Edge for Leaders: Ignite the Power of You." She coaches and trains leaders and teams to expand, transform and take delight in their work and life. Connect with Barbara.


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