Friday Fired Up-Day: “I Don’t Know”

I love when clients say, “I don’t know”.  I think it’s exciting and amazing and wonderful.   After all, this is what MasterFull coaching is all about.  How to handle “I don’t know.”  Anybody who is a Master at something realizes just how much they don’t know.

Any black belt master in the martial arts is the first one to say, “I don’t know.”  But that doesn’t stop them.  It compels them, pulls them forward.  Any master musician or tradesman admits their limitations, but that doesn’t get in their way.  Instead it engages them in powerful and exciting ways.  For a master, “I don’t know” is an invitation to unlimited possibilities and potential.

And yet, it seems that most coaches out there just don’t know how to handle the dreaded phrase of “I don’t know.”

Hm.  Isn’t that ironic?  You’d think it would be exciting.  I mean, if you think about it, if your client already came to you knowing everything, then what are they calling you for?  They’re calling you because THEY DON’T KNOW.  Right?

But for many coaches, “I don’t know” is scary.  It’s a problem.  Something is wrong.  The coaching stops.  We’re stuck.  “Oh crap.  I just asked an awesome question and the client shot it down with, “I don’t know.” What do I do know?”  We are hijacked by the client’s unwillingness or inability to go deeper and give us a brilliant answer that tells us we’re awesome coaches.

What do we do?  How do we respond and handle that?

First off, before anyone replies with “Why don’t you just ask them “Well, if you did know, then what would your answer be?”” let me go on record with saying I HATE… absolutely HATE that response. (In fact, I think that every school, teacher, mentor, coach that teaches that phase should be be severely reprimanded for the damage they’re doing to the coaches they are growing.  So if you do that… please stop doing it.)

Yes, I know, sometimes that opens the door for your clients, but not nearly as often as you think.  If you ever coach me, DON’T ASK THIS QUESTION.

Why?  Because my response would be something more like, “Didn’t you just hear me, coach?  I just said, pretty clearly, that I don’t know.  Which means exactly that: I DON’T KNOW.”  What a way to indicate you don’t respect the client’s experience.

Let’s realize that when a client says this, it’s likely that they’re struggling.  There is some impending doom coming towards them if they don’t solve their problem, and as a result they are literally unable to access their creativity and intelligence… you know, what they DO know?  Besides, some people can’t think out of the box that easily, access and identify their emotions, be creative.  And asking them “What if you did know?” is like trying to pretend that there’s no problem.  It’s very dismissive.

Yes, I know it’s an attempt to get them to think out of the box.  And I agree with that approach.  But there are much more effective ways to do that.

  • Take away their threat.  “If money weren’t a problem, what would you do?”  “Imagine for a moment that this issue was solved, magically, then what would be different for you?”  And take if from there.
  • Step away from the problem for a moment and take the client to someplace else that they do know.
  • take a look at “I Don’t Know”.  In other words, ask your client what it’s like not knowing.  Or how does “I don’t know impact them”.
  • You could take the risk and challenge them with “Is that true?” but be careful that doesn’t shut your client down as the “What if” phrase.
  • Ask something like, “What do you wish the answer was?” which is different.
  • Go a different direction completely.  Let it go and ask a different question.  Perhaps you’ll come back to it later and the client will have a better insight.
  • And there are tons more approaches.

Besides, when we’re taught to ask this question, we fall into the assumption that that is the magic question.  “All you have to do is ask your client that question and you’re doing amazing coaching.”
Yes.  True.  Except when it doesn’t work.

In other words, (and here’s another reason why it gets my grease-can) “Well, what if you did know” is a set response to the coach’s own experience of “I don’t know.”

Crap.  I don’t know what to do with this client.  I don’t know how to respond to what they just said.  I don’t know how to get out of this mess and i certainly don’t know how to coach “I don’t know”.  So why are we teaching our coaches how to handle “I don’t know” so poorly?

To tell you the truth… I Don’t Know.

What I DO know is that “I DON’T KNOW” is an exciting and amazing place to be.  It’s the doorway to unlimited possibility and potential.

Imagine instead of those dreaded three words, your client is actually saying, “Gee coach, I don’t have enough awareness, information or connection to my thoughts or emotions a this moment to answer your question clearly.”

What would your response be then?  think about it.  your client just said they don’t have enough awareness, information or connection to their thoughts and emotions.  What a coincidence!  That just happens to be your specialty (or, at least it should be).

Yes, I’m fired up about this.  It’s coming out now because it was a fantastic topic on today’s Fast Pass to MasterFull coaching class, where, on top of the lesson for today that explored ALIVENESS, we also focused on how to powerfully handle “I Don’t Know” in amazing ways.  How to appreciate and embrace “I don’t know”.  How to see “I don’t know” as the doorway and access to your client’s absolute brilliance and wisdom.

I could share more with you, but

A) This is a simple blog post, not a full out lesson.  that would take way too much time to write and I’m not sure if you would actually stick around and read it all anyway.

B) There’s so much more information that’s part of the Fast Pass class.  So I’ll invite you to join the next round beginning May 26 and you’ll not just learn how to handle “I don’t know” powerfully, but you’ll be able to do it, too.

C) There is no one way.  Every coach has their own way of handling this issue, and every clients works differently as well.  What is that magic and powerful way for you?

I don’t know.

But I’d sure be curious to find out.


So how do YOU handle “I don’t know”.  Please share.

(And before you quickly reply with “I don’t know”, stop for a moment.  Connect with that powerful, awesome and amazing coach that I know you are, and see what answer you come up with.

I’d love to know what you come up with and share.)