Knowing vs not knowing – the battle of the mind-sets

By Declan Noone


We are all guilty of it. We all do it. Sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. However, are we aware of the impact it has in the workplace?


How often have you sat in a meeting and said to yourself I know the answer to this issue, and then decided to air your opinion? How likely are you to embrace or allow for alternative opinions to your own, while you are giving your own opinion? Consider the dynamic within that meeting, are all voices heard and who ‘wins’ out?


The ‘Knowing’ mind – believing yourself to have the facts and expertise on an issue and allowing this to translate to your posture, behaviours and attitude, is a destructive attribute for leaders who are seeking to build a creative, innovative and generative work environment. The ‘Knowing’ mind tends to:


  • Demonstrate a power dynamic between people (position, rank, status, etc).
  • Create a dialogue where one side appears to be ‘giving’ advice while the other is on receive.
  • Enable the dominant voice to set the agenda for the dialogue.
  • Demonstrate a lack of respect and diversity of opinion.
  • Result in a narrower scope of analysis in the decision making process.

Unfortunately, it is the dominant mind-set in most workplace cultures as we tend to believe that position equals knowledge. Consequently, in hierarchical structured organisations, leaders are expected to ‘know’, and they are expected to demonstrate they ‘know’. Therefore, their voices are heard more frequently. They consume more time during a meeting. They are risk averse. Challenges to the natural order of things will cause a disproportionate response. This workplace culture does not engage its employees, or strive to draw as much of their knowledge, expertise or passion from them.


A 2014 Survey by Harris Poll shows that employees spend ‘40% of their working hours were spent on meetings, administrative tasks, and interruptions’, so surely we need to make the most of the time set aside for meetings. For meetings to be productive leaders need to change their mind-sets from the ‘Knowing’ to the ‘Not Knowing’.


A ‘Not Knowing’ mind-set requires the leader to suspend their ego and set aside their knowledge and experience for a period. They consciously approach the meeting or a dialogue as if they have no opinion or knowledge of the desired solution. To do so necessitates that at the start of the meeting the leader states either ‘I do not know the answer to this issue but I am keen to get your collective opinions’, or ‘while I have some opinions on this but I want your input and perspectives before I voice my own’.  Doing this, sets the context for the discussion allowing each participant at the meeting to share their opinions based on their individual knowledge and experience. The Leader remains active through asking pointed questions on areas where he/she feels that further clarity or analysis is required.


Adopting a ‘Not Knowing’ mind-set has a number of distinct benefits:


  1. The Leader affords themselves the opportunity to actively listen to each input. This affords a greater volume of insights to be shared from the multiple sources present.
  2. It enables cognitive agility, whereby the leader does not remain fixed to a presubscribed solution that they have developed. Rather they allow their team to convince them of the validity and feasibility of their suggested solutions.
  3. Encourages a more constructive conversation within the team.
  4. Can enable greater ‘outside the box’ thinking.
  5. A greater sense of engagement from team members as they are being afforded the opportunity to participate in driving solutions.
  6. Engenders a great sense of ‘we’, the team.


A meeting does not have to be an exhaustive dialogue, timings can be established beforehand, the leader controls the interactions, and participants are told of the need for a focused and concise message.


A ‘Not Knowing’ mind-set whether used in meetings or in conversations enable a leader to construct a more holistic and engaged approach to both dialogue and decision making processes.


At Serrano 99, we work with our clients to help create the right context where the beginners mind is more prevalent in their organisations, by providing the right training and interventions, targeted to the right audience, in a generative, positive and mindful manner.

Posted on November 30, 2017 in Insights, Mindware

Share the Story

About the Author

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top