This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

knowledge...I grew up professionally in a world where knowing stuff was paramount (IT consulting) and I continue to live in a world where the same is true (professional services).

The more I learn about what it takes to have extraordinary relationships, the more I realize that knowing stuff is a problem.

Knowing stuff is a way we all naturally guard against uncertainty, ambiguity, and our own fears.

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The problems with knowing stuff about stuff:

  • It impedes curiosity. When we know, we’re less likely to inquire or wonder or muse. Yet being curious is a hallmark trait of a trusted advisor.
  • It cements our assumptions. Confirmation bias is the tendency to look for, interpret, and recall things in a way that validates our own beliefs. The more we know, the more biased we tend to be.
  • It prevents us from taking risks. If I already know (or think I do), I don’t have to put myself in the vulnerable position of learning something, or admitting I’m actually not quite as sure as I’d like.

Side note: Paradoxically, confessing ignorance with clarity and confidence is one of the best ways to strengthen your credibility. My favorite line from Charlie Green’s blog on this topic: “After all, technical knowledge can always be looked up; personal courage and integrity are in far shorter supply.”

The problems with knowing stuff about people:

  • It puts them in a box. Knowing others means we’re more likely to confine them to past experiences.

Side note on this one: In workshops, I often hear, “I couldn’t do/say that—he’d do/say this in response, and that would be bad!” Consider this: Assuming we know how someone will act or react is a profound act of arrogance that stops us from interacting in the very way that might actually invite a totally different response.

  • It stagnates the relationship. When we know someone, we’re less inclined to discover something new about them. And then we don’t grow together.

To sum it up, being in a state of already knowing leads to narrow focus, disconnection, and arrogance. By contrast, unknowing builds relationships. Being constantly interested in our clients, customers, prospects, peers, leaders, suppliers, even our competitors, means we’ll always be poised to learn, to positively influence, and to create connection.

Make It Real

This week, look for every opportunity you can find to discover something new—about the world, about other people, about yourself. Make a quick list of what you learned at the end of each day.

Learn More


Review the curious case of curiosity in selling, from our friends at Trusted Advisor Associates, or brush up on the five fundamental attitudes the provide a foundation for building trust in Chapter 2 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).