The quiet authority that comes from saying you’re not sure

The quiet authority that comes from saying you’re not sure

We all need to be sure, these days. Sure about the American Presidential election. Certain about the government’s policies on Covid. Unequivocal about Brexit.

It’s easy to see why: you don’t get many retweets if you say “I don’t know”, and you won’t get many newspaper headlines either. In fact, I freely admit that, as a media trainer, I encourage my delegates to be as expressive as they can, and as forthright as they feel able, while still being credible and true to their beliefs. And I can be pretty forthright myself, when the mood takes me, about a whole range of issues, only some of which I know much about.

But being forthright doesn’t always work. Occasionally, a thoughtful and still knowledgeable “I’ve considered this from all angles, and I just can’t be sure” can convey dignity, wisdom and authority.

Many moons ago, when I was in my early 20s and working in South Asia, I remember talking to a man about twice my age who said: “the older you get, the less sure you become.” I was struck by this. Intuitively, I thought, the more experience of life you have, the more you should be able to reach definitive conclusions. But he was saying the reverse. The more experience of life you have, the more you can see shades of grey, and the more you’re able to view it from the other guy’s perspective.

Okay, that was nearly 30 years ago, and much has changed in terms of our cultural landscape, technology and modes of communication. In any case, life would be very boring for you and those around you if you never reached a definitive judgment. But our 21st century culture presses for those judgments all the time, to the extent that some people erroneously equate being unsure with being weak.

Well, the more I see of life, the more I recognise that uncertainty can also be a sign of courage and wisdom.

If you’d like to hear another perspective on the wisdom of hedging your bets, I strongly recommend this brilliant Guardian podcast on the American Presidential election. It’ll also give you a fascinating insight into why the pollsters, so certain of a Clinton victory in 2016, got it so wrong.

Article date

October 22nd, 2020

Robert Taylor

Media Trainer

@RT_MediaTrainer

My main passion is media training, and I’m proud to be one of the UK’s most experienced and successful trainers in this field.

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