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Field Manual – Avoid Recruiting People Who Say These Three Words…

It’s not “I love you”. I actually believe that love in the workplace can work if communications, agreements and expectations are clearly laid out.

On the otherhand, if I hear the words “I don’t know”, I will cringe and hit the red panic button


The button isn’t connected to anything but my sense of security (Creative Commons: Phil Romans, 2009) 

“I don’t know” said once in a while is fine but when it becomes a habitual saying (to the point of becoming a catch phrase) it’s time to take action.

Ideally when recruiting (whether it’s an intern or a partner), you catch this on the onset (during probation). But if you catch it later on, it may mean a serious renegotiation of roles/expectations or it might even mean cutting ties completely (Need help? I’ll be writing a “How To Break Up With A Business Partner” by February).

Here are my three reasons why:

1. It’s an indicator of a lack of initiative.

In the military, there is actually a “proper response” when you don’t know the answer to a question. It’s: “I don’t know, sir, but I will find out. The reason for this is to train and hardwire initiative and preparedness for the cadet/soldier.


U.S. Army Europe’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment LTC Kendric Robbins leads soldiers from eight different NATO partner nations in performing pushups after the closing ceremonies of the Immediate Response 2012 (IR12) training event held in Slunj, Croatia on Saturday, June 9, 2012. IR12 is a multinational tactical field training exercise that will involve more than 700 personnel primarily from the U.S. Army Europe’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment and Croatian armed forces, with contingents from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Slovenia. Macedonia and Serbia sent observers to the exercise. The exercise is a part of USEUCOM's joint training and exercise program designed to enhance joint and combined interoperability between the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, Croatian Armed Forces and partner nations, and will help prepare participants to operate successfully in a joint, multinational, interagency, integrated environment. (U.S. Army photo by SPC Lorenzo Ware/Released)

If only the squat thrust was an acceptable instruction in business settings… (Photo:U.S. Army Europe Images/Flick/Creative Commons)

When someone says “I don’t know” habitually it either means they don’t care enough to find out the answer or they lack the initiative to begin the search for solutions.

This initiative can be trained but in the situation of partners it could be a challenge.

This lack of initiative to ask questions or find answers is connected to the next reason…

2. The person may not be research-oriented.

I personally believe research skills are a valuable trait that every person should have. The reality is that with how ever-changing the world is (especially when it comes to new technology and industry trends) research is the fire that forges the iron.

If the person can’t (or for some reason or another refuses to) google the answer then you have a problem.


Friggin Wikihow has everything…

You can find anything on the internet now. To prove my point I did several google searches:

  • How to build an igloo
  • How to become a pornstar
  • How to build a gun out of household items

Aside from having to delete my search history and probably becoming part of the NSA’s watch list, each of these searches proved you can find clear instructions and data on about anything using the internet.

So if they don’t depend on the internet what do they depend on?

3. They depend on you.

Interdependence creates an awesome work space when balanced. But “I don’t know” can also be another way of saying “I don’t know. Why don’t you find out? Or just tell me what to do.”

So if they don’t depend on the internet for answers they are probably depending on you. And whether it’s an intern or a partner, that could mean precious hours away from your mission, your purpose and the bigger picture.

So, hit the panic button if you hear “I don’t know” habitually. It could mean a lack of initiative, research skills or worse an over dependence on you.

Field Manual is a series of instructional insight-driven posts designed for founders, entrepreneurs and changemakers.

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1 thought on “Field Manual – Avoid Recruiting People Who Say These Three Words…

  1. Thanks for sharing this article! The people I work with in headhunting also say the same thing: knowing what to do helps more in the long-term, rather than staying indecisive and waiting for something to happen. 🙂

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