When 'I don't know' is a powerful phrase.

Written by David Pullan

When 'I don't know' is a powerful phrase.

This week I have another lesson from Sam Mendes. It’s about the power that can come from being vulnerable in communication. 


Sam told me, ‘When I’ve worked on smaller scale projects the words, ‘I don’t know,’ have often been the beginning of the best day’s rehearsal. They’ve led to a day of exploration, a day of discovery, a day where we’ve found something wonderful.  


If you say the words, 'I don’t know,' on a film set the whole thing collapses. If someone says to you, ‘what’s our first shot?’ you have to be able to tell them. You have to be very, very definite.’


For me this seems to be all about the the scale and time critical nature of a project.


Small scale plays have space and time, films have big budgets and large teams hanging on the leader’s every word.


So what does this mean in terms of communication?


I suggest that we could all do well if we took a breath during our daily interactions and decided if we are metaphorically on a film set, or in a rehearsal room. Do you need to be the expert or can you find the power in your vulnerability?


In a meeting do you have to rush to the solution, or can you say ‘I don’t know’ and allow a surprising, collaborative and better outcome to emerge?


At a networking event do you need to be an authority on every subject that is mentioned, or can you dare to say,’I don’t know about that, tell me more,’ and build a stronger relationship than you thought was possible?


This week take a moment in every situation to decide if you need to be seen as the strong decision maker or if there is hidden power in being open and vulnerable.



  • W B Yeats

    'Think like a wise man, but communicate in the language of the people.'