Search This Blog

Mar 1, 2021


In Academia, knowing is the currency of the realm. Because of this pressure, some people develop an interesting anxiety that prevents them from ever displaying ignorance, especially about thinks that they by their position are supposed to know. Such people will never admit to their ignorance, and start making things up just to project some, even temporary competency. Ignoraphobes can never say “I am not sure, let me look it up. I will get back to you on this.” Nor can they ever say, “Let me ask someone who knows for sure.”

Of course, sooner or later people will find out that what an ignoraphobe says is not really true. This presents a problem for an ignoraphobe: they have to cover their tracks somehow. What they were compulsively unable to admit in the short-run creates a long-term credibility issue. Only a few moves are available: one can say “I never said that wrong thing.” Well in the age of e-mail, someone will dig up an old e-mail proving you said it. One can change the topic, try to confuse the conversation, or just ignore further inquiries. All of these are not great ways of coping. Accumulated, they tend to ruin one’s reputation and create more general distrust.

This hurts both in teaching and in administration. In teaching, students tend to look up answers right there, and may loose confidence in their instructor. In administration, an ignoraphobe may send colleagues on a wild goose chase, only to find out they did the wrong thing all along. It is especially problematic, when an ingnoraphobe has the actual decision-making power. Their erroneous decisions will always need some further justification.

Like any compulsive behavior, the always-knowing speech is hard to control. Among better coping strategies, try these:

  • Delay answering. Ask the other people – can you write me an e-mail about this? There are too many details to cover. This gives you time to do the actual research, without blurting out the half-truths
  • State the degree of confidence. For example, say, I am 90% sure that… This allows one to still feel confident, and yet let the door open for a potential error.
  • Copy someone who is likely to know, and note “If I am wrong, so-and-so will correct me.” This will still feed one’s compulsion, and yet provide some room for back-tracking.
  • And finally, force yourself to say “I don’t know” in low-stake situations. Gradual exposure to the trigger tends to reduce anxiety. 

No comments:

Post a Comment