Only 60% Sure

I have a fantastic coworker who I’ve been pair programming with a lot with lately, and he does one thing that I wish everyone did:

He has a habit of stating something (usually an answer to a question I’ve asked), and then after a beat, saying something like, “I said that very confidently, but I’m only about 60% sure“. This is usually followed by a suggestion to firm up his answer, like “you should ask X person”, “you should try it and see what you think”, or “you should maybe research that more”.

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Here’s why I love that follow-up response so much:

  1. This answer builds my trust in him (because I know he’ll admit if he doesn’t know something), and builds my confidence in his answers overall. On the flip side, if he makes a statement and doesn’t qualify it with some level of uncertainty, I trust it as-is and don’t feel like I need to research it or double-check afterwards.
  2. This models great behavior around questions for our org as a whole by making “I’m not sure” an acceptable way to answer to a question. By┬áincluding additional suggestions of ways that I can get answers in his response, he’s setting me up to find the best possible answer, which is better and more efficient than getting an incomplete answer from someone who might not be the best person to cover a given subject area.
  3. This encourages more questions. I’m not afraid to ask tough or opinion-based questions because I know I’ll get a thoughtful and balanced answer. Asking more questions has led to a deeper understanding of the technologies and products I’m working with — a win-win for him, for me, and for the company.

Since I’ve heard him say this, I’ve started incorporating it into my own conversations, both professional and personal. It’s a small thing, but it makes a big difference in the way we interact, and I would love to see more people adopt this habit.