You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?
Picture yourself at the monthly sales meeting. The conference room is filled to the brim with your bosses and coworkers. James is talking, one of the department managers. Soon it’s your turn. You feel a bit uneasy, but you know you are prepared. In fact, you feel confident and you’re expecting some praise. It’s your turn. You go over your numbers and forecasts. Silence. Then three horrible words come from the CEO’s mouth:
“I completely disagree.”
It’s like a punch in your stomach, isn’t it? The worst part is that you don’t know what’s wrong – you’re totally confused.
Confusion is a common – and a damn well annoying – element in other situations as well.
You listen to your boss but don’t exactly understand what he is talking about. You get confused and feel like an idiot.You have been studying for years and finally graduate, only to find yourself confused: “What should I do with my life now?”You get the perfect family and career, but find yourself confused: “Is this it? Isn’t there something more to life?”
Obviously, confusion is not one of the most pleasurable emotions. It makes you feel stupid. It makes you feel inferior. It makes you feel out of control. It’s an emotion you don’t like to show openly.
You probably don’t like the idea that people see you really confused. After all, confusion means you are not on top of things. Confusion reveals that you were not prepared for what happens. When you’re confused, you don’t have a ready answer or reaction to what just happened.
So you think that showing your confusion makes you weak, insecure, less worthy, and you try to hide your confusion: “I better not say anything so people don’t notice how confused I am.”
But this approach is completely WRONG! Actually, you should do just the opposite. You should embrace your confusion and show it! Because confusion is one of the most important and beneficial emotions we have. Let me explain.
Confusion is one of the knowledge related emotions (with curiosity and surprise). It gets evoked once the information you’re getting is unclear, insufficient, or contradictory. And then you get that confused look on your face: you pull your eyebrows together. Darwin called the muscle pulling our eyebrows together the “thinking muscle”. Actually, a confused face is one of the best recognized facial expressions in the world.
So think about this: confusion is an emotion that has been evolving for millions of years, and it has an important message to you: “I don’t know enough to take any action yet.” So confusion is your friend. It serves an important purpose.
Here are five reasons confusion is good for you:
1. Confusion makes you think. When you’re confused, your thinking gets activated. When confused, you start gathering your knowledge and thoughts: “Now, what is really happening here? This is what I know. This is unclear.”
Also, your motivation to solve the unclear situation will increase: Confusion feels uncomfortable, so you want to get rid of that annoying emotion. And how do you get rid of confusion? By getting a better understanding of the situation. So your motivation to clarify the situation increases. You want to get the facts straight.
2. Confusion makes you learn deeply. Actually, all deep learning starts with great confusion. There are plenty of studies demonstrating that when you learn things easily, your learning is superficial. But once you learn through confusion, your learning is much deeper.
It is easy to go to class and learn some basics about playing golf. But to REALLY learn to play golf takes much more effort and practice; there will be many confusing moments. “Now how was it that I’m supposed to hold the club? Oh damn, I did everything right – why didn’t the ball go where I wanted it to go?”
But once you learn the skills through confusion, you learn it deeply. Then you can apply it in your life. And you will remember your learnings for the rest of your life.
3. Confusion can lead to a very special kind of joy. I mean the joy of insight. The joy of learning. Have you ever been in a situation where you’re really confused, and then all of a sudden everything clicks, you get it, you understand it all? “Now I get it!” This causes a rush of positive excitement in you, feelings of competence and enthusiasm increase. Insight and learning is one of the core pleasures of life.
Remember this: without confusion, there are no insights. In order to feel the pleasure of deep insights, you have to feel confused first. If you are never confused, you never get to experience the pleasure that comes from suddenly putting all the pieces together!
“We’re taught to be ashamed of confusion, anger, fear and sadness, and to me they’re of equal value to happiness, excitement and inspiration.” Alanis Morissette
4. Confusion makes you more social. When you see someone else confused, what is your natural reaction – what would you like to do? If you’re like most of us, you’d probably like to go and talk to that person. Asking them if you can help, explain things once more, clarify. In other words, when you see someone confused, your natural reaction is to approach and help that person.
You’ve seen this many times yourself. Think about what happens once a major organizational change is announced. People get confused. Then they start talking to each other: “Did you hear what I heard? How did you understand this? Oh boy, what does this mean to all of us?”
This means that confusion increases social interactions. When people are confused, they reach out to each other and start sharing their knowledge. What could be more valuable in today’s world and workplaces, where the flow of information is crucial, and we often feel isolated and alone?
5. Confusion can make people look up to you. Yep, you read it right. People can actually look up to you when you are confused. Let me explain.
Usually we tend to hide our confusion. But actually, doing just the opposite may be a really powerful, courageous act that will make others LOOK UP to you.
For example, if you say clearly and firmly: “Sorry, I’m really not following this. Can you explain more?” If you say this with good posture, straight back, looking the other person friendly but firmly in the eyes, his respect for you will increase. He will see you as a person with courage to say out loud whatever needs to be said. A person who wants to understand things thoroughly.
Also, it is likely that there are several people around you who will let out a great sigh of relief: “Thank God, I’m not the only one confused. So good that he had the courage to ask for clarification.”
Especially if you are in a leadership position, it can make you a great leader if you have the guts to show your confusion. A leader who doesn’t have the strength to show his confusion, will often try to give a false impression of competence. For example, you make forced decisions without sufficient understanding about the situation. “We need to change our work shifts. From now on, Lisbeth takes the mornings and Anna takes the evenings.” Even though Anna has small children and she needs to be home early…
People are sensitive – they sense your fake strength and competence. There’s something that is not genuine about you. We do not trust such a leader as easily. But if you share your confusion, people will know you speak the truth, and you have the guts to do so. Then they can truly trust you.
So stop cursing your confusion and embrace it instead. Remember confusion makes you think. It helps you learn deeply. It leads to the joy of learning and insights. It makes you more social and if you show it bravely, it can make people look up to you. What a useful emotion it is!
And hey, if this blog clarified something or made you gain an insight, do me a favor and share it with others!