Mi nah no

Jamaicans have made the English language their own, and when I lived in Jamaica for a year, it was fascinating to have to relearn the language I had grown up with.  One phrase I heard repeatedly during my stay on the island was “mi nah no,” which could be the answer to just about any question.  Eventually I figured out that it means “me not know” – in other words, “I don’t know.”  Not that I’ll never know, or even that I might not have known in the past, but right now I don’t have an answer for you.

Too often in business, we’re afraid to say “mi nah no” or the equivalent when a client, customer, or prospective employer asks a question and we don’t have an answer ready.  To avoid appearing ignorant, we’ll hem and haw while trying to think of something, or give a partial answer, or desperately attempt to change the subject.  By refusing to admit ignorance, we come off seeming foolish or unresponsive.

When you encounter this situation, instead of trying to hide your ignorance, you should acknowledge the question and say directly that you don’t have an answer at the moment, but also make it clear that you will get an answer as soon as possible.  After all, if you asked someone a question, wouldn’t you prefer an honest admission of ignorance (followed by an eventual answer) to someone who didn’t admit ignorance but never got around to answering the question?

Sometimes the answer will only take a bit more thought, and you can provide it by the end of the conversation.  Other times the answer will require facts you don’t currently have, and you’ll need to contact the questioner once you’ve had a chance to find the answer.  In either case, the important thing is that you let the other person know when they will have an answer, and then actually get it to them.

 If you don’t have an answer right now, say so, and then follow up.

Once I was helping a client practice for a job interview for a marketing position at a consumer products company.  Playing the part of the interviewer, I asked him what he would do if I wanted him to do a line extension for the company’s bottled water product.  For some reason this question completely threw him, leaving him at a loss for words.  So I called time-out on the interview and explained to him that if he didn’t have an immediate answer for a question it was okay to say so, as long as he provided an answer as soon as possible.

In the actual job interview, my client was again asked a question which floored him – “Why would your last boss not hire you?” – but this time he knew how to handle the situation, and replied that he didn’t have an answer right now, but would by the end of the interview.  And by the end, he did have an answer, and he explained that he was initially thrown by the question since he was quite sure his last boss would hire him, if given the chance, but after thinking about it he realized the question was meant to find out what his weaknesses were, and he proceeded to list them (since everyone should go into a job interview with an answer to the “weaknesses” question).  By admitting he didn’t have an immediate answer, and then following up, he had managed to save the interview.


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  • Response
    Response: resumes planet
    Now I also had learned this new word from a new English of Jamaica and it is always good to know new things. I am planning to go to Jamaica and want to experience all this like you did.

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