Answer Men

My Philosophy on Sharing Information


At most shops, one guy generally rises to the top and shines. He’ll be the self-reliant type. He usually won’t be prone to ask anybody for help; he generally figures things out on his own. This attitude will elevate ‘Joe’ (that’s what we’ll call him) to a level of respect among his peers that most people never reach. This fellow will be the person who seems to have all the answers and fix just about anything that comes his way. When the other folks in the shop need help, they come to Joe.


He seems indispensable. I knew a ‘Joe’ like this when I worked at a heavy truck shop many years ago. He was loaded with knowledge, and he liked to be the top troubleshooter, but he wasn’t too fond of sharing what he knew. This fellow was easily threatened if he felt like somebody else had a chance to approach his level of expertise. So, he gave out the least amount of information possible in order to remain on top of the heap. If guys like this go on vacation and nobody can figure out any of the really tough problems while they’re gone, they feel more worthy, more satisfied and more secure in who they are. Have you ever

known a mechanic like this? I’m no psychologist, but it seems to me that this attitude stems from a basic form of insecurity.


Not all ‘Joes’ have this attitude. Some ‘Joes’ will share their knowledge freely because they’re not bothered in the least by the idea that somebody might one day be a little sharper than they are. They freely share what they know with their peers. If another man rises above them on the ladder of troubleshooting know-how and accomplishment, they aren’t bothered by it. They just keep on sharing what they know.

Maybe he gets phone calls from other shops, and he’s just as free and easy with the information when he talks to a shop across town as he is when he shares information with the guy in the next service bay. This ‘Joe’ seems to keep getting smarter, and folks are asking him more and more questions, in spite of the fact that he says “I don’t know” to many of their questions. Why, and how, does this happen?


There are consequences tied to the choices these two types of ‘Joes’ make. Those who hang onto their knowledge with tight-fisted insecurity soon find that, somehow, a lot of essential knowledge is passing them by. They then begin to feel more insecure, because they don’t know all the answers anymore, as if they ever did. Instead of saying “I don’t know” when somebody asks them a technical question, they just give an answer — any answer — so they won’t lose that moment in the limelight. When they start giving out bad information, folks eventually stop asking them questions.


There are a couple of principles at work here. Perhaps the most important principle I’ve learned firsthand during the past 20 years is that the measure we give will be the measure we receive. That sounds simplistic, but I’ve been on both sides of it and found it to be true.


Those who only receive knowledge but refuse to give it wind up with far less useful information in their mental files than if they had opened their minds and shared their knowledge. You see, when ‘Joe’ becomes a teacher for a few moments and explains something to another person, he gets more out of the explanation he provides than the one he’s teaching.


When we take our knowledge and put it into words, we gain new insights. That’s why, according to some studies, a teacher absorbs about 88 percent of what he or she teaches and the pupil absorbs only 11 percent of what they’re taught.


If you want your knowledge to increase, start spreading what you know around the shop, and even around town. It may go against your grain to open up, but you’ll be a lot better off in the long run. You might even surpass the resident ‘Joe’ and become the shop’s new indispensable ‘answer man!’