“I don’t know.”
3 simple words. They’re not always easy to say. No one likes to admit they don’t have an answer.
Some people won’t say “I don’t know.” They’d rather stumble their way through a bogus answer, pull something out of thin air (or elsewhere!) or outright lie. For some, avoiding “I don’t know” is an art. Think: politicians. Masters at filling the air with sound and carbon dioxide but not much else.
“I don’t know…”
Alone, the phrase isn’t all that important. What matters is what you say right after.
“I don’t know, but…
Now we’re getting somewhere. What you say next makes all the difference in the world.
- “I don’t know, but I will get back to you.”
- “I don’t know, but I’m interested in what you think.”
- “I don’t know, but does it really matter anyway?”
- “I don’t know, but let’s bring in a couple other guys and ask them.”
- “I don’t know, but you don’t have to worry about that.”
Great leaders are brave and honest. They know when they need to say, “I don’t know.” More importantly, they follow it up appropriately. And in communicating effectively, it’s not only the words you use that matter, but how you say them and how you present yourself.
The worst thing you can do is devalue the questions or opinions of the people you’re supposed to be leading. It’s easy to do – brush off questions, not pay enough attention to what’s going on, be flippant – but it’s a motivation killer. It erodes trust. And it’s a sign that you don’t care.
Not knowing something isn’t a problem. It’s OK to say, “I don’t know.” And in fact, it can work to your advantage as a leader by demonstrating your honesty, openness and willingness to seek the help of others.