We’ve all been at work, with a group of friends, or at home when someone hits us with a question to which we genuinely don’t know the answer.
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Most of us cringe at the thought of not knowing the answer to something, because we believe it makes us seem less intelligent somehow. I’m here to tell you, as a recovering know-it-all, that it does not.
I’ve had the lesson of “just admit you don’t know” drilled into me with sales training and different books I read and podcasts to which I listen. However, I still fight the urge to come up with an answer to questions I don’t know the answer to. When I actually admit that I don’t know the answer, I typically am able to better help the person that asked the question.
The ideas of how to say “I don’t know” and appear smart came out of a conversation with a friend of mine that works at one of my favorite places to eat (and drink tea!). I asked a question about something on the menu and she just said “I don’t know” and that was it. My question went unanswered.
I saw this as an opportunity to help my friend communicate better and offer better customer service to any other customers with questions that she may meet.
I described 3 steps for her to follow that would get my question answered and would create a positive impression of her and the company she works for. After thinking about them, I decided that they can be organized into the ABC’s of saying “I don’t know” or going beyond only saying “I don’t know”.
1. Admit you don’t know.
Just simply say “I don’t know”. It can be 3 of the hardest words to say, but can produce powerful results. It shows humility and almost every person on the earth can and will respect a person of humility.
If you say “I don’t know” and don’t do anything else, you can seem lazy and it communicates that the person asking the question isn’t important. If you pretend to know and give an answer that is wrong or half-right, then you will appear dishonest and probably untrustworthy.
2. Become their advocate.
Secondly, you become an advocate for the person asking the question by saying, “but I can find out for you”. You have now aligned yourself on the side of the questioner and are going, on their behalf, to get them the answer. Again, this is almost universally accepted by people.
Think about how often we feel that we have to do everything ourselves. In today’s world, the emphasis is on self-reliance and not on helping our fellow human. So, how refreshing will it be when you go get an answer to a question, not for yourself, but for someone else?!
3. Communicate your findings.
This is pretty easy. Tell them what you found out! Relay the details you discovered and then what happens next is up to the person asking the question.
So, the next time someone asks a question that stumps you, simply say, “I don’t know, but I can find out for you”.
This will work with customers, colleagues, friends, spouses, and even kids! I never have heard someone called dumb because they admitted they didn’t know but were willing to find the answer.
[reminder]What are some ways you handle questions you don’t know the answer to and what kind of results do you get?[/reminder]