We have always looked up to others to provide the answers we need, parents, religious institutions, government and those in the position of power, friends, family, spouses etc. We’ve also always expected that these people remain capable of providing answers to our many questions especially so we know what to do and the next direction to head. As a result of the pressing demands on us in our various roles to always have the answers, we always want to have something to say.
Knowing is associated with mastery, intelligence and intellectualism and there are so many reasons why people fear the words, “I don’t know” so much. When we do not know, it seems like a blow to our self-acclaimed social levels of intellectualism to admit to not knowing. Firstly, we do not want to look stupid, lose our social rankings or seem vulnerable and dumb, so to avoid this, we pretend to know.
People have come to associate the sheer acceptance of not knowing with incompetency and since nobody wants to be seen or regarded as incompetent, especially to their associates, the big idea is to fake it and make it. Nobody really cares as long as you just pretend to have something smart to say.
But there are so many better ways to say you do not know without appearing weak, inexperienced and most of all preserve your self-respect and esteem. When you are consulted in the face of any problem needing immediate attention, adapt anyone out of these three methods – the research approach, the collaborative approach and lastly the outsourcing approach.
Research approach: Using the research approach to admit to not knowing is simply you making a promise to find out and bring back feedback. For example, when asked about something you do not know much on, you can say, ” I’m not sure I have an answer to this at the moment but I’ll look into it and get back to you”. Firstly, you provide the assurance you are capable of offering value and tackling the question thrown at you but you would need time to gather the right kind of information. Secondly, by doing this, you show responsibility for whatever it is at hand, enough to go out of your way to make further findings on it.
Collaborative approach: This method is very helpful, especially in organizations. If you are a leader in any position of authority faced with a challenge you do not have an immediate answer to, throw it back to members of your team. Coming together will allow for brainstorming of ideas. Employees love to feel carried along and so if you decide to provide all the answers every time, then everyone on your team would simply get used to it and refuse to put in any effort. Learn to ask –
“Let’s discuss this” “Can we figure this out together?”
Outsourcing: By using this approach you suggest someone you are certain will have the answers or is capable of getting the answers.
“Oh I don’t know but I know someone who can help” “I have no idea but I’m certain Mr X would know something about this” ” I don’t know but let’s consult Mr X, and hear what they have to say”
Using anyone out of this methods closes the awkward silence we dread, that usually follows admission to not knowing. A simple “I don’t know” statement backed up with any of this approach will take away the crushing feeling of disappointment you or those around you might experience. It also creates a plethora of opportunities for more viable suggestions to arise.
Be comfortable in saying “I don’t know” there’s nothing wrong in not knowing, it only becomes an issue when you remain content with not knowing.