I don’t care how smart, talented, trained or educated you are, in your professional life time and time again, you’re going to be hit with questions to which you don’t know the answers.
A real estate agent showing a house will be asked about the energy efficiency of an appliance, or an accountant will be asked about an obscure tax law, a police officer will be questioned about a portion of legislation they’re not familiar with.
And many of us will feel a sinking feeling when we’re asked that tricky question. No one likes to say “I don’t know”.
So my advice – don’t.
Instead say… “Is that important to you?”
For example, a real estate agent showing a house is asked what type of insulation is in the roof. Reply – is that important to you? Oftentimes the is “not really” – people are just filling space with conversation and asking may save you a random fact finding hunt over something of no importance to the person asking the question. If however the answer was – Yes, my son has allergies to XXX you could reply – ok, I’ll find out and let you know and you’re further educated as to why the person wants that information and can more specifically track down the correct answer.
Or perhaps try… “Great question, let me find out for you”
Rather than, I don’t know, this leaves the person with a little pat on the back (for a great question) and provided you do what you say you’re going to (find out the answer) you’re golden.
You might try… “Judy in our organisation is our specialist on that, let me find out her thoughts”.
An easy way to retain credibility and to make the person feel as though you’re valuing their question by seeking counsel from someone who is a “specialist”.
So let’s ban “I don’t know”, but recognise that the other fabulous thing about feeling the “I don’t know” dread is that next time you’re asked that question – you’ll know!