I Don't Know. There is a lot that I don’t know. Some of those things, I don’t give a second thought – I can Google, enlist an expert, seek knowledge, or accept that it is okay not to know. But when I am asked a question that I *think* I should know, something totally different happens.
You know the feeling – a little anxious, sweaty, maybe even a little lightheaded. I feel judged and start to judge myself: how could I not have anticipated that question; I feel stupid; I feel like a fake. In that moment, I may feel like I have to make up an answer, rather than say the 3 words that can instantly restore my confidence: I Don’t Know.
As a junior team member, I Don’t Know makes you feel at risk. If I don’t know, they may replace me with someone that does.
As a senior team member, I Don’t Know can make you feel like a failure. I should know. I am an expert with many years of experience. How could I not know?
What if instead, these three words could empower you and make you feel more confident. I Don’t Know … but let me think about the question and get back to you. I Don’t Know … and it is a good question, so I would like to consult with the team. I Don’t Know … and I am sure our subject matter experts have a point of view, so let’s schedule a follow-up.
I Don’t Know … but I will look at the calendar and get back to you with a timeline.
I think we are so often afraid to be without an answer that we invite too many people to the conversation, everyone giving up time just in case their expertise is needed. Such an approach leads to inefficiency and very expensive meetings.
And how does the person receiving the I Don’t Know feel? Most likely content that you are not quick to answer, that you are being thoughtful, that their question has nuance and deserves the extra time, attention, or data to answer it correctly rather than quickly. As long as you keep your end of the agreement and follow up, I can almost guarantee that an I Don’t Know will be received from a position of strength, not weakness.
But then again, I don’t know…