“I don’t know.” Why is this so hard for people to say? It’s a lot of pressure to have to know everything. I’m a consultant. Aren’t we supposed to have an answer for everything. The truth is no. However, we do need to have an appropriate response.
In The Inspiration Code, Kristi Hedges says embrace “I Don’t Know.” People are most resilient and successful when they develop what Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset — the belief that basic abilities can be developed through effort and hard work. Those with a growth mindset expect to work hard for mastery and don’t take it personally when challenges arise. Embracing “I don’t know” encourages a growth mindset. The follow up to it is, “Let’s find out.” When leaders are also learners, their teams and organizations benefit because the behavior models a collective growth mindset that says, “Never stop improving.”
Here is a simple yet effective way to respond to any question where you don’t know the answer.
1. Don’t BS: Explain that you don’t know. You can even be apologetic and say, “I’m sorry I should know the answer, but I can’t come up with it right now.”
2. Demonstrate you know where to get it: Explain you know who to talk to or you know where it is.
3. Give a response timeframe: You will get back to them after the break or tomorrow by 5pm.
Start using this now and you will find that it gets easier to use, thus building your confidence and demonstrates to the person that you are mature, professional and in control.