It’s okay to say “I don’t know.” Sometimes it is better than okay, it is absolutely the right thing to do. Trying to come up with (or fake) an answer can be unintentionally amusing, or it can be be detrimental to your career.
Recently, I got a funny instead of an “I don’t know” A little TMI warning – I’m exploring HRT. I was given a new script and asked the pharmacist what’s the problem of too much estrogen and how will I know. His answer:
“You cry a lot.”
Oh my. He was serious. I thought it was hilarious, thought I don’t know that anyone else would have thought so. I have a weird sense of humor. Maybe next time an I don’t know followed by check with your doctor, let me ask, let me look it up…. anything really.
I used to be afraid of admitting that I didn’t know something. I was told it was a sign of weakness. How can anyone take you as an authority, a leader, if you don’t know the answers.
The problem was, I’m not good at faking. But I was good at learning. So I decided if I was going to be seen as an unauthoritative weak leader, I was at least going to be helpful.
I learned to say, “I don’t know, but I will find the answer.”
Do you even realize how powerful that statement is?
It freed me from trying to be perfect or something I wasn’t. I did not have to meet some unrealistic expectation.
And the lucky break! I would get excited because I saw it as a golden opportunity to learn something new. I love learning. Phyllis Diller attributed her longevity and success partially to learning something new every day.
You are never so far advanced in your career that you know everything and no longer need to learn.
To anyone who is like I was, afraid to admit not knowing something, either in an interview or early in your career, I say:
Here’s something that will take this liberating phrase up a notch to make it even more powerful. I wish I would have figure this out back then… Here how “I don’t know” can be a positive differential in your interview.
Don’t say you will learn or find the answer. Prove it.
Use an example. There is some time in your past you did not know something you needed to know. How did you find it out, how did you solve the challenge, how did you win over that problem?
A solid example with a positive result will prove at least five positive attributes:
- Credibility – backing up your words with demonstrated past action
- A problem solver – able to discover or use resources to find a solution
- Self-aware – willing to admit when they don’t know something
- A go-getter – willing to go after the next step, or create it
- A self-starter – able to craft a solution
There is one slight ring of truth to the don’t know equals a weakness – if it stops at “I don’t know.” If you don’t go beyond, prove your power, and learn from it then yes, “I don’t know” can be seen as a weakness.
You are a lot more powerful that you give yourself credit. Amp it up by admitting you don’t know then ferociously go after that knowledge. What a rush of satisfaction to learn something new!
With my last I don’t know I did learn the symptoms and some interesting alternatives. What’s the last fun thing you learned from an “I don’t know” moment?
As a triple certified as a Professional Resume Writer, Career Coach and Social Media Brand Analyst I help amazing professionals get career happy.
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