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‘I don’t know’ ain’t good enough!

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Jul 16

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We’ve often found ourselves responding to questions with ‘I don’t know’, ’I can’t’, ‘I can’t remember’, etc., making us feel quite embarrassed at the end of the day. Although it may be the easy way out, it makes us look uninformed, clueless, unprofessional and incompetent.

It’s okay to not have the answer to a particular question at a point in time because the simple truth is that nobody expects you to be a walking encyclopaedia or Google. However, you can’t afford to flaunt your ignorance with I don’t knows.

Being able to partially answer and ask for some more time, as well as giving the questioner the assurance of your efforts to get their questions answered, is very important.

When you’re blank and don’t really know what to say, here are some ways to resort to avoid embarrassing yourself.

Let me get back to you on that by end of day.

This response is more appropriate than ‘I don’t know’ because it subtly hides your ignorance and guarantees attempts of getting the question answered. It also affords you the opportunity to search information beyond the scope of the question and broaden your horizons.

I would like to consider it further and get back to you.

After you’ve partially answered the question, research further and get back to the questioner. It very advisable to do that especially when you’re certain that your answer falls below standard. However, be careful not to just spew gibberish in your attempt to partially answer the question.

Can you assist by giving me some leads

It’s not a big deal to ask for clues or leads to help you answer the question. The hint could be in the form of a clarification, rephrasing, specifying, and you don’t have to feel nervous asking the questioner to do that. It’s also a way of learning and gaining understanding.

Colleague ABC can help with this information. I’ll get in touch with them and get back to you

If the question doesn’t fall within your jurisdiction and you genuinely do not know the answer, this response is apt for the situation. Suggest the name of the colleague who can help with the information and take steps to get it sooner than later.

I know an expert who can help with this

Sometimes the question being asked may be too technical and would require the assistance of an expert. Do suggest that and back the suggestion with valid reasons. It just shouldn’t be because you don’t know (then why not hand over your job to that expert)!

Know that these responses work, but select the right one for your situation. These responses have nothing to do with you not being frank or sincere; blatantly dismissing a question with ‘I don’t know’ or any other related negative response casts a slur on your education, professionalism, knowledge, competence and even etiquette.

It’s better you guard these with appropriate responses. Just don’t fall for the temptation of responding with ‘I don’t know’.

Dorcas Addo

Posted by : Sharmila Gautama

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