In defense of “I don’t know.”

January 14, 2013

By Dan Schlacter


This is the time of year for starting fresh. Whether it is a new calendar year, contract year or budget cycle, this is when we can work with a cleaner slate than, say, four weeks ago when we were just trying to get things done before the in-laws landed.

Clean slates are accompanied by questions like “What’s your resolution for 2013?” “How much should we spend on the website this year?” “Do you think we can launch that new initiative this quarter?” Those of us in management positions may be quick to think we need to have all of the answers at the ready.

We shouldn’t.

MP&F provides media training for clients on a regular basis. One of the tips we stress for interviews is that, if you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. That practice should not be limited to media interaction, because it can be a very helpful productivity driver.

The key is what you say after you say, “I don’t know.”

During those media trainings I mentioned, we coach business professionals to say, “I don’t know, but I can find out for you” or “I don’t know, but I can put you in touch with someone who does.”

I expect my team members to contribute to the direction of our projects. What better way for me to encourage contribution than answering one of their questions with “I don’t know. What do you think we should do?”

Leaving the question open and asking for feedback allows discussion and says to your team, “We’re all driving this car, so get your hands on the wheel.” Whoever asked the question may have done so because he or she was already thinking about what the answer might be or was looking for an opportunity to share an idea or concern.

As you progress with whatever new or continued projects you are working on in 2013, look for opportunities to make them better by having absolutely no idea what to say … and saying so.


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