When Was the Last Time You Said “I Don’t Know?”

Well, if you did know the answer, what would it be?”

A former boss suggested I use this phrase with an intern who said “I don’t know” occasionally.  The workplace culture was “fend for yourself, don’t ask questions and don’t let people think you don’t know.”  

“It’ll help her think on her own.”  according to my boss.

I’m ashamed to admit I said it to her the next time she said she said “I don’t know” to me.  I can still see the shocked and hurt expression on her face.

I didn’t help her.

shamed her.

When she still wasn’t able to come up with an answer, we walked away feeling frustrated about the situation.

It was awful.


Did I need to give her the answer?


Could she have dug a little harder to find it?


Could I have made it easier for her by guiding her where to look?



Why does this matter?

I work with many clients who are afraid to say ” I don’t know.”

They’re afraid saying it will decrease credibility,  show they’re not an expert, or make them seem unintelligent.

Have you felt this way before?

Saying “I don’t know” isn’t a sign of weakness. It means you don’t have the answer right now, not that you can’t find the answer or someone who has it.

I’ve been around a while now, and I haven’t met someone who has all the answers.

People who say they have all the answers all scare me.

It’s our responsibility as leaders and decent human beings to help others find answers.  Making it unsafe or shameful for an employee, colleague or friend to say “I don’t know” demonstrates a lack of understanding of how to lead.

When was the last time you said: “I don’t know?”




4 replies
  1. Amy
    Amy says:

    I used to say I don’t know all of the time! I still do occasionally, but I’m in a different field now. I would rather say I don’t know in order to find the answer or someone who does than tell them an incorrect statement! I found that people tend to respect that so much more than a made up answer!

  2. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I don’t know much but I know I like this article!!!
    Great to key in on how this is an issue about leadership!
    Wonderful to see the events coming up for PS 🙂


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