Jun 27

4 Powerful Reasons Why You Should Not Hesitate to Say “I Don’t Know”

I don't know

There’s no harm in saying “I don’t know”

“It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”
― Mahatma Gandhi      tweet this!

One of the most common misconceptions among leaders, which I am guilty of admittedly, is to think or assume that he or she should know everything.  That there’s no room for error and that being the head of the flock requires them to have all the answers to everyone’s questions.

Such assumptions however, often leads to more questions than answers most of the time and this doesn’t happen to leaders only, it happens to everyone because of our ever-so-special, non-negotiable, more-valuable-than-gold PRIDE.

When I was making the industry shift from education to IT, I used to make this mistake  a lot.  My boss at that time was very kind but she was really strict and meticulous when it came to work.  She knew that I am new to all the things we were doing in the team so she would often explain things to me in detail and she expected me to grasp everything I can from it.

I remember one particular meeting we had, which was one-on-one, where I learned how important it was to just say “I don’t know”.

My manager and I had this one-on-one sessions every week so I can give her updates on what’s going on with the team and there was one particular escalation that got her attention.  According to her, my response to that escalation was not what she was expecting and that there was a better option I could have taken than the one I used.

She asked me to explain how I arrived to that course of action and perhaps because of her intimidating way of getting the answers out of me coupled with my inexperience in the field, I blanked out for a good ten seconds before a word came out of my mouth.

I told her that I chose to go with what I did based on how we handled previous escalations and though she accepted my reason, she also told me, in a very disappointed tone, that this escalation was special and that I should have asked her before I proceeded with what I did.

She then asked me if I knew what was different with this escalation and platform and I, again, blanked for a couple of seconds thinking of the right answer which I obviously didn’t know.  She told me to just tell her I don’t know if I really don’t.

Saying “I don’t know” can be difficult for some of us but if you think about it, it’s not really that big of a deal and below are 4 reasons why you shouldn’t hesitate to say these three words when the need arises.

1. You do not know everything

I love batman.  I admire his tenacity and his resourcefulness in finding ways to defeat his enemies even if he didn’t have any super powers.  The only problem I have with this character is that he seems to be all-knowing which of course is not possible in real life.

Even the most intelligent people of our time like Albert Einstein or Marie Curie won’t have the answers to questions not related to their respective fields so  what makes you any different?

Even if you are an expert in your field, there are still things you may not know and be able to explain and there’s no shame to admit that you don’t.

One of my favorite thought leaders, Chris Locurto, once said in one of his podcast episodes that great leaders hire people who know more than them instead of being intimidated by them.

You can be smart-as-hell but admit it, you still consult Google once-in-a-while.  Don’t you?


2. Good leaders ask questions

You may not be a leader of a group or team but leadership is still very much applicable to you because you are the captain of your own boat – your life.

Asking questions isn’t all that bad and it doesn’t make you look weak either.  It only proves that you’re a humble person and that you respect the fact that there are people who know more than you.

It’s always better to ask questions than do something your way because you’re too proud to let other people see that there are things you are not aware of because in most cases, doing so only makes things blow up in your face which is even more embarrassing if you think about it.

People will sense if you know much about a subject or not and it will definitely become obvious if you are pretending to know more than you actually do.

A person I consider a mentor once told me:

“He who asks a question remains a fool for five minutes.  He who does not ask remains a fool FOREVER”

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3. Curiosity doesn’t make you weak

Nothing like having a toddler at home like my five-year old kid Keon.  When he was around three to four years old, he asked SOOOO many questions.

  • Why is the moon following us?
  • Why is the sky black at night?
  • Why do you have hair growing out of your face?

The list of why’s goes on and on and I just love how kids can be curious about the things around them because of the innocence and naiveness in the way they present their questions.  Yes, it can become irritating when it’s too much but then again you have to appreciate their efforts in finding ways to discover more about things they are not familiar with.

The problem with us adults is that when it comes to getting curious, we tend to over-think it.  We become so conscious of what people may think about us if we ask questions or admit that we don’t know something.  Why can’t we channel our inner child in these situations?

You ask questions when you do not know something or if you want to know more about something.  No pretensions, no fear of being judged.


4. The truth will set you free

As cliché  as that may sound, we all know that the truth will always prevail.  Nobody’s perfect and everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses and to deny such will do more harm than good.

Nobody likes a liar and people will sense when you’re pretending to know something even if you don’t so why continue showing that facade?

It’s better to say “I don’t know” now than pretending you do and getting in a tight situation where people will smell and eventually learn about who and what you really are.

I’ve interviewed a lot of job applicants over the past few years and I really admire those who admits upfront that they’re not good at something than those who seems to know it all because the few times I hired such people, I learned later on that they actually were not as good as how they advertised themselves.


Over to You

Are you afraid to admit you don’t know something when asked?  Is saying “I don’t know” proving to be difficult for you?

I would love to hear from you so feel free to leave a comment or feedback below.


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Noel Rosos

About Noel Rosos

Noel is a husband, father, author, performance coach and self-proclaimed FAILUROLOGIST who helps business owners and struggling individuals convert their failures into opportunities through inspiring blog posts, life-changing books and exceptional one-on-one coaching sessions

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