As a manager, or even as a professional, when was the last time you had to utter those dreaded words “I don’t know”?  When people rely on you to know the answers and to provide them with assurance, it can be difficult to inform them that you really don’t know the answer.  This can be amplified when the question is something that you feel you should already know the answer to, or you are worried that the questioner will think less of you if you don’t know the answer.

Instinctively we all know that the worst thing we can do in the “I don’t know” scenario is to provide an answer with our gut, or even make the answer up.  Providing incorrect answers by shooting from the hip can also damage your reputation and even your long-term career.

If you’ve been guilty of “shooting from the hip” and making a guess (educated or not) on an answer, do some research and see if you were right or wrong. If you are lucky and were right, don’t take that as a sign that everything is okay.  Instead, recognize that it could have created a bad situation and view it as a lesson.  If you find out you are wrong, you need to step up and apologize to the questioner and provide them with the right answer. For guidance on taking ownership of mistakes, read our previous blog post, You Did What?

While it is important to be confident in the workplace or as a professional, confidence does not mean knowing everything.  The best answer you can provide when you are unsure is to simply state, “I need to research that so I am sure of the answer, and will get back to you.” Then follow through and do it.

People typically have more respect for those who know when to research a question, than those who act confident about answers they really are unsure of. The next time you are presented with this type of situation, state “I don’t know” to a question you have uncertainty over, then research, and get back to them with an answer you can be truly confident about.