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Reblogged:When and How to Say I Don't Know

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How can I say 'I don't know' with confidence?

Alison Green fields this common workplace question at Inc, and two things about her answer stand out to me.

First, here's the essential part of her answer, which is spot-on:
Image by Product School, via Pexels, license.
In any job, there will be times when you don't know something. Acknowledging that -- and saying you'll find out and circle back, when that's possible -- is far, far better than trying to bluff your way through or risking giving inaccurate information.

In fact, one of the things that people who are great at their work and widely respected have in common is that they're willing to say "I don't know." It actually makes them look more confident and credible because they're secure in their overall competence and standing, and they know that they don't have to (and can't) have every single answer. [italics in original, bold added]
Crucially, Green indicates a bit later that bluffing, or guessing without being up-front about it harms one's credibility and can cause problems if others act on the made-up answer.

Coming from a science background, I have always valued candor about the limits of one's knowledge. The flip side of this is that most people are not as comfortable with not having all the answers or admitting as much -- and many people mistake such candor for a lack of confidence. This fact caused me much annoyance in my first job out of college, and it didn't help that I often felt pressured to bluff.

It is that memory that brings me to the second take-home from Green's reply:
I'm curious about these co-workers who are telling you that admitting you don't know something will reflect badly on you. Are they inexperienced themselves? Not terribly respected? Or tipping you off to some dysfunctional aspect of your company culture? The only other likely explanation would be that you haven't prepared with info that someone in your role should be expected to have and they're telling you that inartfully, but it would still be pretty bad advice...
Looking back, I can see that I wasn't always being pressured to bluff. But knowing about the issues Green discusses in her piece would have helped me acclimate and adapt to that role better and more quickly than I did.

Admitting ignorance gracefully -- and having a clear idea about what one is responsible for knowing -- are two sides of the same issue in workplace communication.

-- CAV

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