What to Do When You Don’t Have All the Answers
People in important positions are supposed to know it all.
Of course, that’s a ridiculous statement. No one can have all the answers. Still, many people find it difficult to say, “I don’t know.” After all, if others discover that we don't really know as much as they thought (or as much as we led them to think), they’ll consider us stupid.
A better way to look at the situation is that not knowing is an opportunity to learn something new. Most people love to share knowledge because it makes them feel important. Even when you already know the answer, it’s useful to ask for more information.
In fact, people would generally rather be told you don’t know than be misled by being given information that’s wrong. So if someone asks a question you can’t answer, summon the courage to say it: “I don’t know.” Or try some of these ways, including “This is not my area of expertise, but I can find out for you” and “I’ve been wondering about that, too. Let me ask.” It’s not so hard, really.
When you can, provide at least a partial answer, but be clear about what you know and what you don’t know. Then, if the situation warrants, make a commitment to look into the matter and get back to the person by a specified date. If that’s not feasible, suggest someone else who can provide the information or other ways to go about finding the information.
If you’re faced with a major problem or issue that you don’t know how to handle, make sure you deﬁne the challenge you're facing and what you need in order to solve it. Keep in mind that very few problems are unique, so draw from others who have the understanding, experience, or expertise to offer guidance.
Being a leader—whether that’s your official title or not—is not about knowing everything, but about being willing to ask questions. Once you’ve solved the problem, you can add it to your repertoire of things you can help others with when they don’t know.
Learning to say, “I don’t know” can be immensely freeing. Being human inevitably involves not knowing, so the more comfortable you can become acknowledging this fact, the easier it becomes to face the world knowing full well you still have lots to learn.