Leading Ladies - It's not a failure to say "I don't know"
My colleague plopped down into her seat with a great sigh.
"What happened?" I prompt.
"What do I do? They keep asking me questions I don't have the answer to! How am I supposed to know everything that's going on in the company at all times?!"
"No one can expect you to have all the information in the world in your head. You don't have to memorise everyone's schedules and know every meeting going on everywhere in the company. Sometimes it's okay to say; "Sorry, I'll get back to you on that one"".
Her tensed shoulders dropped immediately; "Really?"
Yes, really! It's not a failure to admit you don't know something.
What is a failure is not communicating our limitations effectively. But how do we do that while still retaining our colleagues confidence in us?
1. "I don't know but I'll look into it"
As with my colleague above, sometimes you don't have the information to hand or are preoccupied with another issue and find yourself unable to provide an immediate response. In these cases it's okay to let them know you need some time to find an answer. You want them to be reassured that you're not giving them a guess or estimate. If you have a partial response or feel like you might know the answer but are unsure, let them know. You can then ask for some time to double check or get the full information for them.
2. "I don't know but let me direct you to [insert source of accurate information here]"
It's okay to admit if you're not the person for the job. If you know someone else with more up-to-date or accurate information don't be shy at admitting that they may know better than you. Give the questioner the full details for this person and maybe even forward a heads up to the nominated responder. It's okay to admit if you don't even know who should be responding either! But make sure to look into it and follow up with the correct details.
3. "I don't know but maybe we can sit down and go through it together?"
Sometimes it's an issue you don't know how to do on your own. In these cases it's a great idea to sit down and work through it together. Whether it's a lack of resources or miscommunication sometimes collaborating is the answer. Suggest you make some time to review the information you do have and work towards a solution together.
What's your advice for admitting defeat? Do you have an example of an "I don't know but..." situation?