The Importance of Saying "I Don't Know"

I. Don't. Know. Strung together in a single sentence, these three little words form one of the most dreaded phrases in the English language. As a working professional, you may be of the mindset that uttering these words makes you somehow inadequate or inferior, but this doesn't have to be the case.

Here's a scenario: You've been out of college for about 10 years now and you know from experience that creative job placement is highly competitive. You've finally landed a position as a creative art director for a small marketing firm. You consider yourself insanely lucky and you're 100% focused on impressing the heck out of everyone you work with. You're six months into your new position, and you're regularly faced with a variety of new problems that you don't know how to solve. You feel like you're flying by the seat of your pants on a daily basis, and at times, you're at a total loss.

You're sitting in a meeting and you're asked a question for which you have no good answer. Everyone is looking at you. You're feeling frazzled. You sit back in your chair, toss your pen on the table and say with bold honesty: "I don't know."

Has your career just started on a long, slow decline? No!

It's Liberating

You don't always need to be the one with the answers. Pretending to know something you don't puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on your shoulders. Admitting that you don't know what to do next is healthy and even empowering--not because uncertainty feels good, but admitting to uncertainty shows that you know your limitations and you're comfortable with them. People who want to hide their uncertainty usually do so because they feel insecure about it.

It Provides a Chance To Learn

Playing the role of the brave and fearless leader can force your staff into a stupor. If they always rely on you to supply them with the next steps, how will they ever learn to think for themselves? Admitting that you have a knowledge gap gives others a chance to share thoughts and ideas. Allow your staff a chance to come to the rescue; solicit their suggestions. In a scenario that doesn't present a straightforward or clear answer, there may be many possible solutions. Members of your staff may come forward with unique and thoughtful courses of action that you may never have thought of for yourself.

People Will Respect You

Everybody hates a know-it-all, especially when they can tell that you're just making it up as you go along. Staff and colleagues will respect you more if you can admit when you don't know what the next steps should be. This, in turn, fosters a relationship of trust and honesty between you and your staff. All that openness may eventually lead to some of your most creative and outlandish innovations. People who aren't afraid to disclose the shameful truths may also feel free to admit when they have brilliant but unorthodox ideas.

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