Don't Say "I Don't Know"
If there’s one-phrase I instruct all my employees to not say, it would be don’t say I don’t know. Now, I’m not asking my employees to lie to me, but I’m asking them to learn how to find out the information. Good managers will always try to include their employees in the conversation and by saying “I don’t know” you are showing that you don’t want to take the effort to learn.
Being placed on the spot at work, especially in-front of colleagues, your manager, and your peers, is difficult enough. But being placed on the spot and not knowing the answer feels infinitely worse.
When asked a question, most employees are reluctant to admit their gaps in knowledge and would prefer to answer incorrectly, so long as it is coherent enough at first pass. This is incorrect and can come back to bite you in the future.
If you’re asked a question you’re unsure of, and don’t want to say “I don’t know”, then I recommend utilizing the below key-phrases which should better assist o=you and afford you the additional time to find the correct answer or response.
"To The Best Of My Knowledge"
This is a great phrase to utilize as it allows you to explain what you do know. You’re able to provide additional clarity and information.
Towards the end of the conversation you can throw in a “but I will have to regroup with” and then name a different individual or team whom you can liaison with to get the answer you need.
"Just to Be Clear"
Another great phrase, by qualifying your statement with a “just to be clear”, you can ensure that you really understand the question being asked.
From there, you can easily transition the conversation to a, “Just to be clear…[ensure you understand question]…ok, I will loop in with the appropriate team’s and follow-up with you by [time].”
This phrase works well because it keeps you engaged in the conversation but also allows you to take initiative to find the answers.
"Allow Me to Reference My Notes and I Can Follow-Up With You"
This works particularly well because it shows that you have organized, detailed notes which come in handy. You can use this statement when put on the spot regarding a specific question or process and it allows you the time to find the correct response.
"My Previous Experience"
What works well here is that you are able to offer alternative use-cases to a question posed to you. By referencing how you’ve done things previously, it shows that you are experienced and have a wealth of knowledge.
“I’ve previously collaborated with [person] on this and would like to consult with them before we proceed”
Now, you should only use this answer if it’s true. If you’ve previously worked with someone on a similar topic, task, or project, then you can use this phrase as a means to want to collaborate with them before providing a final answer.
“That’s actually a great question. I haven’t been briefed on all aspects of that project, but I will get that information for you.”
This is probably my favorite answer. The reason? Because this answer allows you to be honest with everyone but not appear out-of-the-loop. Rather, you just haven’t been briefed yet and you’ll be sure to do your due diligence and track down the correct answer before you say something you’re unsure of.
No matter how you respond to being put on the spot, the most important thing to remember is to answer confidently and without much hesitation. It’s ok to let people know that you’re unsure, especially with the phrases we discussed, but you must take initiative after the conversation to find out the answers.