Three Good Reasons to Say, “I Don’t Know.”

Conventional wisdom says that “I’m sorry” is the hardest thing to say.  If that’s the case, a contender for a close second is the phrase, “I don’t know.”  Not surprisingly, the two phrases have some things in common.

They both require humility. While every one of us would like to think that we are always right or that we always have the answers, humility and reality require that we admit that this is not the case!

They are also both crucial to healthy relationships. Knowing when to say, “I’m sorry” or “I don’t know” builds trust, even though it can be a little scary to allow yourself to be vulnerable enough to say it. Here are a few reasons to be brave and just admit you don’t know everything when it comes to your clients.

1. It’s the Truth

There is certainly some value in living by the motto, “Fake it ’til you make it.” In fact, I’ve learned more than one critical marketing skill because I said, “Sure, I can figure that out.” I bet you have done something similar!

Had I been asked to design the tallest building in the world, that would’ve been an easy, “no.” The trick is to determine if you can figure it out even if you don’t know the entire answer immediately. The first thing to consider is whether or not the project deadline allows room for research time. Then decide if you’re up for a learning experience.

Maybe you know right away that you can’t do it. Maybe it’s something that would take way too long to figure out. Maybe you’re not interested in it. Or maybe (like me with Flash a few years back, yikes – a true confession here), you have tried and you just can’t do it. At that point, it’s best for everyone if you just admit that you don’t know.

2. You Care More About Your Customers Than Your Ego

If a customer were to ask me to create something for her in Flash, first I’d tell her that since iPads and iPhones don’t like Flash, she should probably forget the whole idea. But, if that’s what she really, really wants, I’ll refer her to someone else. Above all, I want my customers to be happy, and to get the best results on every single project. If I can’t do that for them, I’ll find someone who can. Is it possible that I could lose a customer by admitting that I (shocker!) don’t know everything about everything? Yup. But, it’s more likely that she’ll respect me for my honesty and the fact that I care more about her and her business than I do about looking like an expert.

3. You Might Make a Connection

When you start looking around for someone who can fill in the gaps for your clients, you might just find it works out well for you, too. You might be amazing at something they can’t do at all, and they may start suggesting you to THEIR clients. Or, maybe you’ll enjoy working together so much that you’ll join forces and create a great new company!

Saying, “I don’t know” doesn’t have to be said out loud, either. Another option that might be available is to whitelabel someone else’s work. Many companies will hand projects to another company and mark them up. That works great if you’re terrible at, say, selling. It’s also a way for the company to avoid saying, “I don’t know” and turning away work.  You could also send a proposal “in partnership with” the other company.

So, when do you know it’s time to say you just don’t know? Was there ever a time you wish you had?