The impact of “I don’t know” on staff development


Today I met some lovely business women in Jeddah and one of our conversations was about whether it is acceptable in business to simply say ‘I don’t know’.

If, when asked something, you say ‘I don’t know’, is it a sign of weakness? I have heard it suggested that you are better off saying ‘let me check that detail and get back to you’ or ‘that’s an interesting question, let me have a think and get back to you’.

Semantics you might think, but possibly important semantics if it affects how others view you.

Perhaps you are one of those who think it’s absolutely fine to simply say ‘I don’t know’ as honesty about what you do and don’t know is important. I admire you for this, but it’s not fine though if you finish the conversation blissfully unaware that someone has just judged you lacking due to you ‘not knowing’.

But many you talk to will not even suggest to you that they need to think or check out the information; they just assert they already ‘know’.

Moving onto development needs, the problem I find is that all the hot air and bluster I hear about what people say they know (when really they don’t know at all) then enormously impacts on their organisation’s understanding of what training and development is needed.

It’s hard to sell the business on the need for sales training if all your sales team say they already know it all. And it’s hard to sell to the Board of the need for communication skills training when they all sit there and reassure you (and each other) that communication skills is their forte.

Saying ‘I don’t know’ in business might be viewed by many as a weakness, but surely you have to find some way of getting your key players to be honest about their knowledge and skill gaps if you are to plan their development effectively.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic, please do share them in the box below. But please don’t simply say you don’t know!!

Leave your comment