"The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool."-Shakespeare
In today's age, many people seem to be certain about everything and would not concede that they may be wrong. Some people may feel strongly about something, and as a result, they fail to see the other side or just refuse to consider it. But the truth is, we can't really be certain about everything. We can't know everything. We can't be an expert in everything. And that's okay.
Sometimes you just have to say, "I don't know," and there's real value in that. It's okay not to know the answer. It's not about being indifferent; it's about sticking to your core competencies and awareness.
It Will Make You Smarter
People don't really like saying "I don't know" for fear of looking stupid. On the contrary, accepting that you don't know something can make you smarter. The world is full of saturated ideas, and they may not be good for you. When you don't know the answer, you start to ask questions yourself, you seek new knowledge, and you are more discerning. Saying "I don't know" makes you pause and think, and helps you synthesize data instead of opinion to make a decision.
It's also normal that you lack knowledge in many aspects of life, because you are building your own specialization. You spend time developing deeper knowledge about a specific field, say biology, because that's what you are passionate about, or it provides your income.
In that case, you can't expect to necessarily know the mathematical equation for finding the circumference of the Earth, or something like that. So, it is okay to say "I don't know," and if you are curious about the answer, you can seek it later.
It Will Make You A Better Leader
When you are a leader, you are supposed to know everything. Not true! Sure, people look up to you, but it doesn't mean that you have all the answers. It's okay to say "I don't know," and take the opportunity to engage your team. You can tell them that you would like to know and ask them if they can help you with that. Admitting that you lack the knowledge about something is not a weakness.
Instead, it helps your team see your humility, which, in turn, builds greater trust for you. It makes you an authentic and better leader, and people want leaders they can trust. It makes you more relatable, and being honest helps you to connect with your team.
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It Will Build Your Credibility
It is far better to admit that you don't know the answer than to make an assumption or pretend that you know it. Your audience may be knowledgeable on the subject and be very aware of the accuracy of what you have said. If they know that you gave a wrong answer, you decrease your credibility in an instant. Admitting that it's out of your expertise builds your credibility because it shows your commitment to being factual.
It Will Help You Accept Embarrassment and Fear
It is understandable to feel fear when you are asked about something you don't know, especially when you are being looked up to as an expert. At school, it may have been an embarrassment when the teacher asked you a question, and you couldn't give the answer. At work, it can be humiliating because you are getting paid for it.
One thing you can do is accept the fear and learn how you can control your reactions when you are in that situation. Public speakers have mastered that. You can also change the way you think about that thing that makes you afraid. It is about accepting that not knowing something is fine, and it's actually a way to move forward when you take the path of curiosity.
When you learn how to say, "I don't know," you start to become smarter. You become a better leader, and you boost your credibility. Lack of knowledge about one thing does not mean you are incompetent, stupid, or unintelligent. You don't need to be an expert in everything because when you strive to be, the more you know, the less you know. Don't assume and pretend that you know the answer. Instead, be honest to say that you don't know it, but you are willing to look into it.