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Amy Fond

What Great Communicators Say When They Don't Know The Answer

By on February 05, 2021

It’s a big fear for most people and most likely will happen to you at one point.

You’ll be giving a presentation in front of a large crowd, or speaking to an important client, or in a meeting with your boss, and you’ll get asked a question where you don’t know the answer. What do you do? 

Do you try to come up with a credible sounding sentence? Honestly and simply say “I don’t know”? 

Great communicators do neither. Instead an expert communicator:

  • Understands it’s OK to not have all the answers
  • Knows the importance of bringing in their message
  • Sees questions as opportunities

Most of us fear we’ll look inexperienced and weak if we don’t have all the answers. In fact, the opposite can be true! Admitting you don’t know everything can make you more trustworthy, open up conversations, and allow for collaboration.  But great communicators know, simply saying “I don’t know” isn’t an option. 

Instead here’s how an expert communicator handles a question they don’t know the answer to:

  • They admit they don’t have all the answers in a competent and commanding manner. Instead of “I don’t know” they use phrases like:

“I don’t have enough information to answer that right now….”

“That’s an important question and one I’ll have to think about…”

“I’m going to confer with my team…”

  • Then they find the opportunity to bring in their message:

“I don’t have enough information to answer that right now, but what I can tell you is….”

“That’s an important question and one I’ll have to think about, but for now…..

“I’m going to have to confer with my team, but what I do know is….”

Great communicators are proactive. If you simply say “I don’t know” - then what’s the next question going to be? It could be anything! You’re on defense and bracing for another tough turn. 

When you find the opportunity to bring in your message, you’re helping dictate the flow of the conversation, ensuring your message is heard, and leaving your message as the last thing your audience hears.

So the next time you have a question you can’t answer, don’t want to answer, or shouldn’t answer…..confidently state why and then move on to what you DO know!