Dec 21, 2009

Seven Simple Words

There is the perception that in the work environment, uttering the words "I don't know", is pretty much considered an non-starter.

The bottom line is that it is not the end of the world to not know the answer, but you do need to know how to approach that situation.  The best response is seven simple words: “I don’t know, but I’ll find out”.  It is unrealistic to be expected to know everything, BUT….. you must at least have the ability (and desire) to find the answers if you don't know them off the top of my head.

Just as important, as you progress in your career, and you become the questioner versus the questionee, remember that "I don't know, but I'll find out" is an acceptable response (provided they truly follow through).


  1. Good thoughts there. That's why teaching critical thinking and problem solving is such a huge challenge these days. Our society has become complacent and is really hiding behind "I don't know." I believe the philosophy behind that is , "If I don't know the answer, I won't have to do anything." And the next person will have to deal with it. But the problem is, they don't know either! :)

  2. Hi Ken,
    You're right. Actually, I've found over the years that it's worse to try to fudge an answer rather than simply say "I don't know but will find out." Another, related policy: I find it best to never say "No, I can't do that." Even if you don't have time to take something on, you should try to find a circumstance under which you could do something, then present the options to your boss. That way, you're always being constructive, even if in the end the answer really does turn out to be "no."

  3. my reply is 'let me see what i can do to find out for you' when working with parents because for so many of the situations they are throwing at us at work, we don't honestly KNOW what to do because many of the requests are so far from usual protocol.


  4. As a longtime classroom teacher, I agree that the first three words HAVE to be paired with the remaining four. Caveat, though. You can only use this a limited number of times before your overall credibility is suspect....

  5. Yes, that was always my policy when asked questions to which I didn't know the answer. It wasn't just a matter of following through and finding out for the person...I also wanted to know the answer myself so that next time I was asked that question, I could confidently give the answer!


Tell Me What You Think, Don't Make me go Rogue on you :o)