How to say “I don’t know” to your boss

Today I want to talk about saying the three words a lot of us are ashamed of saying at work, which is: “I don’t know.”

I remember back in my corporate days, I was a young, enthusiastic management trainee, wanting to impress and prove myself.

One day, the boss asked me a difficult question. I didn’t want to say that I didn’t know because I was afraid of coming across as incompetent or stupid.

So I said, “I’m not sure.”

The boss replied with, “You’re not sure or you don’t know?” To which I meekly answered, “I don’t know.”

Now if I could go back in time, I would say to the younger me, “Amnah, if you don’t know something, just say so. You don’t need to be ashamed of not knowing. Nobody expects you to know everything.”

So what I should’ve answered was, “I don’t know, but I can check and get back to you later.”

Most people are understanding–perhaps you’re new, you’re still learning the ropes or it’s just not within your scope of work. If people get angry at you for not knowing, then it’s really not within your control, is it?

Just be honest, say that you don’t know and that you will find out later.

I think that a lot of us are too hard on ourselves. We think that it’s expected of us to know everything.

But the truth is, being comfortable with not knowing is a sign of confidence. To be okay with asking a question that you think you’re supposed to know the answer to, even if someone may make fun of you.

Since that day of being a management trainee, I’ve admitted to not knowing something and asked “stupid” questions many times. I’ve had people look surprised or shake their heads at me for not knowing something.

And I don’t take it personally. Most of the time (I’m still working on this ;-)).

But most people are understanding.

I want to encourage you to look at yourself as a lifelong learner. Ask questions, even if you think you’ll sound stupid. Say you don’t know when you don’t and that you’ll find out later.

It will help tremendously with your self-confidence. It’ll also show people that you’re honest and willing to learn.

I hope you’ve found this post helpful. We’ll talk to you again soon.