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

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

I remember myself back in my corporate days — I was a young and enthusiastic new employee, wanting to impress and prove myself to others.

One day, the boss asked me a difficult question. I didn’t want to say that I didn’t know the answer. 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 something. 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 the question does not apply to your scope of work.

Just be honest. Tell them you don’t know the answer and you will do your best to find out later.

Being comfortable with not knowing everything is also a sign of confidence.

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

But most people are understanding.

I want to encourage you to see yourself as a lifelong learner. Ask questions, even if you think you’ll sound stupid. If you don’t know the answer to a question, just be honest about it and tell them 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.

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Hi there!

We’re Azimah, Amnah and Aisya from Malaysia. We created My English Matters as an online platform to help people improve their English.

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