Best Way to Gain Trust?  Say “I Don’t Know.”

Best Way to Gain Trust? Say “I Don’t Know.”

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You’re standing up in front of the class, don’t know the answer, and all the kids – maybe the teacher too – are pointing at you saying:

 Are You Stupid Or Something?  

Feeling Stupid

The fear of inadequacy clings to us as we wipe the sleep out of our eyes  and wake up from this nightmare, and it continues to follow us as we go about out days.  

This fear often whispers in our ear that we need to have the answers to any question asked of us and if we don’t know then follow the often given advice of “Fake it till you make it.”  

What do these coconspirators tell us when faced put on the spot?  Don’t know the answer?  Make it up!

But here’s the deal.

We don’t know all the answers.

This doesn’t make us stupid.

It makes us genuine.

How to Look Stupid

The quickest way to look stupid?  Pretend that you know it all.


Eager Eddie is in a meeting and wants to impress the other participants.

  • Maybe it’s a meeting with his boss and he wants to prove he’s promotion material.
  • Maybe it’s a meeting with a client and he wants to prove he deserves to get the job.
  • Maybe it’s a meeting of the soccer parents and he wants to prove he’s the better Dad.

There are any number of situations where you’ll encounter an Eager Eddie.  By the way, this could just as easily be an Ambitious Amber – both genders are guilty of this behavior.

Eager Eddie is asked a question or feels pressure to participate in the conversation and starts rambling “The interesting part of this discussion, um, when I was vice president at xyz, uh, let me tell you about this time…”

When someone doesn’t know what they are talking about, it is pretty easy to see through.

I can guarantee you will gain more credibility, build trust, and earn respect if you simply say – “I don’t know.”

It does matter how you say it and you can’t say it with attitude like a snotty teenager, or use it to answer every question, every time, but saying I don’t know. is a powerful tool to have in your arsenal.  Some combinations to consider:

  • “I don’t know.  But I’ll look into it and get back to you by…”
  • “I think I heard about this at… insert the appropriate (the conference last month, the staff meeting yesterday, lunch with so and so recently), but I don’t want to spread misinformation, let me double check and get back to you.”
  • “No, I’m not familiar with that, but it sounds fascinating – could you tell me more?”

It seems contradictory, but the more confident you are in your knowledge, the more likely you are to say I don’t know, rather than less likely.

Keep this in mind if you are in a situation where you feel like you are over your head, out of your league, or just plain nervous about making a good impression.  You’re more likely to stick your foot in your mouth trying to look impressive in those situations by trying too hard.  If you feel that nervous butterfly in your stomach, the anxiety approaching, or your own indicators of stress – take a deep breath and remind yourself it’s ok, even admirable, to admit you don’t know everything.

I think this is why the ability to admit ignorance is more common with increased maturity.  That doesn’t always correlate to age, but it often does.  After enough experiences feeling awkward and wondering Why did I say that? you learn that it’s much easier to just say I don’t know.

The flip is also true.

If you find yourself questioning the intelligence of someone you meet, keep this in mind.  I know they know something you don’t.

I guarantee that every single person you meet knows something you don’t know.  I don’t care if you are Albert Einstein.  I know something he didn’t and my neighbor does and my grandma too.   Maybe that something is how to rock a colicky baby to sleep or bake the best pecan pie in the South, regardless of their expertise, everyone has something to teach you.

So, I want you to do this…

1) Think of 2 situations where you want to make a good impression and visualize what it would look like to say I don’t know.   What would happen?

2)  Think of 2 things you are proud of, 2 things that set you apart from others that you think you could teach others.   How are you going to make that skill available so others can learn from  you?

Any other tips or thoughts on this?  I would love to continue this conversation in the comments!

Link up your thought provoking posts here! I promise to go read them…

One Response to Best Way to Gain Trust? Say “I Don’t Know.”

  1. I love this notion: “the more confident you are in your knowledge, the more likely you are to say I don’t know…”

    I just got a speaking gig (exhilaration has turned to petrification) and I will keep your wise words in mind.

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