Saying “I Don’t Know” Will Set You Free

If you’ve ever been in sales, I’m willing to bet you know it’s never a good thing to pretend you know something you don’t. Unless you’re making an opportunistic, one-off sale and you don’t really care about any relationship with your customer, it’s far better to admit ignorance and pledge to get an answer ASAP. Frankly, I think it’s always the best tactic regardless of your relationship; it’s just plain ethical and, a bit ironically, smart.

Most people know when they’re being fed a load of crap and pretending to know something of which you are ignorant can open up so many cans of worms it’s hard to define all the consequences. One of the major ones, however, is never being believed no matter what you say. Not a good thing, whether in sales or elsewhere.

Anyway, this came up again for me today because of a tweet by @wallybock, who pointed me to an article in the New York Times’ Corner Office section. The post is entitled “What’s Wrong With Saying ‘I Don’t Know‘?” It’s a good interview of Rachel Ashwell, founder of Shabby Chic and, besides her admonition to not be afraid of admitting ignorance, there’s a wealth of good business (and life) advice in her words.

About Rick Ladd

I retired nearly 13 years ago, though I've continued to work during most of the time since then. I'm hoping to return to work on the RS-25 rocket engine program (formerly the SSME) which will power our return to the moon. Mostly I'm just cruising, making the most of what time I have remaining. Although my time is nearly up, I still care deeply about the kind of world I'll be leaving to those who follow me and, to that end, I am devoted to seeing the forces of repression and authoritarianism are at least held at bay, if not crushed out of existence. I write about things that interest me and, as an eclectic soul, my interests run the gamut from science to spirituality, governance to economics, art and engineering. I'm hopeful one day my children will read what I've left behind. View all posts by Rick Ladd

2 responses to “Saying “I Don’t Know” Will Set You Free

  • Pascal Venier

    This is so true. When I give a lecture at the university and a student ask me a question and I don’t know the answer, I always make a point of confessing that I don’t know. This is a good way to get students to understand that it is a very health intellectual attitude to be able to admit that you don’t know about something, that nobody know about everything, even someone who is supposed to be an expert in a given field, but what is important is to be able to develop a suitable strategy to find out what the answer is.


    • Rick Ladd

      Thanks, Pascal. I couldn’t agree more. It applies no matter what field one is in. I remember reading somewhere an expert is a person who’s made all the mistakes there are to make in a particular field. Even if that were true (and you have to assume there would be no new knowledge in order to reach that final a conclusion), it would be foolish to expect anyone to remember every detail of a field of practice/experience/research. Honestly acknowledging one’s ignorance is a sign of integrity; nothing less.


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