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I Don’t Know

I wanted to write this because lately I say “I don’t know” a couple times a day to my client/boss. I know what I know, I try to prepare well, but she has an uncanny knack for asking questions that go one step beyond in some way. A lot of times it’s not a question I should know the answer to, it’s something that falls into corporate procedure or requires knowledge outside the scope of what I’m working on. Sometimes she just wants details that I typically wouldn’t gather, a difference in styles.

If I don’t know, I believing saying so is the right thing to do. Still, on those days when I have to say it 2, 3, 4 times it makes me grimace some, mostly because I expect to win, and winning is knowing the answers, which may not be the most grown up definition!

“I don’t know” is healthy in small doses. I’ve watched people hedge when it happens and it’s painful to watch. Even if I should have known (not all that often), I’d rather just own it and say so.

Is there a risk in being honest? To me the greater risk would be in hedging, or not realizing what you don’t know. If you just can’t keep up you’re at risk at some point, but that’s true whether you get get asked the questions or not.

It also strikes me as a useful tool for interviewing or managing. Can the person say “I don’t know”? More importantly, can they say it in a way that doesn’t make them look guilty/incompetent?


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


Posted by Jason Brimhall on 14 September 2011

I agree on all points.  You can't be expected to know everything.  But you can be expected to find the answers to what you don't know - important skill.

Posted by Joe Dugdale on 14 September 2011

Agreed, I get the same feeling having to say that more than twice in a day.

I try and say something like;

"Let me do some research on that one to make sure, and I'll get back to you asap." *jots down on a notepad

Even if you only jot down some unintelligible scribble, the simple act of jotting something down can leave a good impression, especially in an interview situation.

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