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Should you be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’?

Adam Zuchetti
Adam Zuchetti
18 November 2016 1 minute readShare
A pile of question marks

Admitting you don’t have the answer to something, particularly to a client, is often believed to be a sign of weakness. But honesty can actually be your greatest strength in business.

Dr John Demartini of the US-based Demartini Institute, which researches human behaviour, told My Business that the fears of many people in business about not knowing the answer to something are largely unfounded.

“I've worked for a gentleman named Freeman Dyson at the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton [University],” says Dr John.

“He's one of the brightest men on the planet, and when he goes and does a lecture … he will admit that he doesn't know [something].”

Dr John says people will respect you if are truthful in your response, and suggests you follow it up by telling them that you will find out and come back to them with the answer.A pile of question marks

“You don't have to know everything. I think that's foolish. In fact, if you think that you're the one that has to know everything and you're the smartest guy in your organisation, you're on your way down,” he says.

“Quality-aimed leaders hire people smarter than them in their different areas of specialty and surround themselves with great people.”

According to Dr John, by lying or trying to circumvent your limited knowledge in a particular area, you risk alienating the people you are trying to impress.

“Don't try to be a know-it-all, because that's pretty well guaranteed to be not believable. You end up being a jack of all things instead of a master of something,” he says.

“Any time you're doing something that's not your core competence, you're automatically diminishing the probability of getting an outcome.

“If you're great at technical stuff but you're not great at the social interaction, then it's wise to hire somebody who's great at social interaction ... and then if they have a technical a question, they'll ask you.

“That's the wisest thing to do, instead of trying to be something you're not.”

Should you be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’?
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Adam Zuchetti
Adam Zuchetti

Adam Zuchetti is the former editor of MyBusiness and a senior freelance media professional, specialising in the fields of business, personal finance and property. In 2020, he also embarked on his own business journey – inspired in part by the entrepreneurs and founders he had met through his journalistic work – with the launch of customised pet gifting and subscription service Paws N’ All.

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