The freedom of saying “I don’t know”

Have you ever been in one of those situations where someone is looking to you as an expert on a topic you don’t know much about?

How did you respond?

Do you feel your response was what was best for the person asking?

See, our clients often look to us for answers on many different kinds of topics related to the services we provide for them. For example, if you’re a web designer like me, people might ask you about website layout, or SEO, or how to fix a random problem they’re having with their computer.

It’s a really nice feeling when people look to you as an expert. It means they respect your knowledge and experience and believe you can help them with the issues they are facing.

But this trust can be a very dangerous thing.

If you’ve earned their trust, you need to respect that relationship and treat it like gold.

This means being honest with yourself and your clients.

So let’s go back to my earlier question. How did you respond to that person asking you about a topic you don’t really know much about?

Did you speak as if you were an authority? Did you make it up as you went along?

Fake it until you make it might occasionally work in Hollywood, but damn, that’s not the way to be authentic with your clients!

Back in my massage therapy school days, our ethics teacher once did an entire class on honesty and the power of saying ‘I don’t know’. Clients tend to build trusting relationships with their massage therapists, because the treatments are long and intimate (one-on-one with hands-on contact between client and therapist). So they start asking therapists all kinds of health-related questions and look up to them as experts.

But the thing is, no therapist is going to know the answer to every question a client might ask them! They’re human, after all. So our teacher really drove home the fact that it is ok to say, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll find out for you!’.

In the worlds of tech and business, I find it’s very common for folks to feel they need to know everything about everything, and if they don’t, that somehow means they’re not good at their jobs. But that’s such BS. No one can know everything about everything! And not only that, but you’re doing yourself and your clients a serious disservice if you stay in that ‘generalist’ world. Be an expert on the things you’re actually good at. Show your clients how you are different from the rest of the crowd.

Let’s be honest with ourselves and check our egos at the door! It’s really ok to say you don’t know.

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