Management Talk: Pardon me, but 'I don't know'

What’s the harm in admitting that ‘you don’t know’ when posed with a question as part of a discussion? How often do we admit honestly that we don’t know? Maybe the reason has more to do with not showing yourself as someone who doesn’t have adequate knowledge or perhaps shaking your head in a confused rotation, which helps evade the focus on you?, Business

11 Apr 2016 | By Suresh Ramakrishnan

Many times I have come across people who do not admit that they don’t know. They even go as far as to give the false confidence that they know what to do, and when things do not fetch the desired results, they just pick up some reason (generally external to them) to justify why things did not go as per the plan.

Several years ago, I joined a firm as a young sales person to sell an advanced software. The firm was a service provider to the software company and lack of adequate training was hitting me hard. I was told I could seek help from anyone in the company to help me understand or rather sell better, but sell I must and targets were looming over my head.

The software company wasn’t the most welcoming and their senior sales personnel were too busy to entertain me, but I managed to convince one of them who grudgingly allowed me to go along with him on some calls. He was a fabulous sales person and I still consider him my mentor and the one who I was awestruck by, by the methods and techniques he used to convince clients. My stoic silence over couple of the calls baffled him. I hardly contributed anything.

After the third call, he asked me irritated, why are you silent?

I admitted without shame that I didn’t know much about the software and my whole idea of going with him was to learn the art of selling the software.

My candid admission and sincere plea to help me learn mellowed him down. I managed to lap up every word he uttered and every technique he used; he willingly became my teacher (well, he was testing me at every stage to see if I was progressing) and together we won several high profile accounts.

If you have been generally sincere with what you do and endeavour to be a learner, the chances are that –

  • If you don’t know, you will find a teacher in someone who will be there to help but you should have the courage to admit it.
  • Possibly, instead of a blanket admission (which in a way is easier to do), you may want to narrate the quantum you know and why you stand confused about the information beyond that.
  • There will always be something that you won’t know and admitting to your conscience encourages you to take the pains to upgrade your knowledge.

Suresh Ramakrishnan is the publisher at Haymarket Media (India).