How to say "I don't know" (and not feel defensive or stupid)

As brilliant as we all are – yeah, I said it, homie – sometimes, we have to say that we don’t know an answer to something. This oh-so-vulnerable moment comes up in meetings, during news interviews or job interviews, and sometimes in the middle of heated conversations.

So, how do you actually say, “I don’t know,” without feeling like a jerk? All it takes is a little “STEP”…here’s how:

1. Say thank you – acknowledge the person’s question with a quick “thanks for asking that, NAME”. Or, try “That’s a good question, NAME.” Doing so immediately lets the other person know you’re not afraid of what you’re going to say next; that you welcome their question with open-arms. That’s confidence, my friend.

2. Tell the truth – simply say, “I don’t have the answer to that, and I can definitely find out.”

3. Experience – speak from it. Immediately tell the other person what you DO know. Say, “My experience tells me…”, or “From what I’ve seen, I know that…” Always end on a positive note…say something that highlights your knowledge or experience and that doesn’t raise other questions.

4. Promise to follow up – Simply end with “I’ll learn more and get back to you by DATE/TIME.”

Put all together, it sounds like this:

“Thanks for asking that, Jim. I don’t have the answer to that question, and I can definitely find out. My experience tells me that we’ve regularly had stellar sales on new product launches. I’ll learn more and get back to you by 3p today.”

When you pad or cushion your “I don’t know” with acknowledgement, clarity, facts and future action, you immediately put doubt or possible argument to rest. And – bonus – you rid yourself of the burden of feeling defensive, afraid or embarrassed. Everyone wins!

So go ahead…and STEP right into greater confidence during your next interview or conversation.