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I don't know but I'll find out

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Roger Quinn |
I don't knowWhen to say "I don't know" to your superior and what Captain Picard has to do with running the company? Every manager must know the answer to those questions and we'll help you with that.


You certainly witnessed the situation when a CEO asks a question and his lower-ranked manager doesn't know the answer. That can be a very embarrassing situation, and you can see that poor manager uses a range of excuses and gestures and phrases just to avoid those awful words "I don't know". However, that is not the best approach.

The "I don't know problem", let's call it that way, can arise from two causes: first, you really don't know the answer and second, you are afraid. Yes, even the experienced manager knows very well that CEO is above him and he respects him. From that respect to fear it's not far away, it's just one little step. And that's normal: we all can be afraid of someone above us, no matter is he physically stronger or higher in the company hierarchy.

To not know something is also a normal thing: no matter how hard you are trying, you can't control everything and the situation about which you have no idea may appear at any time. The problem is that we tend to forget those two simple causes and that in turn can generate very embarrassing situation and big career problems. Luckily, with some preparation and experience, you can avoid such situations.

The first thing to remember is that nobody's going to kill you if you say "I don't know". It's much better option to say that than to try every possible and impossible excuse to cover that don't have a clue. In the end it will be crystal clear that you don't know what you are talking about and - what's even worse - that you are not honest.

Of course, if your answer to every other question is "I don't know" then you have a big problem, but if you say it from time to time you'll show that you are honest and that after all you are human being, not just cold-blooded manager. In today's world that is a big plus for you.

Now, what Captain Picard has to do with running the company? If you saw at least one episode or Star Trek, you noticed that in a stressful or dangerous situation Picard always says just one word: "Solution?" And Picard surely know how to manage his crew: the moment the problem arises he wants suggestions from his crew.

That's exactly what you must have in mind: if you say that you don't have a clue you can expect that the next question will be "OK, what do you propose?" And on that question you must have a clear answer.

"I'll dive into it and I will be back to you in an hour", "I will see what's going on until afternoon", or "I will give you the answer on Monday", those are all good answers. Of course, you may use any other answer as long it contains clearly defined time frame. And then you ask around, call a meeting, send e-mails, argue, fight, turn the company inside out, but find the answer on time. When the deadline comes you must deliver the answer or, even better, a solution for the problem.

If you do that you will show that you are honest and that you know how to deal with unexpected situations. Nobody can hold the situation under control 24/7, but everybody should be able to solve the problem in an acceptable time frame.

And this is exactly the difference between managers and other employees: manager is not the smartest guy in the universe but he knows whom to ask and what to do to solve the problem. That's what lifts them up the corporate ladder and that's the best way to six-figure salary.

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