It’s always best to be honest at work. So when faced with a tough question, you should always admit it if you don’t know the answer, right?
Miller gives an example of a software engineer with a PhD who kept getting passed over when colleagues had questions. Instead of coming straight to her, they went over her head to her boss with questions she could have easily answered. She eventually realised this happened because she became flustered during meetings and constantly responded to tough inquiries with, “I don’t know, I’ll ask my boss.”
In the case of this engineer, coworkers believed they could streamline the process by taking their questions directly to her boss. Because the engineer didn’t demonstrate her competency during important meetings, colleagues assumed she truly didn’t know.
This example shows that even if you are caught off-guard, answer with certainty. “In the business world, a person who speaks with confidence is likely to be perceived to be competent,” Miller says.
And while it’s still never ok to lie, there are plenty of other, more powerful responses that convey your hesitation without destroying your credibility. Miller suggests saying something along the lines of, “I don’t have enough information to answer your question” or, “Good question, I’ll find out.”
Instead of simply leaving the question unanswered, offer any insight you do have or offer to follow up on the issue. It’s ok if you don’t know the answer, but communicate that you’re willing to find out.
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