If you don't know...

Do you admit when you don’t know?

Some people find it easier than others to admit their ignorance whilst others would rather die than admit so and simply make it up.

I suspect that most people will, if asked, say that they are happy to admit that they don’t know something. In my experience, however, the reality suggests that most people hate pleading ignorance.

It is easy to admit we don’t know something, when that ‘something’ is outrageously difficult, obscure and far removed from our day to day existence. Most people will happily admit that they know nothing about Quantum Physics or the specific atmospheric conditions on the moon.

But let’s imagine that you are a bit of sports-nut and you are sitting on the coach watching your favourite sport, say AFL, with your girlfriend. The umpire makes a certain call. You don’t know for sure whether the call is for a high tackle, a push in the back or an illegal bump. She does not know much about the sport.

How do you answer her? Honestly?

In this scenario, you are now in a position where you must plead ignorance on a topic that will consequently involve a loss of ego. After all, you are supposed to know, right?

The same scenario plays out in workplace everyday. People get asked questions about something that they can reasonably be expected to know about. If there is the slightest chance that the person asking won’t know the difference, most people will straight up lie.

Some may argue that they are only waffling.

But ‘the waffle’ is the twin brother of the white lie. A lie is a lie – irrespective of the nobility of the purpose to mask the truth.

Not admitting ignorance is just another lie – even if it dressed up as waffle that the receiver may not recognise as such.

  • What kind of manager/ leader are you when confronted with a question where ignorance will cause a loss of ego?
  • Is your ego more important than the truth?
  • Is your ego more important than the trust of the other party?

People may rationalise their decision to pretend they know because they think that it displays/ asserts confidence and that people want a leader who is ‘assured’ in their knowledge.

They fail to understand something very important.

It is not the admission of ignorance that harms your ego, it is the next sentence or the next action that matters.

It is perfectly OK to say, “I don’t know’ but I will find out.” Or to say: “I should probably know that, but I don’t. But I know who does…”.

Like ANY kind of defeat, it is not the defeat itself that shapes who you are. It is what you do next.


This post was cross-posted at LInkedIn.