Avoiding the "I Don't Know"

By Emma Richardson, Operations Manager

I have been managing employees, contractors, and projects at Sales-Link now for over a year, and as a manager, it is my responsibility for making sure issues that come to me find a solution. Especially when it comes to project managing, the success on the project relies on the manager’s ability to follow through on issues that may arise. One response your team should never hear from you is: “I don’t know”. I have found some ways to avoid telling people just that.

First, attempt to answer the question your team member is asking you. You are guiding them in their job so you should be the one who knows how to help them best. You know their needs and where their mistakes are made. Encourage your team members to come to you for help, but be prepared to guide them, if not directly resolve issues for them.

Sometimes, you will not know the answer or the next step to finding a solution. As as manager, you should know the responsibilities of your department and other departments in your company. You should know who can answer some of the questions. It is your responsibility to pass on to your team members information that will help them with their day to day job. Ensure that everyone on your team knows the other’s job role, so they can go to the appropriate person for help next time. Actually encourage it!

Afterwards, reflect on why you didn’t know the answer to your team member’s question or why you didn’t know the next step to take. Self reflection will not only improve the relationship you have with those you manage, but it will also improve your confidence in your own capabilities. As a manager, you should always be learning from your team members and your mistakes. Any break in communication can be used as a teaching moment for everyone on the team.

terry gross.jpg

Since we’re writing about how to answer questions, I think it is only fitting to introduce Terry Gross, the host of NPR's Fresh Air. She has done some really great interviews, and gives a bit of advice on how to dodge a question - something we aren’t promoting, but she advises a way to do it using honesty. She suggests you hedge with a statement like, “I’m having a difficult time thinking of a specific answer to that.” Gross offers a lot of great advice on communications and has been with NPR since 1975. I recommend her library of interviews as a great treat for a rainy afternoon: https://www.npr.org/people/2100593/terry-gross

Responding with “I don’t know” shuts the conversation down on what to do to resolve the issue. Your team members are coming to you for guidance and you should always respond in a way that encourages learning and growth and honesty! Keep the discussion moving by offering a helpful next step, instead of saying “I don’t know.”

More Management Insider Tips:

Who’s Leading Your Orchestra?

The New Employee and Mentor Relationship