‘I don’t know’ shouldn’t be a go-to answer


Brianna Schreurs

There is nothing that irritates me more than the answer “I don’t know.”

It’s OK to genuinely not know. We shouldn’t pretend to have all the answers.

However, it’s not OK to use “I don’t know” as a definite no.

You leave a person hanging with those ambiguous types of answers.

Not knowing has major drawbacks for your reputation and relationships.

You can look unprofessional, inexperienced, unprepared or uncaring.

Instead, here’s what you can do to take the best route to avoid misleading others, but still feel like you answered their question.

When you don’t know your schedule:

Schedules can be unpredictable. Some don’t know what they are doing in the next hour, let alone at the end of the week.

When your schedule isn’t set in stone, say:

“Thanks for the invite. I don’t know what my schedule is like for the day. But I’ll let you know once I figure it out.”

Then when you find out, follow up and give a definite answer. Even if the answer is no, an answer is better than nothing.

You will be appreciated if you make the effort to follow up because you were honest.

When you’re out of your element:

Sometimes there is no way you can possibly know something. But not knowing doesn’t do anyone any favors.

Instead, refer them to someone who can get them the information they seek by saying:

“I don’t think I am the person to ask, but here’s someone you can ask.”

You can save a lot of time for you and the other person by quickly directing them to a better source. 

When you genuinely don’t know:

There’s a million things on your plate, so sometimes you draw a blank, and that’s OK.

So, when you’re supposed to be able to answer something in class or at work, here’s something to say to show you aren’t totally unaware:

“I don’t know right now, but I can find out if you’d like.”

Even if they don’t want you to find the answer to their question, you come off as helpful and caring by offering to take time to consider and dig to find the answer.

Acknowledging you aren’t sure makes you seem relatable, but also more competent and confident.

You can foster a relationship by getting someone involved to find the answer to the question.

Brianna Schreurs is the digital producer at The Collegian and can be reached at [email protected].