August 15, 2014
The Intelligent Way Of Saying You Have No Clue
Who better than a professional writer to offer alternatives to saying, “I’m clueless.” All of us have been in situations where someone asks a question to which we haven’t the faintest idea of the answer. If you’re like me the first thing that comes to mind is the god’s honest truth, “I don’t know.” But wait. Saying that places you at a distinct disadvantage in the game of corporate politics. True, you may have no clue. But why open the door for someone to press their advantage by asking the inevitable follow-up: “Why not? It’s your department and your responsibility to know the answer. You are a clueless miscreant whom I shall kick to the curb at my earliest convenience.”
Instead of simply saying, “I don’t know,” Selena Rezvani recently suggested some alternative answers in Forbes:
- “Let me be sure I understand which information you’re looking for…” This response buys you some much needed time to gather your thoughts after having been blindsided. It also fires the ball right back at your interrogator. Their answer will likely narrow the focus of the question. This allows you to deal with a single planet, rather than the entire universe.
- “Based on what we know today, my thoughts are…” Now you’re in control. You just narrowed the field to something you can deal with. Rather than saying you haven’t a clue, you just made yourself a team player and offered to make an informed guess. As we all know, guesses are often wrong. No one will fault you if your answer proves incorrect.
- “My best educated estimate is…” Similar to #2 above, but it cuts right to the chase–no one can possibly know the answer to such an illegitimate question. But I am knowledgeable and am in position to offer my considered opinion.
- “We’re thinking along the same lines because I’m currently gathering the information necessary…” This answer puts you on the same level as your questioner. It also says that you have taken it upon yourself to do the research needed to formulate a correct answer. That’s something the questioner didn’t think of, isn’t it?
- “There are several parts to the correct answer. I’ll gather the necessary facts and circle back.” If you know at least something about the answer you might add, “But from what we know so far…” This positions you to lead with what you know rather than shining a spotlight on your deficiencies.
As my friends Dr. Jan Palmer and Dr. Neal Palmer of the Communications Excellence Institute are so fond of saying, it’s not just the words you say, but how you say them that wins the day. Pay particular to your body language, tone of voice and overall personal presentation when saying anything in public. Prepare for the most likely and unlikely questions you’ll be asked. Have your answers prepped and ready to go. However, know that even the best plans rarely survive contact with the enemy. Have these five alternative ready for the inevitable question that comes out of left field.