How to say ‘I don’t know’

Don’t sound like a dunce just because you don’t have the answer. Try these tips for maintaining your professional demeanor, even when lacking a solution.

How many of you have had a boss who expects you to know and remember everything? He calls demanding an immediate answer, yet he himself can’t remember that he asked you the same question two days ago. Saying “I don’t know” to such a boss is unwise. Doing so can make you seem unprofessional or uninterested in the question. You don’t want to end up looking like Jeff Spicoli from the movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” (For those who haven’t seen it, here is the famous “I don’t know” clip from the movie.) Even more unwise is to give a wrong answer just to look good.

So, here are some ways to say, “I don’t know,” that will give you time to get the information and provide a professional answer to your uber-demanding boss.

  • This is not my area of expertise, but I can find out for you.
  • I’m not sure; let me transfer you to someone who can help you.
  • I don’t remember off the top of my head. May I check my notes and get back to you on that?
  • I want to be sure and give you correct information. Let me call you back.
  • That’s a good question. I’ll see what I can find out for you.
  • I’ve been wondering that, too. Let me ask.
  • Amy might be able to answer your question, given that she wrote the report.
  • I don’t think I’m the best person to answer that, but I’ll find out who is.
  • Based on the information I have, this is what I think.
  • Perhaps we should just Google it.

Ragan readers, care to share any other ways to professionally say, “I don’t know?” Laura Hale Brockway is a medical writer and editor from Austin, Texas. She is also the author of the writing/editing/random thoughts blog, impertinentremarks.com.

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