What you don’t know could make you look smarter

The trick is having the courage to say those three magic words.

Executives, I know this is going to be a lot to ask. I know it goes against your very nature, and that the thought of saying it may make you cringe. But there’s a phrase that you must all learn to embrace and have the courage to someday use when the occasion strikes—three simple words that seldom pass the lips of corporate execs: I. Don’t. Know.

So why are executives so reluctant to admit their ignorance? “They want to be right,’ says Tripp Frohlichstein, head of the St. Louis-based media training outfit Media Masters. “They should want to be right. But to say you don’t know something actually shows the sign of a very smart person. Some-one who’s willing to admit that he or she doesn’t know something and promises to get the right information is going to be better off than someone who makes it up.’

It sounds preposterous that executives would make up answers to reporters’ or employees’ questions right away. But it happens with far more frequency than Corporate America or the political realm should allow. Perhaps the best example of leaders refusing to say “I don’t know’ when clearly they didn’t know the answer comes from the late, great source of political satire, Spy magazine.

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