I wish I had written the recent blog post that inc.com published on the Power of I Don’t Know.  There isn’t a coaching engagement I can remember where getting a leader comfortable with saying these 3 little words wasn’t at the crux of some of the discussions.

And yet, saying them puts you in a position of strength.

Hard to Say

Why is it so hard to say this?  For me, in the past, it’s been about others thinking I’m not smart enough, I should know everything (uh huh – you heard me), and the fear of really not knowing.  Fortunately, I have learned and practiced saying, “I don’t know” for the past decade.

An Exercise

I take the executives I work with through an exercise.  I ask them “what do you think is going to happen if you say ‘I don’t know’?”  I continue, “Are the walls going to fall down around you, will you get fired, will people throw up their arms and say ‘You are kidding me, you don’t know?’”  When we explore these myths that most have created in their head and go over each one, the executive usually comes to the conclusion that none of these things have happened.  At that point, I can guide the executive out into their world to use those 3 little words in their next meeting and report back on what happens.

The Results

I have yet to hear an executive come back to me and say, “The walls all fell down around us – I couldn’t believe it, the building collapsed!”  Or, “ I got fired right on the spot!”  No.  What I hear is executives full of relief and feeling empowered by these 3 little words.  It was freeing for them to say it and they usually ended up engaging in a richer dialogue.  They felt the world wasn’t on their shoulders.

When Should I Say It?

Curt Hanks, in his inc.com post, clearly outlines the genius of ‘I don’t know’.  And as Socrates once stated, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing,”  So, go ahead, say it today.  Let me know how it goes when you say, “I Don’t Know”.


As the CEO & Founder of East Tenth Group, Michelle leverages 25 years of business and experience as a strategic advisor and executive coach to help drive actionable people solutions and provide practical insights on business strategy to senior leaders. she and her team and are fiercely committed to the development and growth of people and companies because we believe that when people thrive, business thrives.

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