It’s Okay to Not Know Everything.

February 28, 2011

My first job out of college was working in the health insurance industry. I was a licensed broker working as a consultant. My job was to support brokers as an “expert.” The number one rule of this job was that it was okay to admit that I didn’t have the answer.  It was a necessity that mistakes were not made and saying to someone “I don’t know” was encouraged. Taking the time to find out the right answer was more important than giving a wrong answer. I am thankful that this was a lesson that I learned early in my career.

I also understand that it can be very difficult to admit that you don’t know everything. It can be especially hard in the workplace where credibility is a factor. Many times when I present, people throw out questions that I simply don’t know the answer to. Imagine being in front of a room filled with people that expect you to be an expert and not knowing the answer. Whenever this happens I simply take a step back, think about it and if possible ask if I can get back to them with a response later. You know what happens? Instant respect.

How do you handle situations where you don’t have all of the answers?  Do you fake your way through it or do you respond honestly? How do you feel when the person who you are speaking with doesn’t have the answer? What type of response do you want from them? Do you respect them less if they know a lot, but they don’t know it all?

It takes a lot to become an expert.  There is a lot of learning and time involved. However, even experts find themselves lacking the answers from time to time. Personally, I respect the person who says “I don’t know, may I get back to you?” In my book, it’s okay not to have all of the answers. I’m a little leery of anyone who knows EVERYTHING.

What do you think? And if you don’t know what you think, that’s okay too! It’s okay not to know.