It’s OK to tell your boss, “I don’t know”

Your boss asks you a question. You don’t know the answer. What do you do? It’s not always in your best interest to fake your answer. This could dig you into a hole that you may have difficulty getting out of. If you agree to a task that you are not sure how to complete, then what? The amount of stress as you scramble means not only are you struggling but also the job may not be done as productively or as efficient as possible.

The “fake it until you make it” method doesn’t work in real life

It’s okay to tell your boss or manager that you don’t know. It is definitely alright to ask for some assistance or help getting your project done. Honesty at work will help cultivate a healthy culture that is fueled on cooperation and teamwork versus carrying the brunt and struggling to juggle too many things. Open communication is also a very significant value to uphold between employees.

According to Melanie Wessels of, “Going to work with a mask on doesn’t help you or the people working with you. When we better understand why people may have certain communication gaps or other issues, our collaboration improves.”

Be humble and don’t be a know it all. Having an open mind and acknowledging that there is room for improvement is a key characteristic. A “learn it all” attitude will bring your team closer together and ultimately allow the company to enhance further as it will be working collectively versus solely on an individual level.

Own up to your mistakes and keep moving forward

If you make a mistake, be accountable and work with it. With this attitude a mistake became a learning opportunity. Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella says that failure should be embraced. “If you are going to have a risk-taking culture, you can’t really look at every failure as a failure, you’ve got to be able to look at the failure as a learning opportunity.”

Now, when you say “I don’t know” this doesn’t mean you have a pass to put your hands up, sit back and let someone who does know do the work. Admitting your gap in knowledge allows an opportunity to learn from others and work together. Recognizing that you have room to grow and strengthen your qualities is a very important asset in the workforce and employers are excited by an employee who is willing to learn more and be more.

So when in a situation where you are unsure, you may respond with “I don’t know” or perhaps you can prepare yourself with more powerful responses that (although have the same meaning) will have a more constructive approach. For example, try saying “Let me be sure I understand which information you’re looking for…” This shows that you have definitely not given up on trying to understand, yet you may be lacking in previous knowledge. Or perhaps if you say “I can answer that in part, but would like to consider it further and get back to you,” this will give you the time you need to research a little bit more before jumping headfirst into a project or plan you might not be prepared for.  

Be humble and be confident in the work that you do. Work with your mistakes and have a learn-it-all attitude. If you keep these missions in mind as you continue through your career you will become a stronger and more knowledgeable individual and team member.

Melissa Hindle