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Never Say "I Don't Know"(Commanders)

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

It's common to hear the phrase "I don't know" from individuals lacking self-confidence and authority. While admitting to not knowing something may seem like the right decision, it's not always advisable, especially for those in leadership positions. Claiming ignorance can make one appear uninformed and harm morale. In such situations, it's better to pretend to know the answer. This way, people around you won't lose confidence in moving forward. Also, it's better to act than wait for someone to give you directions or for an answer to fall from the sky. Admitting "I don't know" may foster honesty and humility, but it can also generate doubt, and indecisiveness, and hinder personal growth. Therefore, it's best to say "I do know" instead of "I don't know" to boost self-confidence and make confident decisions. Here's why not knowing is bad:

It increases doubt: A real leader must never doubt themselves or others will also doubt.

As a successful leader, having self-confidence is vital. Doubting oneself can weaken a leader's effectiveness and erode trust. A clear vision with conviction inspires followers to trust in the leader's direction. Accepting responsibility for good and bad decisions shows accountability and a willingness to learn from mistakes. Leaders lacking self-confidence may struggle to motivate and inspire their team, leading to missed opportunities or project failures. Confident leaders assess risks and make informed decisions, taking calculated risks to achieve goals. Respected leaders are humble and open to feedback without confusing self-confidence with arrogance. For instance, if a politician is asked how they plan to address the immigration issues in the country and responds with "I don't know," their competence as a speaker may be questioned by many.

It can lead to Indecisions and Inactions

Doubts can be a powerful thing, but they can also be crippling. Doubts can make it difficult for us to make decisions. We question ourselves constantly, wondering if we are making the right choices. It can lead to a cycle of inaction and indecision that can be hard to break. We may feel paralyzed, unable to move forward because of our doubts. It's important to understand that doubts are part of decision-making processes. They are something that everyone experiences at one time or another. The key is not to let your doubts hold you back. Instead, acknowledge them and work through them. Try to identify the source of your doubts and address them head-on. Ask yourself what, specifically, is causing you to doubt your decisions. Is it a lack of information or experience? Are you scared of failure or making mistakes? Once you've identified the source of your doubts, you can start to act. Talk to others who have experience in the area you're struggling with. Research the topic thoroughly to gain more knowledge and insight. Create a plan of action that accounts for any potential pitfalls or roadblocks you may face. Remember that there is no such thing as a perfect decision. We all make mistakes and experience failures, but that's how we learn and grow. The important thing is to keep moving forward and not be held back by our doubts. Doubts can be helpful in some situations. They can help us think critically and consider all angles before deciding our next move. The key is to keep them in check and not let them control our actions. So, the next time you feel doubts creeping into your mind and the urge to say you don't know what comes next, take a deep breath and remind yourself that it's normal. Then, take proactive steps to address your doubts and keep moving forward.

The phrase will make it difficult to reach your full potential

Do you often respond with "I don't know" when faced with challenges like questions or decisions? While it may seem like a safe and easy answer, it can hinder your potential. Saying "I don't know" can close off the conversation and prevent you from exploring other possibilities. It may limit your ability to find innovative solutions and acquire new knowledge. Additionally, it can make you appear less confident and knowledgeable, harming your personal and professional relationships. Instead of saying, "I don't know," consider responding with, "I'm not certain, but I will find out." It demonstrates your willingness to put in the effort to obtain the answer. Alternatively, asking questions to clarify the situation may help you identify potential solutions. Remember, it's acceptable not to have all the answers. However, do not let the fear of not knowing hold you back. Embrace uncertainty as an opportunity to learn and grow. Saying "I don't know" may limit your potential but saying "I'll find out" can open a world of possibilities.

If ever found yourself in a situation where you didn't know what to do? Saying "I don't know" may seem like a safe response, but it can be detrimental. When we say, "I don't know," we close ourselves to potential solutions and growth opportunities. We give up control and allow others to make decisions for us. By not seeking answers, we remain stuck and stagnant. It prevents us from expanding our knowledge and skills and can hold us back in our personal and professional lives. Saying "I don't know" can also damage our credibility. Remember that saying "I don't know" is not bad, but it should never be the end of the conversation. It's detrimental to keep an open mind, be willing to learn, and seek the answers we need to grow and succeed. So next time you're in a challenging situation, don't be afraid to say, "I don't know," but don't let it hold you back. Next time you are about to say, "I don't know," try reframing your response and discovering the opportunities that arise.

It can destroy the motivation and esteem of followers

Do you struggle to motivate your team or followers? Lack of motivation may stem from not having a clear vision or goal. When people don't understand the bigger picture, they can lose sight of the importance of their role, leading to disinterest and unproductivity. To keep people motivated, it's crucial to communicate the vision and objectives clearly and involve the team in creating goals. Celebrating small wins along the way helps maintain motivation. It's also essential to show how individual work contributes to team success and provide timely feedback on performance. Recognizing individual efforts and contributions is a powerful motivator. In summary, leaders must communicate, involve the team, celebrate wins, provide feedback, show how an individual's work matters, and acknowledge efforts to keep followers motivated.

Instead of claiming ignorance when a team member asks, "what now?" Having the foresight, knowledge and goal will make you worthy of being in charge. When you're asked "what now?" take a moment to center yourself, and feel what's true for you; Recognize that you don't need to have it all figured out right now; Trust that the answer will come in due time; One helpful tactic is to take a step back and evaluate your values and goals; Consider what's most important to you and what steps can help you achieve that; Another approach is to allow yourself to be open to possibilities and opportunities; Don't be afraid to seek support and guidance from trusted friends or mentors; Remember that part of the journey is not always knowing the destination; Embrace uncertainty and recognize it as an opportunity for growth; Be kind to yourself and acknowledge that uncertainty is a normal part of life and the process of figuring it out; Don't allow fear or indecision to paralyze you; Take small steps towards your goals and build momentum gradually; Remember that making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process; Don't give up on your dreams and aspirations because of temporary setbacks; Embrace the process of exploration and discovery; Cultivate a sense of curiosity and wonder about what's next; Pay attention to signs and synchronicities that may guide you towards your next steps; Trust that with patience, perseverance, and an open mind, the answers to "what now" will reveal themselves which will pave a way for your team to grow. So, never say, "I don't know," when asked, "what now?" but instead fake it till you make it, and the answer will come as you go.

You might have missed opportunities like new experiences and relationships

Showing ignorance through phrases like, "I don't know the answer," can make you miss opportunities before you. Not knowing basic information about a job or industry can cause you to make costly mistakes. People want to work with confident, informed individuals. Acknowledging that you know everything even when you don’t know, prevents you from learning new skills. Refusing to listen to advice from others can cause you to miss out on valuable insights. Ignoring the importance of networking and making connections can limit your career growth. Failing to research a company or industry before an interview can cause you to appear unprepared. Misunderstanding cultural differences can lead to communication breakdowns and lost business deals. Believing stereotypes and prejudices can lead to discrimination and exclusion. Not keeping up with industry advancements can make you irrelevant and outdated. That your way is the only way can lead to missed opportunities for innovation and growth. So, do not let ignorance hold you back in life. Show curiosity, seek feedback, and continue learning to achieve success. But when you show confidence by knowing all the answers before you, many will see you as a potential leader. Remember, knowledge is power.

You are afraid of failure

The fear of failure or being wrong often leads us to say "I don't know" as a defense mechanism. However, this fear can hinder our progress, stifle our creativity, and prevent us from taking risks. Facing failure can be a valuable learning experience that helps us grow. Unfortunately, society stigmatizes failure, causing us to fear it. However, everyone has lost at something before. That's why it's essential to keep trying despite losses. Success often comes after many failures, so don't let the fear of failure hold you back. Failure can lead to unexpected success, so accept the possibility of failing. Defeat doesn't define your worth; it's part of the learning process. Use it to learn and improve instead of letting it define you. Many successful people have failed multiple times, including Walt Disney, Michael Jordan, and J.K. Rowling. Throughout his career, Walt Disney encountered numerous setbacks, including bankruptcy, a mental breakdown, a strike, and losing ownership of his character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, but that didn't stop him. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team because they thought he wasn’t good enough, but that didn’t stop him. J.K Rowling was rejected by many publishers before she finally became a success. It takes courage to step out of your comfort zone and take risks. Focus on progress, not perfection, and celebrate small wins on the way. Don't compare yourself to others; learn from failures and move forward. Remember that failure is a steppingstone to success, and with determination and perseverance, anything is possible. Although failing can be scary, it's not the end but the beginning of a new opportunity to learn and grow. Next time we feel that we don't know what to do next, remember it is because we are afraid of what happens if we try. It is not that you do not know, but you fear the risk of creating the answer for yourself. So, get out there and wing it. Pretending we know the answer, even if we don't know, can go a long way in showing confidence as a Commander.

Finally, being a leader requires confidence and avoiding self-doubt. Saying "I don't know" may seem safe, but it can limit abilities and erode trust. To motivate a team, clear vision and knowledge are crucial. Saying "I don't know" can cause missed opportunities and overlook available options. Fear of failure or being wrong can lead to using "I don't know" as a defense mechanism. To be an effective leader, it's important to have confidence and avoid self-doubt. Instead of using self-incriminating phrases like "I don't know," use confident phrases like "I do know" or "I will find out" to encourage progress among yourself and peers.

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Plebanek, S., & About Stanisław Plebanek Stanisław is a Product Manager with 10 years of experience in business software and lean management. He is an expert with passion for people. He is a certified Professional Scrum Product Owner and a p. (2020, July 14). Why product managers must learn to say “I don’t know.” Mind the Product.

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