“I don’t know.”
I both love and despise this response as an answer to questions.
I love this answer for its honesty. When someone is asked a question that they do not have the knowledge to answer, this is a superb response, versus simply making something up or faking it in an effort to look bad in front of others. In this scenario, “I don’t know” shows humility as well as the ability to be comfortable with the fact that you don’t have all the answers. It also shows a willingness to receive input and ideas from others who have more knowledge in an area that you do. It also shows that you’re teachable and eager to grow.
I despise “I don’t know” when it’s quickly thrown out as a default response simply because someone doesn’t want to expend the effort to give thought to a questions they have been asked. Using “I don’t know” as the go to response is a great way to kill a conversation. Imagine you’re having a conversation with someone you just met and, an effort to get to know them you ask them what they like to do if they had a free day to themselves. If they immediately respond with, “I don’t know”, and that it, where do you go from there? These 3 simple words can quickly slam shut the door of conversation.
Here’s the worst part about the default response of, “I don’t know. When someone asks for our thoughts or opinion about a topic as input for a decision and we respond with “I don’t know”, we are willingly handing over our ability to make or influence a decision to other people. For me, the thought of willingly allowing other people to always think and make decisions for me is not appealing. As such, when asked for my opinion or input, I always want to at least have a thought that I can respond with, whether complete or not yet formed. This keeps me active in the decision making process, versus allowing other people to do my thinking for me.
Like most things in life, responding with “I don’t know” requires discernment. There are times when this is the right answer, and other times when this response is best avoided. One way to help discern your use of this response is to ask yourself, “Am I replying with ‘I don’t know’ because I don’t want to think, or am I responding with it because I honestly don’t know?”
If your answer to this question is the latter, then congratulations! You’re putting yourself on the path to increase your understanding of the topic. If however, your answer to this question is the former, consider a different response.