Have you noticed that, nowadays, it is a shame not to know? When I ask a simple question, such as “what is there at the canteen for lunch today?”, my British friends and colleagues, instead of saying “I don’t know”, like to speculate. “Hmmm, let’s see, it is Wednesday, right? I bet we are going to have the overcooked burgers again”.
I might be naïve, but, when I don’t know, I just say so. Don’t get me wrong, I hate people who are always saying that they don’t know. Just picture yourself going to the doctor to be told, in response to each of your questions, “I don’t know”. It would be annoying, wouldn’t it? That said, from time to time, I prefer to say that I don’t know instead of making something up. This is obviously a major etiquette mistake over here. My boss once snapped back at me: “It is your job to know!”.
Let me rephrase what she probably meant –as you know, things need to be interpreted over here-: it is your job never to admit that you don’t know. Indeed, my colleagues are very creative at finding ways to avoid saying that they don’t know. The first technique is to buy time, and say that you will look into it, and then come back with an answer. It is even better if you can blame someone for not knowing, usually another colleague, who should have given you the information but didn’t –what a shame! It will be a useful diversion and the original question will immediately be forgotten.
Alternatively, you can ask another question, or ask your interlocutor to clarify the question. If you are really good, you might manage to look pompous and say something like “That’s not the real issue, I think that we should focus instead on…” and then lead the conversation where you want it to be.
Finally, some are more adventurous and simply make something up really fast. If they are talented, it might look credible. Some are experts at this.
Now that I have left the Corporate world, I am still fascinated to see how creative my colleagues could be. If only they had been putting the same energy actually doing their job!
When did it become unacceptable to admit that you don’t know? Is it because it would be a sign of weakness? Why are we ashamed of not knowing? Well, I don’t know.