If you were to ask a lot of people what the three hardest words to say (as distinct from pronounce), you might be surprised. For men, women think they’re “I love you” or “let’s get directions”. For women, a guy might say they’re “You were right”. The sad reality is that in business, they seem to be “I don’t know.”
I’ve been in a lot of meetings where someone has floated an outrageous hypothesis to the room and asked someone to respond. For example, “if we gave you $3 million more next year, what would the additional revenues be in 5 years?” OK, not outrageous, but also not something one should be answering off the top of one’s head. Or maybe “what will your biggest competitor be doing in six months?”. In today’s evolving environment, many folks aren’t exactly sure what they’ll be doing themselves, so why try to answer about a competitor?
But people do because they can’t say the three words.
It’s taken me quite a few years in business to be able to say them when I’m really not sure and there have been many other occasions when I’d wished I had. Our personal credibility is at stake and an extra hour or day or week to really answer the question can make a big difference.
So as a consultant, sometimes “I don’t know” is the best answer you can give a client because it lays the framework for what follows. Generally, your client doesn’t know answer either and the partnership of discovery is what make this fun and rewarding for us both!