When Storytelling is done and Questions begin

When Storytelling is done: How to handle questions that you don’t have the answer for ?

This blog is for you if you fear being asked a question to which you do not have an answer. Firstly, I want you to accept that you will always have questions to which you will not have an answer. But the purpose of this 400 words blog is not acceptance, the purpose is to give you some practical ways to handle a situation when you do not know what the answer is.

Let me start by giving you an example

I was recently working with some very accomplished engineers who have been involved in some world’s first projects that have been globally recognised. At one stage a very bright and smart engineering director, let us call him Sam asked a very relevant question.

His question in his words

” Anjali, I meet a lot of leading CIO’s from companies like Uber etc and sometimes their knowledge on what I do seems to be a lot more progressive and somehow I feel bad when I do not know the answers. How can I handle such situations?”

Here is the advice I gave him

There are many ways to say I don’t know, however, the impression you create is directly related to how you say it. Sometimes a simple, direct, “I don’t know” is fine. At times, it can be helpful to have a few phrases at your fingertips that allow you to be transparent and still come across credible.

Here are a few other ways to say it that can help preserve your credibility, and even build it.


Phrases you can use

1 *“I don’t know the answer to that, but I’m eager to find out, would you please share more.”
2 “That’s an interesting question. Tell me more about what’s driving it?”
3 “Mathew my colleague can get you the exact numbers on that. Let me find out from him and advise you ”
4 “Let me tell you what I know, and what I’m still learning.”
5 “I am not entirely sure of the answer to that question. Let me get back to you on that by end of day.”

I also advised the Sam, if you are aware that CIOs often ask knowledge testing questions, do not be afraid to say something like this right at the beginning of the the conversation, ” I am pleased to be in the company of people who perhaps have far better knowledge of the recent developments in our field. Please feel free to share your knowledge as we have our meeting”

By doing so you have given your audience the importance they seek and escaped that look – Omg, you don’t know !

Personally, I am big fan of just saying,” I don’t know ” and to my surprise some times that is what people love the most about my work. The header image is of the feedback form I received after running a workshop for a MNC. It was this feedback that gave me the confidence to find the power in I don’t know. This was given by a client turned friend Rebecca Smith. Thank you Rebecca.

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