Why are we afraid of saying “I don’t know”?

Centuries ago, on Ancient Greece, the idea that “doubt is the beginning of wisdom” was already defended by thinkers as Aristotle that spread this fact to their followers. Later, that was also passed on by other people along with the centuries, as the movie director Orson Welles and the psychologist Carl Jung. So, if this is a well accepted fact for so long,why is there the stigma and fear of getting rejected because of a simple “I don’t know”?

After all, clarifying that you don’t know something isn’t the same as declaring yourself incapable of exercising some function or saying that you’re too lazy to think in a way of doing so, even though some people feel like they’re saying this by not having an answer beforehand.

The fear of suffering judgments because of the fact of not being capable to – in that moment – meet someone’s expectations is the biggest motivator of anxiety. In some cases, it may even take someone to lie, what may cause an even bigger problem.

In this article, we’re going to teach some ways of losing the fear of these three little words and get to maintain the trust people has on you.

two people holding hands in an agreement, I don't know which

Be authentic not losing trust

Before anything else, it’s important to establish that nobody expects you to know everything, even your relatives, your friends or your leaders. Because, unless you’re some kind of Persian mythology oracle, it isn’t possible to have all the answers. Therefore, there’s no reason for people to demand it from you, let alone you demand it from yourself.

Then, always choose honesty, it’s the best way of building credibility in any kind of relationship, even if it’s personal or professional. Be authentic on your attitudes and don’t try bigger leaps than you’re able to give, that avoids that expectations get frustrated and, therefore, credibility people has on you or your brand gets mined.

But also keep in mind that your insecurity can’t become a reason for you ability to be doubted. Accepting the fact that you’re afraid is very important to evolution, but you may not stop right there, find out how to fix situation, because there’s no use on being aware of a problem and doing nothing to solve it.

Learning how to control your facial and corporal expressions is a good start. This one of the skills speakers and teachers need to learn to lose fear of speaking in public before anything else.

boss upset with her employee

Avoid incoherent behaviors

Again, taking responsibility of doing something that is out of your sight just to not displease someone is an incoherent behavior, that goes against the clarity you proposed yourself to offer when you established a social contract, what may seriously affect the trust people has on you.

In the study of Social Communication, there’s a well-known concept that trust is achieved in years and lost in seconds. You may not risk the trust on you, because it may never be restored.

Instead, be always coherent and express clearly your doubts; besides being a way of respecting the people you have a relationship with, it’s a great way of learning what you don’t know yet, because it opens doors to a new horizon.

illustration of a man holding a wallet while crossing a door

The doors an “I don’t know” may open

Hiding a doubt you have works more or less like a censoring, the censoring of a doubt, that blocks you from not only solving the problem, but also learning from it. Be clear about your doubts opens doors to new ideas to come, something that wouldn’t happen without this opening.

Similar to what happens on censoring an opinion. As defended by the British philosopher John Stuart Mill in his work On Liberty (1859):

“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race. […] If the opinion is right, they are deprived the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collison with error”.

Then, express your fear fearlessly. The “I don’t know” doesn’t need to be a monster, you only need to know how to use it.

woman and man drawing in a board

Alternatives to “I don’t know”

There are ways of expressing your unknowing on a subject and still contribute on the changing of a situation. Try to start by changing your approach. Instead of a simple “I don’t know” use:

  • “I don’t know, but I’ll work on that”;
  • “I don’t know, but I’ll work with the team to find this out”;
  • “I don’t know, but I had dealt with something similar before doing X”;
  • “I don’t know, but we can try Y”.

Showing interest on solving a problem and mood to run after knowledge (or manpower) is what will make the difference on your speech.

Wish to learn about personal development with confidence? Read more on our blog.

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