No one can know everything.
So it should be a normal thing to be humble enough to admit you need help.
Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in.
So many people don’t want to admit they don’t know something because they’re afraid of looking stupid.
They feel like expressing vulnerability is admitting incompetence.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
It takes strength and character to admit you don’t know something and to ask for help from someone who does.
It’s a character trait that reasonable people respect.
Frankly, most people prefer it, because it means they don’t have to sweep up the mess that’s made when someone tries to blag their way through something they don’t know how to do.
So how do you humbly admit that you don’t know something? And how can we create an environment where others feel able to admit it too?
Let’s find out.
Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you feel more able to admit when you don’t know something, if you’re afraid to right now. You may want to try speaking to one via BetterHelp.com for quality care at its most convenient.
6 Ways To Admit You Don’t Know Something:
1. Avoid guessing. Be direct and honest instead.
Don’t guess. If you guess, you may wind up confidently wrong, which can either cause damage that needs to be corrected, or embarrassment for you when people realize.
It could be that you’re dealing with a client at work who you’re trying to help, but you can’t remember a particular legal policy that would apply. You could do some serious damage if you take a guess and get it wrong.
Or maybe a friend asks for your opinion on a topic you have no knowledge about. You don’t want them to think you’re ignorant and uninformed so you take a punt, but end up flustered and contradicting yourself.
In situations like this, it’s best to resist the temptation to guess and be honest and direct about your lack of knowledge.
Depending on the situation, try saying something like:
“Hey, can I get a second opinion on <the thing>? I think I’m supposed to do <whatever it is you think you’re supposed to do>. Is that correct?”
“Wow, that’s fascinating. I don’t know enough about it to give an informed opinion, but I’d love to hear more.”
2. Express a willingness to learn about the situation.
People love to teach and show others what they know, particularly if it’s something they’re passionate about.
You can tap into that by expressing your willingness to learn from someone who knows what you need to know.
This approach can also soften the blow in the workplace where stress often causes negative reactions.
“Hey! I understand that you know a lot about <the thing>. Can you explain to me how to do <the thing>? Or show me what I’m missing please?”
“Hm. I don’t know. Let’s look it up together.”
3. Use humor when appropriate.
Humor is an excellent way to make an ask and smooth out a landing.
It helps take the tension out of a situation, calms nerves, and casually approaches the problem.
The feeling of lower stakes can make the situation more relaxed which is helpful in a work environment where stress may run high.
A light, friendly interaction can make the situation feel more like a friendly exchange than another work responsibility to deal with.
“I’ve been fighting with <the thing> for a while now and it’s really kicking my butt. Could you give me a hand with it real quick?”
“Well, that’s a mystery to me! Let me see if I can find an answer for you.”
4. Ask for guidance on the situation.
Instead of directly asking for help from someone who might be busy, try asking them where you might find the information you’re looking for.
That way you don’t have to feel like you’re imposing something on someone who’s already swamped.
The additional benefit of this approach is that they may decide it’s just easier to show you what you need to know without you having to ask.
It’s an indirect way of asking for help when you need it.
Granted, direct communication often leads to the best results because there is a clear understanding of what you need. But sometimes that’s not always the best approach.
“Hey, I’m having a problem with <the thing>. Do you know where I can find the solution off-hand?”
“I’m having some trouble with <the thing>. Could you point me in the direction of where I might find info on how to do it?”
5. Highlight the complexity of the issue.
Are you trying to solve a complicated problem?
If so, use that as a way to admit that you don’t know what you need to know.
There are plenty of complicated concepts and duties that are easy to get wrong if you’re missing a key piece of information. Take the approach of asking the appropriate person if they have that key piece of information.
This is another situation where it’s far better to ask, rather than guess if you’re unsure.
A complex mistake often needs a complex solution, which may be time-consuming or costly if you get it wrong. You’ll be far better off in the long term by asking.
Try one of these:
“Hey. I’m having a really hard time with <the thing> because of <complex reason>. I’m trying <whatever you’re trying>. Am I getting this right?”
“I’m not sure of the specifics for that problem, it’s quite a complex one. We should probably double-check the policy to be sure.”
6. Openly communicate that you simply don’t know.
No one can know everything. No one should be expected to know everything.
That’s not how it always works out, but that’s how we hope it can be. Still, a good way to broach the subject is to acknowledge your limitations.
You may be afraid of that vulnerability, but it’s okay to have flaws.
This approach is a direct way to make your point and ask for help. It’s also one of the least complicated ways you can go about asking for help.
You could say something like:
“I don’t know how to do <the thing>. Can you please show me how to do it?”
“I don’t think I know how to do that. Why don’t we figure it out?”
Seeking professional help from one of the therapists at BetterHelp.com can be highly effective in helping you to understand why you are so averse to admitting you don’t know something and overcome that mental block.
How To Create An Environment Where Others Can Admit Their Limitations
In an ideal world, admitting when we don’t know something would be commonplace and not something people are embarrassed about.
But unfortunately, we’re not quite there yet.
So how can we foster an environment where everyone feels comfortable acknowledging their limitations and asking for help?
Express gratitude to build trust and open dialogue.
When you express gratitude, you build a positive and appreciative tone in your conversation.
You show respect for curiosity by acknowledging the person with gratitude for engaging with you.
Expressing gratitude in this way helps create a collaborative atmosphere where people feel comfortable sharing their knowledge and asking questions.
A team can often tackle a problem more effectively than an individual due to a varied skill set.
Openly expressing your gratitude is one way to demonstrate humility, acknowledge your limitations, and strengthen your relationships.
“I appreciate your question. It made me think about some of my areas of improvement.”
“Thanks for asking! It’s a great chance to learn something new.”
Share your relevant personal experiences.
Others appreciate the honesty of vulnerability, no matter how large or small.
You are more relatable when you share a relevant personal experience of not knowing an answer because it demonstrates that you’re just as human as the listener. That’s helpful when you feel intimidated while speaking to an expert, or when a novice is speaking to you about your expertise.
Personal experience can also provide context that a book can’t. There’s a reason that many professions require internships or on-the-job training. And that reason is because there are some things you just can’t learn from a book.
For example, learning about injuries and the human body from a textbook is a whole lot different than being an Emergency Medical Technician who’s trying to keep someone alive on the side of the road after a car accident.
Ideally, to get the best solution, you’d want both book knowledge and experience helping in that situation.
You may find it much easier to bridge the knowledge gap between you and your conversation partner with relevant personal anecdotes.
“I know from personal experience that being honest about not knowing allows me to gain valuable insight from others.”
“I remember when I had a similar problem. It helped me realize the importance of being open to learning.”
Stay open-minded to new experiences and learning opportunities.
An open-minded attitude makes you receptive to new information and different perspectives, which is vital to expanding your understanding of various topics.
No one can know everything. Therefore, you want to be receptive to new information that may change your existing assumptions or beliefs.
Continuous improvement lets you and the people you’re working with build your knowledge and skills as you go, together. You can’t do that if you don’t have an open mind with a willingness to learn and adapt.
Learning in a collaborative environment helps foster teamwork as group members feel more comfortable sharing and learning from one another.
To demonstrate you are open to new learning opportunities, try:
“Let’s collaborate and work on this. I’d love to hear your suggestions and insights.”
“I appreciate your input! You’ve given me a lot to think about.”
Encourage questions. It helps everyone identify weaknesses.
Encouraging questions opens avenues for communication.
Other people need to know that they can ask questions or ask for clarification and that you won’t get mad if someone corrects you.
Even experts don’t know everything. ‘Good’ experts usually know enough to realize just how much they don’t know. They use opportunities for communication to learn more.
Asking questions encourages curiosity.
A curious group is more open to exploring things they don’t know and supporting each other in their learning.
Your asking questions demonstrates to the others that you are invested and interested in what they have to say. It creates a collaborative environment that doesn’t single out any one person as being unaware – including yourself!
One other great benefit of encouraging questions is that it provides an opportunity to clarify information and questions that anyone may have.
“If anything is unclear, please ask questions! We need to make sure we have a clear understanding.”
“I may not have all the answers, but your questions help me identify where I can learn more.”
The ability to humbly admit that you don’t know something is a powerful skill that fosters openness, honesty, and learning.
Humility allows you to more easily acknowledge your limitations, providing you with guidance that leads to greater growth. After all, the pursuit of knowledge is an unending journey.
Encourage questions, stay open-minded, and express gratitude to those who journey with you.
In doing so, you’ll not only encourage curiosity but build relationships with the people around you.
An environment that encourages questions and embraces the unknown will open doors for everyone to learn.