So often people are afraid to look unprepared in a meeting and because of this will make something up rather than just admitting that they don’t know the answer. These ad hoc answers are often incomplete at best and completely wrong at worst and do nothing to move the business forward.
It’s not worth the risk…
Many years ago I worked on the sales floor of a Home Depot store. This is a place where the wrong answer can cause a customer to be electrocuted from bad wiring advice or see their basement flooded from bad plumbing directions. This is where I learned to say that I didn’t know.
The risks of the wrong answer were just too high to take, so instead you offered “I’m not sure, but let’s find out together”.
In the end I learned as the customer learned and was better prepared to answer the question the next time a customer asked me.
Changing my habits
A few years ago I started to implement this in my work life. If I didn’t know the answer I said so and would do the research and follow up with the correct response as the information became available. This meant that I became a resource that learned the answers in many categories because I was spending a great deal of time researching each vertical.
At first I was afraid that saying I didn’t know would make people think I was unprepared, but it became quite the opposite. People discovered that if they added questions into the meeting notices I would come armed with as much information as I could and realized that if I gave an answer it was because I had the research to support it.
Challenge the desire to know everything. There is no person who can possibly know everything. Experts in all categories reference their research and that of others before they make a claim.
So if you don’t know, don’t bullshit. Accept it and start digging up the answers.