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Help! How Do I Say 'I Don’t Know' Without Losing My Job?

Updated: Mar 12


Like you, I have often been tangled in a storm of complex questions that sometimes not even Google has answers to! As business analysts, we're supposed to have a pulse on every business function, right? But let's be real, nobody knows everything (yes, not even that know-it-all Karen in your department). And that's okay!

A women with a hands on her side palms facing up and a confused expression on her face
I don't know?!

I don't know, and it is okay!

Saying “I don't know” is not a reflection of incompetence. In fact, an authentic admission of lack can demonstrate professionalism, clarity, and commitment to accuracy.

Funny enough, admitting "I don't know" can be as tricky as figuring out where your left socks disappear to (or the lids of your Tupperware bowls for that matter.) But fear not, I've got your back! Years of experience taught me there are ways to admit that you don't know without losing face with your stakeholders.

Make these simple responses part of your vocabulary to easily say "I don't know" without sounding like you've misplaced your analyst cap.

Honesty is the Best Policy!

Remember that time when you tried to act all knowledgeable and ended up looking silly?

Yep, we've all been there. I'd rather spare you all my horror stories, but just know, it's bad. I still cringe thinking about it.

So, let's just be honest. Instead of fumbling, or offering a downcast "I don't know" preceded by an apologetic tone (which BTW won't score you any points with your stakeholders) why not try confidently saying, "Good question! Let me find out for you!" or "Interesting, I hadn't thought of that. Thanks for bringing it up!" You see? You're still taking charge and not leaving them hanging.

Man with finger pointing to his head thinking
Interesting, I haven't thought about that!

Delegation, Not Diversion

Sometimes, as a business analyst, we're thrown a curveball so wild it's not even in our ballpark.

So what do you do when you're out of your depth? You paddle over to someone who knows.

Imagine saying, "I’m not really sure about that, but Sally over in marketing is like Encyclopedia Britannica when it comes to these things." You helpfully suggest someone else without dodging the question.

With a little bit of editing, this answer also comes in quite handy when you are knee-deep in your analysis and cannot assist someone with their question.

Man's hand with finger poinnting right

Two Heads Are Better Than One

Ever had those exciting light bulb moments during brainstorming sessions? When we collaborate, the cross-pollination of diverse thoughts and experiences often sparks a firework display of new ideas.

When you're faced with a question you're still figuring out, rope in the question-asker and say something like, “You know, I’ve been chewing on that myself. I don't have all the answers yet, but how about we crack this nut together?" By displaying your enthusiasm for learning, you showcase a growth mindset that embraces the continuous expansion of knowledge and development.

Two men looking at a computer screen
Let's crack this nut together!

Be the Curious Cat

Your curiosity didn't kill the cat; it got the job done!

When faced with an intriguing question, instead of admitting you don't know, why not turn the table? Talk about flipping the script! Try out, "That's an area I've been itching to delve into. Don’t suppose you know where I can get some more info on this?" Now you're curious and engaged. Fancy that!

Cat on couch peeking out from under a blanket

The Check-back

Ever assured someone you'll get back to them and then got caught up in a whirlwind of tasks? Murphy’s Law at play!

The crux of managing an "I don't know" scenario lies in commitment and follow-through. Be diligent, keep the other party in the loop, and follow it through. This demonstrates your dedication and reliability, traits that are highly appreciated in professional settings.

Man speaking on phone whilst sitting behind his desk


The next time you’re faced with the daunting "I don’t know" scenario, remember you’re a human, not a know-it-all machine.

The business analysis landscape thrives on growth, learning, and development. Don't fear the unknown; instead, embrace "I don't know" as an opportunity to expand your horizons and strengthen your professional relationships.

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