3 Hardest Words for Professionals

Ego aside. It’s easier to say. Emotions aside. It’s easier to say. It’s three little words that we’ve all struggled with in the past, but once we say it, we can extend a sigh of relief.

We like to think we know everything as experts in our field and given the opportunity to prove it, we will. We spend hours preparing proposals, researching client history and understanding product value, so that we can always answer client questions with confidence and accuracy. But what happens when you’re face to face with a prospective or existing client who challenges you with a unique question you hadn’t yet considered, and that you don’t know the answer to? What do you do?

When it comes to building and maintaining credibility as a sales professional (or a professional in any industry really), one of the most important answers in your toolbox should be: “I don’t know”.

One of the unique characteristics of successful sales professionals is their unwavering confidence. This can often come across as ego and can be misconstrued as arrogance, which can be harmful to credibility and ability to build a trusting relationship with clients.

Admitting ignorance can have a productive purpose; it makes everything else you say more credible. It demonstrates that you’re a person who’s not afraid to speak the truth. It goes without saying, I’m sure, that “I don’t know” should immediately be followed with a plan to get the answer. Following-up on and making good on this promise is the backbone behind the effectiveness of using those three words.

Here are three reasons why “I don’t know” works:

1. Creates Accountability

Misleading your clients with a misguided answer or offering an answer without confirming accuracy can seriously damage your credibility as a professional. It could also do harm to the companies credibility. Admitting, “I don’t know”, and offering an accurate answer later will demonstrate accountability to your clients.

2. Builds Meaningful Trust

Authenticity and honesty creates opportunities for you connect with clients in a human way. This will help you earn their respect for you, which is more valuable than protecting your own ego.

3. Demonstrates Commitment

Make finding the answer a priority, and involve your client in the discussion. This demonstrates your openness to collaboration and commitment to the relationship.

If everyone knew the answer to every question, there would be little need for human interaction. Clients don’t expect you to know everything; they expect you to provide value. Acknowledging that you might be uncertain about a specific answer and making the investment to find out and share an accurate response will add a new dimension to your relationship with your client(s). You may find that you’ll earn additional respect and credibility in demonstrating that there are always opportunities for growth and learning, and that you’re not above it.