This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

Last week I shared the first of three phrases, each coincidentally three words long, that I believe to be an essential part of any trusted advisor toolkit: “That makes sense.” This week’s three-word phrase is “I don’t know.”

“That makes sense” is an intimacy-builder because it’s so validating, and often disarming. “I don’t know” has its own charm when it’s (a) truthful and (b) spoken with that magic blend of confidence and humility. It’s also an unexpected way to increase your credibility. (As my co-author Charlie Green says, “Who’s going to doubt you on that one?”)

I’ve worked with thousands of people in consultative roles and I know very few who are comfortable not knowing answers to important client questions (myself included). We naturally assume clients always expect the right answers, right away. And this leads us down some dangerous—albeit well-intended—paths. Case in point: have you ever exaggerated (just the tiniest bit) what you do know in order to “put them at ease”? Or allowed silence to cover for you rather than “derailing the conversation”? (I’m nodding my own head in the affirmative.)

[Tweet “Three (more) little words that boost #trust in a big way: #getreal #communication #trustedadvisor”]

The alternative is having the courage to say “I don’t know,” with candor, clarity, confidence, when that’s the situation. (Bonus if you’re brave enough not to quickly add, “But I’ll find out,” and instead pause to allow a reaction). Your honesty communicates that you can be counted on to be real. Your courage communicates that you actually value directness and truth-telling over looking good. Most clients would trade all of that over a self-preserving reply any day of the week.

The unexpected upside to “I don’t know” is this right here: When we’ve got enough ego strength to admit what might be perceived as weakness, what we actually prove is our strength..

Make It Real

This week, notice every time you’re tempted to put a little (or big) spin on your replies to others, or to tell a little (or big) lie by omission. Then consider what you might say if you responded more candidly. (For the overachievers: then, do exactly that.)

Learn More

Watch and share a one-minute “Say you don’t know” trust tip, from our friends at Trusted Advisor Associates, or brush up on other quick credibility-builders in Chapter 21 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

The following two tabs change content below.

Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).