It's okay to say 'I don't know'
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Being a professional consultant means coming in and saving the day. People are relying on you to answer questions, and there's definitely a sense of pride as you come into a situation and knock things off one by one.
But there's a danger in being too cocky. It's easy to believe that you have the situation in hand and that you don't need to look any further than your brain. It's disturbingly easy for a technical consultant to dismiss the client when they tell you "I think it's my hard drive," when you believe it's the power supply. After all, what does the client know? They hired you for your expertise, you obviously know better.
I don't know how many times I've had an employee who doesn't know the answer, but doesn't want to be bothered with explaining that he needs to figure it out, so he makes something up. Everyone does it sometime or another, we're busy people and sometimes it's easier to hide behind jargon and technical babble, but it's better for everyone just to say you don't know.
For one thing, admitting that this stuff is complicated and that you need to do a little research proves to your client that you're dealing honestly with them. You're building rapport with your client, and in the long run that means you're going to have a friend and a loyal customer.
And, if you lie, you're going to get caught.
My favorite story came from a client of mine who was interviewing tech companies for a fairly large project.
Every question he asked the tech was answered with, "No problem, we've got that covered." So, my client asks the guy, "What about the new X-32 protocols?" to which the tech replied, "We've looked at it and we're sure it's not going to be a problem."
Then my client asks, "what about the fact I just made up the X-32 protocols?"
Obviously there wasn't much the tech could do at that point to salvage the account. Anything he said would be suspect, because he proved that he would say anything, including bald faced lies, to get the business.
Being a professional means it's okay to be a little vulnerable. Your clients want to know you're going to take care of them, and they need to know that what you say is what you mean. There are so many geeks in every line of work who will try to dazzle their customers and prospects with big words, complicated descriptions and outright deception that our clients find it refreshing when we say, "I don't know... But, I'll find out."
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Jeri: Re: It's okay to say "I don't know"
"If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything." Mark Twain