How to Say “I Don’t Know” at Work Without Sounding Stupid

I don't know

Workplaces are competitive environments, you definitely do not want to leave a bad impression in front of your colleagues but especially not in front of your boss. phrases such as I don’t know can make you sound uninterested, unprofessional, or unsure of yourself. If you constantly find yourself with no answers and your constant reply is ‘I don’t know’, you might start feeling diffident and there can be a whole world of problems when you get stuck in an under-confident loop. Not to be too gloomy, but we often find ourselves in situations where we don’t know the answer. So then what should be done?

Well fear not, it is a scientifically proven fact that no one in this world could possibly know everything, not even Google! But there definitely is a way to say it in which you won’t be discredited or made to feel inferior. Keep reading till the end and I assure you, you will leave feeling better about yourself. 

So, How can I say ‘I Don’t Know’ at work?

6 ways to say “I don’t know” professionally

Here are some ways you can say ‘I don’t know ‘ in a professional way :

1) I’m not sure, but I can find out for you.

The most common answer that you might find everywhere is saying something like ‘I’m not sure at the moment but let me get back to you’. This is a very clever one and here’s why:- When you follow up your ‘I’m not sure’ with an action plan such as ‘let me look into the details and I’ll get back to you by EOD’ it shows responsibility. Right there you are a person who is interested in answering and reliable ( once you get back with an answer). Whatever your answer might be, I don’t know, I don’t remember, I’m not sure, or God knows. Once it’s followed by an action plan where you will find the answer to that question, you’re in the positive. 

Other examples of giving an action plan:

  • Let me get clarity on the same and update you over the mail
  • Let me get back to you with a sure answer once I get back
  • I’ll get back to you with an accurate answer the next time we see each other.

I am going to really emphasize the action plan here since that is what leads to productivity. The work environment only respects people who are productive and capable. Leaving any answer as ‘I don’t know’ is far too simple- but shows complete irreverence! Take charge of your workplace by setting an actionable response. 

2) Being Honest does go a long way –

Here’s a reassuring truth: No one expects you to know everything. It’s okay to admit you don’t have an answer. Sometimes being honest can do more good than harm. Saying I don’t know is not a bad thing, and it is definitely better than lying your way through something. Things like that can definitely get you stuck in difficult situations. 

It made me think of this meme right here. It is a perfect example of a situation gone wrong: 

"If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you're not sure you can do it, say yes -  then learn how to do it later".

“Learning how to be a pilot on the job is like crashing your own plane”.

You really don’t want to be stuck in situations like that. There are very few people in any field who might know everything. But the more scholarly a person is, the more likely it is they will tell you they do not know much – or rather ‘I really don’t know the entirety of this field’. But if they say they do, you might probably wanna check the authenticity of that. 

Examples of how you can be honest and still avoid saying ‘I don’t know.’

  • I might not have enough clarity on the subject right now
  • I would hate to give you an unsure answer as I’m not fully aware of the subject myself
  • I’m afraid I might not have a thorough understanding of the subject to give you an answer at the moment.

Every day there’s a new advancement and much to be learned. It is after all a highly advanced and fast progressing society we live in. Remember, nobody knows it all, and being open about what you don’t know can lead to growth and improvement. Embrace the opportunity to learn and develop your skills in the workplace. 

3) The quick, I’ll get back to you –

More often than not we feel a sense of urgency in answering questions. But the best answers are the ones that are well-researched. There’s always the option to say ‘I might not know enough about the discussed topic right now, but let me look into it, and I’ll get back to you with a proper answer.’ 

(On a fun note – This reminds me of a Maths teacher I once had- he never actually got back to us with any of those answers, but he did seem very convincing every time he said it) 

Another option is to share what you do know with a phrase like “Here’s what I can tell you.” It is always better to say authentic information rather than unsure answers..” 

4) Delegation is my motto –

We live in social environments, with people who are well-accomplished surrounding us. There can be circumstances where we simply do not know much on the topic and we can redirect a question to another person who will be better answerable. Using your team and network judiciously is very advantageous. People will think you’re a resourceful person. As for those whom you refer would feel you provide them with opportunities to showcase their potential. 

Examples of how you can redirect the question to someone else:

  • I believe my colleague Rachael here will be able to do justice to your question. She has good knowledge of the topic.
  • While I might not have clarity on the topic now, I believe Roy here is well-researched on the subject.
  • This is not my area of expertise but Chandler here will be able to help you out perfectly.

5) Offer alternatives

Even if you don’t have a direct answer, you can suggest alternative solutions or approaches that might help. This demonstrates your problem-solving skills and willingness to contribute. With most questions, there are usually more than one ways to solve the problem. ( Im talking about questions that are divergent in nature, not Math). Redirecting a question down a different path can be seen as very creative and innovative. 

Examples of how you can suggest alternative solutions:

  • I might not have the answer you’re looking for, but I can offer you a different perspective on the subject.
  • This might not be the most conventional answer, but there can be a different outlook we can opt for.
  • This might not be the answer you were expecting, but this is my take on the subject….

6) A question for a question

 Answering a question with another question has always been a time-old trick to get out of tough situations. (If you’ve seen the 40-year-old Virgin – Remember when Andy flirts with a girl by practically saying nothing, but she is all swooned in). Well, this is a very out-of-topic example but you get what I mean right? In workplaces, a lot of the time, the questions can be challenging – you may have two options here:

a) Suggest a different question that is better suited-

For example, instead of …( is our product in demand)…. Don’t you mean..( what should we produce that is in demand)..? A lot of the time, we are simply asking the wrong questions which is why finding an answer to them can be difficult. 

b) Repeat their question/ Validation-

I know you might think this is stupid, but this is something that is called Active listening. When someone has been talking, they don’t know how many people are really paying enough attention. When you repeat what they just said in your own words- it is simply validating what the person in front of you said. 

Now this is the biggest trick to getting people to like you! Everyone in this world is seeking validation from their surroundings- family, workplace, etc. Validating someone can be pivotal in how they treat you. They will start liking you a lot more than they used to. But the correct way to repeat a question would be to phrase it in your own words, not repeat the exact same thing someone else said. This trick can be very useful if used correctly. ( Psychologists use this method of Active listening to help their clients feel heard and understood). This method here is only useful for questions where the person in front isn’t asking for a factual answer. But more like answers to questions such as: Do you get what I mean? Do you have an opinion on this? Or Am I making any sense? 

The Validation technique is more of a rapport-building technique. It can be used better when you’re not in the spotlight for a direct answer. 

7) The Unwanted Advice 

I don’t want to be the one to break it to you, but there are no shortcuts in life! Yes, I know- life has a way to make things difficult. But research will be your best friend in any tough office situation. Being well prepared has never hurt anyone as you never know when an opportunity might pop up. People who cannot risk losing any opportunities understand the value of preparation. If you have an upcoming meeting, read through all related websites and articles. Get your general knowledge up to date. You don’t need to know everything in depth but an overall understanding of everything will go a long way. You will stand out better and earn the respect

of your colleagues and superiors. Climbing up the hierarchy requires such kinds of tedious work. However, a well-researched person will definitely not have to say ‘I don’t know’ as many times as a noob. But again it’s not always possible to research topics well beforehand. Hence this is subjective to whether you have time for preparation or not. 

8) How to say ‘I don’t know in Email –

Email is one of the most effective workplace communication platforms. It is extensively used but then again, you might come across situations here as well where you don’t have much to say. But this one is too easy- as you have the internet at your disposal. However, if the situation does arise where you do not have the answer to a question – probably work-related, or something you can’t find over the web. Here’s what you can say:

  • I’ll double-check that and let you know.
  • “I’m sorry, but I don’t have that information at the moment.”
  • I don’t have an answer to that right now but I’ll get back to you by the earliest 

Emails do have to be formal to a certain extent, setting the right tone and using the correct vocabulary is important. Hence, any of the above points will help you to say I don’t know quite efficiently. These phrases demonstrate your honesty and commitment to finding the right information. Additionally, offer your assistance in any other way you can, such as suggesting alternative contacts or resources, to show that you’re actively engaged in resolving the matter.

9) What to say instead of I don’t know in an interview –

Interviews are definitely the toughest situations of all. There is a lot at stake and you cannot afford to be unprepared or blank about a question. Say the interviewer asks you a question and sweat starts trickling down your forehead, you’re stuck without an answer, and that itself is enough to cost you the opportunity. Sorry to paint such a stressful scenario but when stuck; follow C.H.L:

  • Calm and composed– Try to collect your thoughts together. Gather all your confidence in one place. Assure yourself that yes, It is ride or die but you will definitely ride through this one. Just give your best and do not worry about the outcome
  • Honesty: Do not make up an answer for a question that you have no information on. It is a very high-risk option that you simply do not need to take. Honesty is highly valued in interviews, and it’s better to admit that you don’t know something than to provide inaccurate information.
  • Learning Aptitude: This is the part where you get to SLAY or rather simply show the interviewer that you might not have extensive knowledge in the field, but you have the humility and Potential to be a very fast learner. This is where you emphasize your eagerness to learn and grow in the role. 

( for SUITS fans: Remember the interview of Mike Ross- you see how he wins Harvey’s approval by saying he will work twice as hard and learn everything on the job)

Here are a few examples of how you could say ‘I Don’t Know in an Interview:
  • I’m not entirely certain about that specific detail, but I’m confident in my ability to quickly grasp and understand new information.
  • I don’t have firsthand experience with that, but I’m eager to learn and adapt my skills to tackle any challenges that may arise.
  • That’s a great question, and while I don’t have a definitive answer at the moment, I can provide some insights based on my previous experience.
  • I’m sorry, I don’t have an immediate answer to that question, but I’m dedicated to continuous improvement and would make it a priority to fill that knowledge gap

Below is a link to a video that could help you get a better idea of what you could say during Interviews.

10) What is another way of saying I don’t know

There are a few more ways to say ‘I don’t know’ without saying ‘I don’t know’! This can be your go-to list if the above feels like too long of a read :

  • “I’m still developing my understanding of that topic, so I don’t have a conclusive answer.”
  • “I haven’t come across that before, but I’m eager to expand my knowledge in that area.”
  • That’s outside my area of expertise, but I can certainly look into it for you.
  • I’m still gaining experience in that specific field, so I may not have all the information you’re seeking.
  • I can entertain you with my take on your question but it might not be correct as I’m not familiar with this subject
  • I mostly do not have the answer you’re looking for, but I’m happy to look it up for you
  • That is quite an interesting question, however, I must say I will have to research a bit on the topic before I answer it.
  • I can provide you with my perspective on your question, it is not well-researched so it might lack accuracy.
  • To answer such a profound question, I will need to update my knowledge of the subject

These are just a few ways to say the same thing in different complex manners. Your command of your English will definitely help you to quite an extent. You would benefit from combining these phrases with a proactive and positive attitude, that will emphasize your willingness to learn, adapt, and find solutions.

If you still do not feel contempt with these answers you can refer to this blog here as well.


To conclude, I’m going to leave you with the assurity that – You got this! There are a couple of options that you can opt for, choose the one you like the most, or try out as many as you’d like. It’s an open buffet and you can design your own platter. 

It’s only human to not know everything, we do have a limited intellectual capacity and it’s normal to not know an answer every time. But you took an effort to become better which is why you have read this blog and You should be proud of yourself. I am definitely proud of you for reaching the end. We hope you keep growing and have a good day!


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