So, what’s the most useful business technique I could show you?
Well, I don’t know. It depends on all sorts of things — your personality, your skills, your priorities, your current challenges. But if I could just ask you a few quick questions, I’d be able to tell you exactly what you most want to know.
Using the words “I don’t know” in response to someone’s question can often help you. It gives you the chance to ask more questions first — ones that will show you the best way to answer their original question. It also stops you saying the wrong things or losing the power in a conversation.
Here are other situations where saying “I don’t know” could be extremely helpful:
- When you’re asked “how much do you charge for X?”, say: “I don’t know yet. It depends what you want. Let me ask a couple of quick questions so I fully understand. I’ll then be able to tell you the exact price.”
- When someone says “what will you cover in your document or presentation or workshop?”, say: “I don’t know. It depends what you want the reader or audience to do after it. Let’s discuss that first, and I’ll then be able to answer your question.”
- If a friend is going for a job interview, and asks “what should I focus on?”, say: “I don’t know. It depends what the interviewer is most interested in. Have you asked enough questions to find that out yet?”
- When pitching for work, and a colleague asks you “what are our best selling points here?”, say: “I don’t know. It depends on what the prospect will find most valuable. And, to establish that, we’re going to have to ask them more questions.”
- One of the questions people often ask me is: “’I’m going to an important meeting. Should I use PowerPoint or not?” My answer always is “I don’t know. It depends what you’re looking to achieve, and what your colleagues want. Have you asked them yet?”
Take charge of the conversation
All these examples help you regain control of the conversation. After all, if you answer their question before you have enough information, you’ll be guessing. And guessing increases the chance of your answer being too long or irrelevant.
This is especially important for people who sell. The instant you give your price before discussing your value, people think you’re too expensive. They’re already thinking, “can you reduce it?”.
A price doesn’t make sense on its own. Here’s a question for you: “Is £10,000 expensive?” It’s impossible to say, isn’t it? It depends what it’s for. It’s cheap for a Bentley; but exorbitant for a sandwich. So you first have to discuss what they’re buying, and establish the value they perceive is in it. And the only way to do this is? Ask them what they perceive as valuable.
Andy Bounds is a communications expert, speaker and the author of The Snowball Effect: Communication Techniques to Make You Unstoppable. You can sign up for his free weekly tips here.