There are times when the perfect answer is, I dont know. At those times, say precisely that, with confidence or authority.
People ask questions for all different reasons. Sometimes its helpful to know the statement behind the question; other times, it would be insensitive to ask why someone is asking. The key is to find ways to respond that keep you feeling as empowered as possible. Its also a really good policy to respond in such a way that the person who is asking feels empowered, or at least not disempowered.
Sometimes its unwise to say, I dont know. At those times, you may want to avoid the question or answer another question. Most politicians do this very well. Not all questions are appropriate, but, even so, its also not always appropriate for you to highlight the inappropriateness of the one asking the question.
Here are some euphemisms for saying I dont know when youre asked for information and you dont have the answer. Some of these are also useful when youre being asked for your point of view, rather than for factual information. And a few of them might be appropriate when you really want to say, its none of your business.
In one-on-one situations…
1. Ive been wondering the same thing.
2. Ill be happy to get the answer for you.
3. Thats a really good question. I wish I had a really good answer. I think [name of person] will know the answer or have some ideas.
4. Thats something weve been working to discover. Let me tell you my thoughts so far.
5. Lets think this out together.
6. Thats not my area of expertise. Ill ask the appropriate expert to get back to you. (Or, I suggest you call [name of person] and say that I thought he or she can help you.)
7. Ill check that out. (Or, Ill have to check that out.)
8. Ive got an idea about that, but I want to double check something first.
9. I can think of several possibilities (approaches, considerations). What do you have in mind? (Or, .What have you tried so far?)
10. Im hearing several questions in your question. Maybe we can get clear about what information youre really looking for and then I can be more helpful.
11. I think thats a really good question to ask someone else (or a specific person).
In group situations…
1. Has anyone in the group had a similar experience?
2. Can anyone in the group answer that question or at least shed some light on it?
3. I think thats a wonderful question for us to explore together.
What are some of your euphemisms for saying I dont know?