Shy to admit that you don’t know something?

Have you ever considered yourself to be someone who is shy to admit that they don’t know something in front of the one they care about?


If you answered “yes” to this question (or even if not but you are still curious), read on!


You are going to find out a different perspective of “I don’t know” as a motivating factor to improve  your learning. 


It is time to say it with confidence!

It is time to say it with confidence!

Image from (@bkotynski)


Some people are afraid of admitting that they don’t know. Some don’t want others to look down on them; others may want to impress others with their confidence. In yet other cases, people are afraid of saying “I don’t know” as they don’t want other people to form a negative impression of them due to their exposed lack of knowledge. They may even believe that coming out with “I don’t know” is something that is best avoided by those who want to look good.


However, this may not be the best approach. Let’s say you have started to say something about a topic you don’t know much about, or are pretending that you really do know something about it. This is actually quite dangerous! If you continue bluffing, people will notice sooner or later that you aren’t really knowledgeable about the subject. If so, you will have lost twice: you won’t look good, and you will have missed a chance to learn.


The so-called Dunning-Kurger Effect (a cognitive bias whereby some people who know a lot about how to do a task underestimate their knowledge) suggests that when we say “we don’t know” something, it means that we are well aware of what we know and what we don’t know about the subject. Those who belong to this group of people generally do not stop at “I don’t know”. Instead, they go further and try to plug the gap in their knowledge – and this is definitely a good thing.


For leaders, a powerful antidote is simply acknowledging that you don’t know.”


The above quotation was made by David Burkus, Associate Professor of Leadership and Innovation at Oral Roberts University. According to him, acknowledging “you don’t know” will lead to curiosity and motivation to find the correct answer. To put it another way, you will be led towards the way of learning new things.


When you admit openly that “you don’t know” the answer to a question, your curiosity to find out about the subject grows. Your curiosity leads you to ask further questions about the subject or to do some research on the subject. As you ask further questions and you investigate the topic more fully, your learning grows enormously.  Your brain is working on the subject to find out new answers and solutions. You become engaged and enthusiastic about the subject. In this way, you are learning new things and also cultivating your mind and body as you try to find an answer or solution.


Another article which sees “I don’t know” in a positive way is ‘The power of I don’t know” written by Heather Wolpert-Gawron (Wolpert-Gawron, 2014). As an educator, she says that it is okay for students to say “I don’t know”, but we still need to teach our students how to develop their own questions: that way, stating “I don’t know” can help overcome students’ confusion. She cultivated the habits of searching for solutions in her students by challenging them, asking questions and teaching them internet literacy to hunt for answers. When she hears her students say “I don’t know”, she treats it in a very intelligent way as “Wait! Let me find out”.


I don't know. But, wait! let me find out!

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Khin Khin Thant Sin

Assistant Editor, GJSD

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The opinions expressed in this article/publication are those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of GiLE or its members.

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