There are times in a manager’s career when a lack of enough information may leave no other answer but “I don’t know” to subordinates. However, this is not a good phrase to use because it takes away from the management role. How? Employees need strong leadership, so a wishy washy answer that implies the leader is really not in control of the situation leaves them feeling confused and worried. In order to maintain your status as a leader, you need some other ways of expressing yourself without saying you don’t know. Here are some other things you can say.
“This is what I know, and I will have more information for you soon.”
When employees know that an immediate supervisor has their best interests in mind, they are often good with this kind of response. It shows that you are going to share what you know (and maybe share some managers-only information) and that you are going to update them as soon as possible. This conveys you have things under control and they will be the first to hear when anything new develops.
“I’m not the right person to ask about this, let’s find out who can answer your question.”
As a manager, you will never have all the information and you may not always be the go-to expert on a particular subject. This is OK. Employees are simply following the chain of command when they ask a manager about something. It’s up to you to direct them to the right resources and experts in the company for more clarity on some subjects. For example, if an employee has a benefits-related question, you will use this phrase and then walk them over to the human resource office for more support.
“I hear your concern, so give me an opportunity to get the right answer for you.”
Being a good listener and using reflective phrases like this can go a long way towards fostering good relationships with subordinates. By stating that you hear what the employee is saying, you acknowledge their concern and want to do something to help them. However, if you don’t have the right answer, which is reasonable, you are asking the employee to trust in you as a manager to get the correct information for them – something they can respect.
Use the above phrases to demonstrate your ability to lead others, without leaving them scratching their heads.