‘I don’t know’, is a hard statement to make for leaders who are supposed to know it all. That is why many of them make up stories in order to give an answer. We all know people who always have an answer. Margaret Thatcher was a politician who always had an answer which seemed often to be independent of the question.
‘I don’t know’ is a magic, trust-generating statement. It shows that you are human and are not in the possession of the Total Truth. ‘I don’t know’ on its own may be not enough though. It needs the extras. Here are some:
‘I don’t know but I will find out.’
‘I don’t know, it’s a good question.’
‘I don’t know, can you help?’
And other variations. One that I like is ‘I don’t know, and I don’t think you know either’. If said in a friendly and non aggressive way, it puts everybody (for example in a team discussion) on a level playing field. It also tends to generate some helpful smiles. Of curse it may mean: ‘Don’t pretend you know more than I do; let’s be honest’. It’s a call to take a reality check, to land from a ‘sky’ discussion, to define a new baseline: that of people searching for answers in an honest and open way.
Are they any other uses? I don’t know.