14 Better Ways to Say I Don’t Know in English at Work

Sep 18, 2019 | 16 comments

Has this happened to you at work: a colleague asks a question and you SHOULD know the answer… but you don’t. In that moment, your heart stops and you search your brain for a better way to say I don’t know in English. 
The truth is, if you say I don’t know at work, it can sound unprofessional.

And sometimes it’s embarrassing.

Today I want to help you remove that stress and worry.

The good news is, native speakers have the SAME problems at work. So we have many alternatives that we can use instead.

In this Confident English lesson you’re going to learn better ways to say I don’t know when:

  • You should know the answer but you don’t
  • You’re not an expert but someone wants your opinion
  • You need more information to give the right answer

Plus I’m going to share some fun slang alternatives for I don’t know when it IS okay.

14 alternatives to saying ‘I don’t know’ in English.
Lesson by Annemarie

14 Better Ways to Say ‘I Don’t Know’ in English at Work

How to say I don’t know (when you should know the answer)

You’re in the accounting department and your team is still working out the financial projections for the next year. 

You’ve got a meeting about this today and you know you’re not ready to every question on this topic.

But saying ‘I don’t know’ isn’t an option.

Try one of these instead:

  • I’m not sure, but I’ll find out and let you know.
  • I’ll find out.
  • I’ll look into it and get back to you with what I find.
  • That’s a good question and I want to get you the right information. Let me get back to you by end-of-day.

So your answer might sound like:

That’s an excellent question. My team and I are finalizing the projections on that and I’ll have your answer by the end of the day.

I don’t know when it’s not your area of expertise but someone wants to know your thoughts…

We all have our areas of expertise.

And then we have topics we don’t know so much about.

For example, everything I do is focused on helping my students develop English confidence and fluency. THAT is my expertise.

But I also think climate change is an interesting topic. I’m not an expert, but I have some ideas and opinions. 

Here are 3 ways to answer a question when you’re not the expert:

  • I’m not sure I’m the best person to answer that but… 
  • Here’s what I know and here’s what I don’t know… 
  • Based on my understanding, I believe that…

What to say when it’s better to help someone find the answer…

Imagine you’re training a new employee at work.

If she asks you a question about her job, it’s MUCH better if you help her find the answer, right?

If you do that, she won’t need to ask again in the future.

In this case, it’s better to learn together.

Instead of saying ‘I don’t know’ try one of these:

  • Great question. Let’s look into that.
  • Let’s see if we can get some more information on that.

A better way to say I don’t know when you need more information to give the right answer.

Sometimes questions are unexpected and we don’t know what to say in that moment.

Sometimes there aren’t enough details to understand the question or give a good answer.

And sometimes, you just need more time to think.

Here’s two great options:

  • Before I answer, could you share a few more details about what you need/what you’re looking for?
  • Before I answer your question, could you clarify your question?

Now what about when it IS okay to say ‘I don’t know’?

Your friend lost her keys — again!

She always does this and, of course, you have no idea where her keys are.

Here are a few casual ways to say I don’t know:

  • I don’t have the foggiest idea.
  • I haven’t a clue.
  • Who knows?
  • Don’t ask me.
  • Your guess is as good as mine.

 

❤️Love this lesson?

Check out my lesson on Better Ways to Say Yes, No, Maybe, and I Can’t or view it here on YouTube.

Now it’s time to practice what you’ve learned.

This is the BEST way to add new vocabulary and expressions to your English — learn, practice, and repeat.

So here’s your chance to try some new language.

In the comment section below, tell me:

  1. What would you say if your colleague asks you a question in a business meeting tomorrow and you don’t know the answer (but you should)?
  2. You may not be an expert on this but I’d love to know your thoughts: what do you think is the best way to gain English confidence and fluency?

Share your answers below and be sure to include a new way to say I don’t know in English!

Have a fantastic Confident English Wednesday!

~ Annemarie

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