The best business advice I received was given to me almost 30 years ago. I was just out of law school and had the good fortune to be hired by Jeff Jacobs, a prominent and respected sports and entertainment attorney. Jeff had started his own firm to represent athletes and media personalities in contract negotiations, and I had the enviable role of serving as his only associate.
Jeff had recently made one of the smartest decisions of his life by picking up the phone when a new talk show host called looking for representation. That host was Oprah Winfrey. But back to the best advice I ever received…
During my first few weeks on the job, Jeff posed a question to me. I don’t recall if I started to mumble an answer or just had a look of confusion on my face, but he promptly made a statement that I have never forgotten and, most importantly, have implemented throughout my career. The advice? “If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it…but then go find the correct answer.”
This advice may seem rather simple, but it’s often not followed in the work place. It may be because we’re bombarded with directives to ‘be an expert,’ ‘be a leader,’ ‘showcase your talents’ and ‘impress the boss.’ Whether in an entry-level position or the C-suite, there’s constant pressure to act as though we have all the answers and that we are ‘the smartest person in the room.’
However, attempting to bluff your way through an answer, or providing an answer you know is not correct or fully vetted, can impact a career.
- If your answer is wrong, it will most likely come to light, which will impact your credibility and potentially damage your reputation.
- If your answer is wrong, it could possibly create an even bigger problem, which may affect your colleagues, vendors, partners and your company.
- If your answer is wrong, and it becomes evident that you knew it was wrong, you could lose your job.
Being straightforward and honest in your work dealings will always serve you better than trying to fake your way through something.
I work in a fast-paced, high-profile industry. The company I founded, DLB, Ltd., helps PR firms, corporations, ad agencies and non-profits secure the right celebrity, sports star, expert or speaker for their marketing programs. Although I have decades of experience and expertise in my field, there still are times I say, “I don’t know…but let me find the answer.” I find that clients and colleagues appreciate the honesty and integrity. (But they want the answer quickly!)
It doesn’t show weakness or ineptness to say, “I don’t know…” Rather, it builds trust and confidence – two essential qualities in business relationships.