Saying I don’t know like a pro

We all want projects to run smoothly. We want clients to trust us when we advise them. We want them to confidently put the success of their project in our hands without second guessing every-single-decision™. However, without even knowing it, we occasionally take shortcuts to earning that trust in ways that completely backfire.

Trust me… I think?

This often happens early in the relationship or during scoping when you want to project an image of professionalism and competency. It goes something like this:

Your client throws a curve-ball question your way. Fearing that any hesitation on your part will make you look like an amateur, you confidently agree to features or deliverables that are beyond the scope/budget, or worse, detrimental to the project’s outcome. What comes some time later is a series of excuses you present to your client as to why they can’t have all the shiny stuff you promised.

Being an expert means having the confidence to say you don't know… yet. Tweet

Backing out of commitments because you didn’t do your due diligence can wreak havoc on the smooth progress of a project, and your trust factor takes a huge hit. Now each time you take initiative, your client is likely to greet you with a stream of are-you-sures, but-what-ifs, and my-brother-in-law-thinks. And who could blame them?

Taking serious questions seriously

Next time a client has you locked into their sights, waiting for pure genius to come out of your mouth, just take a moment. Tell them you need some time to reflect or do some research before you can give them an answer. This will earn you huge trust points. It shows you take their inquiry seriously, and that you are cautious with their timeline and goals.

This is particularly true as you’re writing up your proposal. Remember, this is the road map for the entire project. If you can’t plan it properly, how can anyone trust you to implement it?

The “I’ll get back to you” formula

On the other hand, you can’t be all “Yo, I don’t know  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯”.  The key is to let them know you’ve understood the question and its implications, and be specific about when they can expect a response. Something like this works well:

That's a great question. Let me do a little digging to determine the feasibility of [request] and how it might fit within the [scope, budget, timeline, goals, whatever] of the project. I'll get back to you by [date] with an answer.

That’s it! Now you can shed that pressure to know it all right then and there. You can go off, do your research, speak to colleagues, and crunch some numbers… like a true expert. When you can back up your recommendations with data and logic, brothers-in-law can’t compete and clients happily follow your lead. ?


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