When your work involves communicating to thousands of people, chances are you will never have all the answers. No matter how much you prepare, you can’t possibly satisfy every potential question. There will always be things that you simply don’t know at the time, or aren’t at liberty to discuss.
It’s a scary situation to be faced with questions you can’t answer, especially when you know that the information you’re communicating is controversial or troublesome. Learning how to say I don’t know (without sounding like a jerk) is a valuable skill.
Because you can’t just say you don’t know. That’s scary and vague and doesn’t help anyone. The minute you tell people that you don’t know, they’ll begin hypothesizing every possible outcome.
And you can’t say no comment. No comment translates roughly to, “It’s bad, but I can’t articulate it without getting slammed by an attorney.”
So it’s tricky. But possible. You have to learn to sandwich anything you don’t know with what you do know, and what that means for those impacted. You also have to let people know when you will tell them what you currently can’t disclose.
There’s also a certain humility required for anyone to take your message seriously. Be honest, be humble and be you.
I started writing this post with a mental reference to work. But I think this approach applies to all communication, in and out of the workplace.
Unless you’re a doctor – I imagine then you’d have to make any assumptions a little more quantitative.