Of the words in the English language, "I don't know" are three of the least helpful. When I took three years of French, the first sentence I memorized was "Je ne sais pas" and for good reason I could remember it, because I still, to this day, can't speak or understand the language (however, I understand "No sé" just fine, although I do speak a little Espanol).
When I am asked a question for which I don't know the answer, I learned a long time ago to not pretend to know. Someone with a huge ego might be troubled by admitting they don't know the answer, but in reality, I think most people would rather find out you don't know something when you tell them so than finding out when you tell them something they think to be true and find out you are clueless later.
We have all had these kinds of "knowledgable" people as our supervisors before. We usually just say they are full of shit. And the sad part is, everyone on the floor knows them and thinks the same thing, that they are full of shit. This deluded individual keeps walking around the station, thinking everyone respects them, and in truth, everyone thinks he is a total dumbass. Personally, I'd rather know you think I'm a dumbass than be walking around thinking everyone thinks I'm a God, but really thinks I'm a dumbass. I don't know.
I get asked questions about how to deal with these types a lot. It's one of my most popular questions, next to "How can I create positive change in a negative culture that doesn't want to change?" And can you guess what my answer to both of these questions is? Yes, I do not know.
And I say I don't know not because I haven't been able to deal successfully with these types in my career, but because in every case there are differences in context that are hard to understand. I can offer all kinds of helpful advice, but the reality is that I don't, in fact, know. How can I know if I am not in your shoes? I can be empathetic, but every individual brings a different dynamic to it.
There is a passage by the martial master Zhuge Liang in his commentaries on The Art of War that says, "To overcome the intelligent by folly is against the natural order of things; to overcome the foolish with intelligence is in accord with the natural order." To me, if you are interested in creating change and have good reasons for doing so, there should be an easy way to make things happen. But this doesn't always work, and for no good reason sometimes.
I take the approach that I can control what I can control in this world and anything outside of that little realm, I can't worry about. I can try and make positive change happen, but while I can drag the horse to the water, I can't make it drink. Unfortunately, some people can not find it in their heart to change. So that brings us back to what we asked to begin with.
There are, unfortunately, situations in our lives that don't seem fair. Sometimes these situations are completely out of our control and some of them can be opportunities for change. But that doesn't always pan out the way we'd like. I can think back on times when my choice was to wait things out and in doing so I missed opportunities for growth and conversely, I can remember times where I chose to move on and found that things improved when I left.
These are personal choices and we have to make the best of our current status and try to make good decisions based on realistic observation, assessment, and consideration of the options. I believe that it does because it has for me more often than not. Assessing our next step works well if we can maintain objectivity and if we don't, and make decisions purely on emotion, they tend not to work out so well.
I wish I had all the answers, but I do not. I have many questions I want to ask myself and know that nobody else has the answers either. All we can do is continue to strive to be good, fair, and seek continual improvement and when we don't know something, simply say, "I don't know." Then together try to find a solution.