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How to answer a question you will never know the answer to

How to answer a question you will never know the answer to

“Science is a finite sphere that grows in infinite space; each new expansion makes it include a larger zone of the unknown, but the unknown is inexhaustible.”― Jorge Luis Borges

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”― Voltaire

“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.” ― Richard Feynman

See also:

  • How to answer a question you don’t know the answer to / How to say you don’t know
  • How to answer impossible questions from kids

Start Here

  • Sometimes we are asked to answer impossible questions. Questions that are unanswerable simply because you don’t have any way of knowing.
    • 💡 Example: When supply chains were severely impacted during the pandemic, many customer service representatives were bombarded with questions from customers asking about the length of backorders and delays. The reps had no way of knowing how long the pandemic would last and how long the delays would continue.
  • Be honest and transparent about what you know (and don’t), and why you don’t know.
  • If in crisis mode:
    • Lean on the things you do know.
    • Try to understand what is driving the question (e.g. insecurity, fear, frustration)
  • Be empathetic. Not knowing can be scary.

Talking Points

  • “I wish we knew more.”
  • “There are still many uncertainties.”
  • “I had hoped our my answers could be more definite by now.”
  • “It must be difficult to hear how uncertain we are/I am.”
  • “There is still much that we don’t know.”
  • “There is a range of expert opinion on this…”
  • “I wish I had a crystal ball for the answers.”
  • “Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer to that or if I will ever be able to give you an answer because <give reason>.”
  • “What I can tell you is…”

Further Reading


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