It’s OK to Say “I Don’t Know” When You’re Prepared

I’ve been in the workforce since I was fourteen.  Let me see, that’s . . . . well, never mind.  A long time ago.  I have worked for all types of people, and one character that I always admired were those who admitted that they didn’t know the answer to something that was being asked.  Now that might sound obvious to many that you shouldn’t give an answer to something that you don’t know, but I’ve had a few bosses who thought they always had to have an answer.  That kind of shoot-from-the-hip philosophy concerns me in my role as City Manager, particularly since many of the answers I need to give people hinge on public policy decisions that impact their lives.  So, when I don’t know the answer to something, I simply say “I don’t know” and then work quickly to get the answer.


On Wednesday, June 3rd, the Auburn Hills DPW held two informational sessions for citizens regarding the reconstruction of North Squirrel Road.  Our staff did an exceptional job of presenting the information about the project, including the project schedule, changes in road design, landscape additions, and the list goes on and on.  For most of the project period, North Squirrel Road from Walton Boulevard to Dutton will be open NORTHBOUND only.  This led to a couple of very good and commonsense questions from our citizens.   “How will the mail get delivered”?  We didn’t know.  “How will the trash be picked up”?  We didn’t know. 

Nothing is more awkward in a public presentation than being stumped.  But you can imagine that our staff was so focused on every detail of the issues directly related to the successful reconstruction of this very busy road, they weren’t thinking about mail delivery and trash collection.  So, they did what they had to do.  They told the audience that they didn’t know and then they immediately went to work to figure it out.  The staff was so prepared to present this project, that they didn’t think of a couple of things that were not construction-specific.  That’s why I say it’s OK to say “I don’t know” when you’re prepared.  If the staff had not been prepared to discuss the specifics of the project in the detail for which they did, I would not have been pleased with the outcome of the presentation.  But because the presentation was so well executed and complete with details, I couldn’t help but conclude that one or two things are bound to get missed.  I mean really, is anyone so good that they get absolutely everything right?  So we chose to say “We don’t know” in lieu of shooting-from-the-hip and coming back later to make a correction.  That just creates further communication chaos. 

Here’s what I can assure you as your City Manager.  Our staff, along with our consultants, will work tirelessly to make the North Squirrel Road project as painless as possible to our residents and those who travel through our community during construction.  We will monitor the project daily, adjust as needed, and respond promptly to the concerns of our citizens.  You have my promise.  In return, we ask our citizens to be patient and to remember that there is no easy way to complete this project without disruption and inconvenience.  Our goal however, is to minimize that disruption and inconvenience to the best of our ability.  As a staff Team, we plan to do that.

Tom Tanghe, City Manager

One comment

  1. The presentation was well put together, concise, informative. There were plenty of reps to handle questions. The best answer of the afternoon was the ‘I don’t know’. A lie, a hand off to someone not present, a mangled answer would have been horrible. Grateful to hear truth! All the presenters were respectful and tolerant. Thank you in advance for keeping us well informed!

    Liked by 1 person

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