Is Not Saying "I Don't Know" a Guy Thing?

Our most recent podcast, “Why Is ‘I Don’t Know’ So Hard to Say?,” continues to draw interesting replies. Here’s one from Erich Knobil, who works in the finance office of the Falls Baptist Church & Academy in Menomonee Falls, Wisc.:

A couple of minor notes about “I don’t know” —

Someone (a consultant) once told me the “Consultant’s Motto” was “Maybe wrong, but never in doubt.”

Someone else (female) once called it “Male Answer Disorder (MAD),” where men seem compelled to always have an answer for everything.

Anyone know of any good empirical work on whether MAD is real?


I could see the "Male Answer Disorder" (MAD) having some legs. I have at least a couple friends who instead of saying "I Don't Know" they will flat out say whatever comes to mind without basing their answer on any fact whatsoever. The funny thing nowadays though is that EVERYONE has a smartphone now so it makes it really hard to throw out random answers without someone else calling you on it. So basically fifty percent of any conversation or arguement ends with, "hold on, let me look it up" and most of the time whatever they are saying is complete BS. Although I am a Male myself, I could see the female perspective when it comes to the inability of males to just say "I Don't Know".


On the flip side, wouldn't the female equivalent (FAD) be that they are less likely to give a fir, decisive answer? Seems that guys are expected to stand alone and have answers to everything, while women are allowed to defer--especially to a group. Perhaps a part of the reason men get a disproportionate amount of authority positions.

Not that male know-it-all bozos should be excused, but as a beta male I've noticed speaking up only when confident of the answer is not seen as a strength--by either gender.

Tom Maguire

I called it AWS - American White Guy Syndrome. The symptoms of the afflicted are:
1. Knows Everything
2. Never Wrong
3. Newly revealed information was never worth knowing and is easily dismissed.


It might be related to Dr. Ann Demarais' 'Male Pattern Lecturing' phenomenon.

Mike B

I don't know what's up with this as I have no problem saying when I really don't know something. If you claim to know something when you don't then people won't believe you when you actually do know something. I always qualify my statements with error bars so when I am certain I'll have enough credibility that people will believe me.

Bryan Larsen

I'm a recovering know-it-all myself. It's a really hard habit to break.

My opinion is that in most cases it's better to say nothing than to say "I don't know" or qualify with error bars. Unless you're asked a direct question of course. But I think this problem comes up much less rarely via direct question and more often comes up in general conversation. (Or worse, butting in to a convesation).

cornel mosneag

So basically what some try to say here is that if i ask my good friend who works as a salesman to tell me how exactly was the human genome extracted he will start inventing things?... That is hardly the case since asking even simple questions about religion to my friends most often got me the response: i don't know. don't ask me such things. So is the case with other questions that go out of their league.
Sure if you ask a man about cars or sports and things he knows about... and the things that he considers to be his strong points then he wont admit weakness. But that is the case of both men and women... Another case would be of those who benefit from knowledge... like for example students... a student during an exam... will never say "I don't know" ... he rather look stupid by answering wrong or just say he "can't remember, although I really learned."
Conclusion... you never "don't know" things that you consider to be your strong points or things that bring you a benefit.



`Yes dear, you were right`....

How many guys have ever heard that????

I have never heard it, but I sure say it a lot.


It's almost eerie, that I could have made the exact same post...


Is MAD real? .... I don't know. And i' m a man! I can also think of a couple of examples of women with FAD....


There isn't any empirical research. But isn't it fun to repeat an insult to almost half of the population, in hopes of getting in good with the other half?

Ian Woollard

I think this is a leadership thing. People want to follow people that know what they're doing; ideally at all times.

But they don't necessarily know when people actually know what they're doing, so it pays for a leader or wannabe leader to lie occasionally, or even a lot; because most of the time people won't be able to check anyway.

Miley Cyrax

Perhaps male bravado has something to do with it, but don't forget that:
1. Expectations for females may be lower.
2. Perceived female incompetence and/or ignorance may be more readily forgiven.
3. People treat females more leniently.
Thus providing less incentive for women to present the pretense of knowledge.


As a help desk analyst, I can confirm this is a real phenomenon with both sexes. I personally revel in saying "I don't know." even though customers frequently take this as a sign of defeat.

What it really means is that they have a more interesting issue than some FAQ or breakdown of the day, and that I'll actually be performing meaningful troubleshooting, rather than reciting the same solution to caller after caller for months on end. This is when I earn my pay, rather than being a jumped-up receptionist.

As a related aside, you should look into literacy versus reading comprehension, because in many cases the ability to read is not helping people at all.


I'm an engineer: believe me, we have no trouble saying I Don't Know at work. Because if you don't actually know it is quite obvious. Of course this is immediately followed by needing to know, so perhaps that's how it emerges.


Most of the engineers and chemists i know are never afraid to say "i don't know".
Pretending to know something could backfire quickly. Maybe there is a direct relationship between knowledge & intelligence and the frequency of using the phrase "i don't know".
Also, the true geek would never just say "i don't know", but instead would say: "i don't know, Let's google it"


How to say this without bringing wrath down on my head? MAD is very real, but my experience is that it is caused by a usually younger woman who pours contempt upon a young man who says "I don't know." Not all women do it--in fact, it is by and large a teenage thing. Most women outgrow this impulse with maturity, but it makes young men fear to admit not knowing something.

I suffered from MAD for several years until I old or mature enough to not give a flying leap anymore.

Eric M. Jones.

I think men are afraid to say "I don't know" because they are afraid of looking clueless.
Women say "I don't know" because they are afraid to pretend that they know something when they don't.


I'd suggest the MAD is a misplaced diagnosis, its a FFUD, Female Fear of Uncertainty Disorder, that's the problem, women have a demand for answers that men satisfy whether they give the right answer or not.