I have encountered many people in my career who are bright, intelligent and articulate. However, get them into an interview room and they can’t remember a thing. It’s not because they suffer from some sort of cognitive impairment. It’s because they’ve chosen to be evasive and tight lipped. They feel if they say something it will be to their detriment and may result in some form of punishment. They are probably hiding something.

These are typical responses from those folks who suffer from self imposed temporary amnesia or loss of memory:

I don’t know.

I can’t remember.

I don’t recall.

I have no memory of that.

Not that I am aware of.

As far as I know.

I’ve experienced this on numerous occasions; it’s frustrating beyond belief. These individuals claimed they couldn’t remember a thing. I’m surprised they could even remember how to tie their shoes and zip up their jackets.

How to response to the “I don’t know” response

Emma-Louise Elsey of Coaching Tools Company.com suggests 15 different possible responses:

  1. “This is a good place to start. Let’s relax for a moment into this ‘don’t know’ place.”
  2. Simply use silence. Don’t respond at all and wait calmly for their answer.
  3. “Remember that just because you answer, doesn’t mean you need to do anything about it.”
  4. You may want to use a softener before this question: “What are you pretending not to know?”
  5. “I feel that too sometimes. Take a moment and let me know when you’ve thought of something”
  6. “What if you secretly knew the answer?”
  7. “So, what’s underneath the ‘I don’t know?’ What are you avoiding?”
  8. “What is it like for you to not know?”
  9. “How do you feel right now as you think about answering this question?”
  10. “Hmmmm. Take a deep breath and just allow yourself feel into the question for a second.”
  11. Use with caution and excellent rapport, “If I were to snap my fingers and you knew…” (snap fingers)
  12. “So, if (what they don’t know about) had a colour/smell/taste/sound, what would it be?”
  13. “OK, so what if you were to give me an approximate answer or a range?”
  14. “Hmmmm. Let’s try something here. Take a deep breath and let your unconscious mind create the answer as a picture instead of trying to make it happen.”
  15. Ask them for THEIR helicopter perspective. “Imagine you’re in a helicopter flying over the map of your life. What do you notice about your life from way up there? Looking down with this new perspective, how would you answer the question now?”

These are great ideas! Give them a try the next time you encounter the interviewee who employs the loss of memory technique.