How to say, "I don't know" like intellectual Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates is an important figure. He's won the genius grant from the MacArthur Foundation, the prestigious National Book Award and a slew of other awards for journalism and criticism.

But Coates has a particular way of approaching some topics: he openly says, "I don't know." 

For instance, here's an interview with the editor of the New Yorker. The interviewer asks, "What's next?"

Coates: I don’t know. I really don’t know. I would like to be able to move on. But I recognize that’s not entirely up to me.

In an interview at the radio station WFAE, he was asked if he was interested in branching out and trying new things in his career. He answered,

Coates: I'm not, you know, good at parties filled with people I don't know. That's not what I do. I'm not really good at talking to people and building consensus, you know, between broad groups of people. I'm not an academic. I don't have much talent at designing, programs, you know...

Coates is clear that he is a journalist and a writer. He's not a politician and he doesn't see himself as an academic. Even though he's been called a genius, he's still very careful about stepping out of his area of expertise. 

On top of that, Coates is also open about his past shortcomings.

Here is a video of him being open about his student days: 

By being clear about what he doesn't know and what he isn't good at, Coates seems likeable and relatable. He seems humble. 

At the same time, Coates is good at many things and he is clear about those. He's an expert in black culture and a very experienced writer. But even a genius can't be good at everything.

We can all learn from his example. If you don't know something, you can openly and directly say, "I don't know." If you are not talented at something in particular, you can say, "I'm not good at that."

Especially in speaking tests, don't be afraid of saying you don't know or aren't good at things outside your expertise. Be clear about your shortcomings.

Even a genius isn't good at everything.