Pretending You Don’t Know Something When You Do – The Art of Faking Ignorance

Have you ever been in a situation where someone asks you a question and you know the answer, but you pretend you don't? Maybe it's because you don't want to sound like a know-it-all or you want to avoid being responsible for something. Or maybe you just want to see how long the other person will continue talking before they realize you knew the answer all along. Whatever the reason, pretending you don't know something when you do can have it’s advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, it can help you avoid confrontations or uncomfortable situations. On the other hand, it can make you seem disingenuous or untrustworthy. So why do we do it, and when is it appropriate? Let's take a closer look at this behavior and explore some of it’s implications.

What Does It Mean to Pretend to Not Know Something?

Pretending to not know something is a common human behavior that’s usually employed for various reasons. It can be used to avoid conversations, to hide ones level of knowledge or intelligence, or to manipulate others. Feigning ignorance is, in essence, pretending that one lacks the knowledge or understanding of a particular subject or issue. This behavior is often employed in social situations where the person doesn’t want to appear arrogant or offensive.

One of the most common reasons why people pretend to not know something is to avoid conversations. In many social situations, discussions can become heated or confrontational, and individuals may not want to get involved in such discussions. This behavior is often employed in work environments, where the person may not want to express their opinion or take sides on particular issues.

This behavior is often employed by people who want to maintain a low profile, especially when interacting with others who might feel intimidated or threatened by their expertise. By pretending not to know something, they can avoid unwanted attention and focus on their work or activities.

In addition to hiding ones knowledge or intelligence, pretending to not know something can also be used to manipulate others. For example, if a salesperson is trying to sell a product, they may pretend not to know certain details about the product, in order to create a sense of urgency or to make it appear that the product is in high demand. This technique is often used by marketers who want to create a sense of exclusivity and urgency around their product.

By withholding information, they can create an air of mystery around themselves and make themselves more interesting or alluring to others. This behavior is often seen in social situations, where individuals may want to attract attention or approval from others.

This behavior can be effective in social situations, but it should be used with caution, as it can also create mistrust or suspicion among others.

The Psychology Behind Pretending to Not Know Something: Exploring the Reasons Why People Engage in This Behavior.

  • It can be a way to avoid appearing boastful or arrogant. Pretending not to know something can make a person come across as more humble.
  • It can also be a way to avoid responsibility or accountability. If someone doesn’t know something, they can’t be blamed for it.
  • Some individuals may pretend not to know something in order to gather information or gauge someone else’s level of knowledge on a topic.
  • In social situations, pretending not to know something can be a way to bond with others by engaging in shared confusion or ignorance.
  • Alternatively, it can be a way to distance oneself from a topic or person that makes them uncomfortable.
  • Pretending not to know something can also be a tactic used to avoid confrontation or conflict.

Now that we’ve established what Socratic irony is, let’s explore it’s origins and how it’s been used in history.

What Is It Called When Someone Pretends to Be Ignorant?

This technique was made famous by the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, who used it as a way of challenging assumptions and provoking critical thinking in his students. Rather than simply telling them what he believed to be true, Socrates would ask a series of seemingly simple questions, designed to lead his students to realize the flaws or gaps in their own understanding.

By pretending to be ignorant, Socrates was able to create a space in which his students could feel comfortable enough to explore and question their own beliefs, without fear of judgement or reprisal. This technique is still used today by teachers, coaches, and other leaders who seek to challenge the assumptions and biases of their students or followers.

One of the key advantages of using Socratic irony is that it forces the other person to do the work of examining their own ideas and assumptions, rather than simply accepting what you tell them. By posing questions that require thoughtful reflection and consideration, you can encourage the other person to think deeply about their own beliefs and perspectives, and perhaps even to reconsider them in light of new information.

When used correctly, it can be a powerful means of building trust and establishing rapport with other people. By showing a genuine interest in their views and concerns, and by asking thoughtful and probing questions, you can create a sense of mutual respect and collaborative engagement that can lead to more meaningful and productive conversations.

Of course, there are also some risks and pitfalls to using Socratic irony. For one thing, it can be tempting to use this technique as a way of simply proving someone else wrong, or of asserting your own intellectual superiority. If used in this way, it can quickly devolve into a form of intellectual bullying or harassment, which can be counterproductive and damaging to relationships.

Advice on How to Use Socratic Irony Effectively in Professional or Personal Contexts

  • Start by asking a question that you know the answer to, to establish credibility.
  • Listen actively to the other person’s responses.
  • Ask follow-up questions that reveal contradictions or inconsistencies in their arguments.
  • Show empathy and understanding, even if you disagree with their point of view.
  • Use humor and wit to soften the blow of your final point.
  • End with a point that redirects the conversation or highlights a new perspective.

Source: What’s it called when someone pretends not to know …


The act of pretending to not know something when you actually do is a complex social behavior that can have both positive and negative consequences. On the one hand, it can be an effective way to avoid conflict or perceived arrogance, and to build relationships based on trust and empathy. On the other hand, it can lead to misunderstandings, lack of accountability, and missed opportunities for personal and collective growth. As such, it’s important to reflect on the motives and consequences of this behavior, and to balance the need for social harmony with the need for intellectual honesty and curiosity.