“I know…”

Words matter. They really, really, really do. Yet, we often toss around words and phrases that convey something unintended without considering the impact of those words and phrases. Take the frequently overlooked example, “I know, as in “I know you didn’t mean anything negative by it…”

I know” is so problematic because it is like having another person dictating your own emotional landscape rather than soliciting and accepting your actual feelings, thoughts, or intentions. Even if the person claiming to know your feelings makes an accurate guess, it can still feel quite uncomfortable to have someone declare, “I know you feel disappointed you didn’t get the promotion.” Inaccurate proclamations make it worse yet by either associating you with feelings, thoughts, and intentions that you don’t actually have, as in “I know you were as bothered as I was,” or by ignoring the feelings, thoughts, and intentions that you do have, as in, “I know you weren’t trying to take all the credit.”

It is impossible for anyone else to know your inner feelings, thoughts, and intentions, and it is equally impossible for you to know for sure what someone else’s feelings, thoughts, and intentions are. Yet, we still declare the impossible when we say things like, “I know you didn’t mean to sound insulting.”

While it can be helpful to offer charitable assumptions by believing that another person’s intentions were good, you will manage your relationships more effectively if you acknowledge your assumptions by starting with, I assume, or I believe, or I guess like these examples:

  • “I assume it wasn’t your intention to disrespect me.”
  • “I believe your question was well-intended.”
  • “I’m guessing you want this as much as I do.”

As further evidence that “I know” is problematic, it can usually be found in sentences that contain the word “but”, as in, “I know you were only trying to be helpful, but I didn’t want or need anyone’s help.” The use of “but” usually minimizes the significance of the first part of the sentence and instead prioritizes the second part, as in, “I know you didn’t mean to be offensive, but I am going to report this to HR.” It’s almost like saying, “It doesn’t matter that you didn’t mean to be offensive, because I’m going to report this to HR.” So, the combination of “I know” and “but” really lay the foundation for miscommunication.

I assume you appreciate how much you have learned from this series ????, and I invite you to read previous entries here, and here. We will continue to highlight Words and Phrases that Transform Conversations on our blog.

Rick Buccheri
Director of Programs