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The wrong two words will cost you dearly. The right two words will build relationships that last.
I used to go to this restaurant in Cary, North Carolina every weekend. They had lox, eggs, and onions for breakfast. Disgusting to you, I know, but I love it. It’s a byproduct of a 1970s childhood in Miami. For what it’s worth, I also appreciate pickles on the table at breakfast. I’m sure you eat some weird stuff as well–don’t tease me or we’ll discuss your affinity for imported British breakfast cereal or Greek yogurt (which is gross).
I was in Horowitz’s Deli one Saturday morning and finished my breakfast. When I went up to the register to pay, Neil Horowitz, the owner asked about my breakfast.
“It was great,” I said. “But the waitress is so terrible.” I was hesitant to criticize the staff, but she’d been my waitress many times and was truly awful every single time. He asked, so I answered. Maybe I’d had too much coffee?
His response? “I know.”
What? He knows? That’s it? That’s all he’s going to say?
Needless to say, I’m still reflecting on his unsatisfactory response years later, long after he went out of business and I moved away.
“I Know” is always the wrong thing to say
Fast forward to last week.
I suggested something to someone (who will remain nameless).
My suggestion involved an opportunity to get some cash back, under a fairly obscure provision of some credit card trip interruption coverage provisions.
“You might be able to get a refund for that,” I mentioned.
“I know,” was the response.
The conversation started with my trying to be helpful, and ended with me liking the person a little less.
I say “I know” all the time
Let’s face facts: I’m an exceedingly smart person (apparently saying that is acceptable now–#fakenews).
When people give me feedback, comments, criticisms, suggestions, or input, I often say “I know.”
- Sometimes I do know.
- Sometimes I don’t know but I don’t want to look stupid.
- Sometimes I hate them and don’t want to give them any credit for a good idea.
How does my response work out for me?
I’ll tell you this with certainty: when I respond with “I know,” smiles fade, eyes look away, and goodwill dissipates.
I am a walking social interaction experiment. I’m out here learning on your behalf. The dumb things I say to people? Research. I only say awkward, insulting, dumb things in the name of science. I’m here in the field, doing the dirty work for you.
Seriously, mostly I learn the wrong things to say by saying them. I now know that “I know” is the wrong thing to say, because over and over again, I’ve watched the reaction I get.
When I respond with “I know,” my relationship with the other person takes a nosedive. We interact less frequently, I get less feedback, and I get very few comments from that person going forward (except behind my back).
“I know” is rarely a useful response.
My knee jerk “I know” response is shortsighted. It kills feedback. Feedback is good. In fact, getting feedback–when others will use their time to help you do better–is a gift that’s incredibly hard to get when you want it. Try asking someone to read the rough draft of your book, and you’ll quickly see what I mean.
What should you say in response to input?
All input is useful. You need to know what others are thinking. But many of us only see it that way when we like the feedback.
“Thank you,” we say, when we’re pleased with the input, because we truly are grateful.
Other times feedback is annoying.
“You know you’re supposed to loosen the lug nuts BEFORE you jack up the car,” said the driver who slowed down to comment on my tire changing efforts.
Maybe his feedback wasn’t intended to make me feel stupid, but it did, so I shot back with “I know” (I’ll spare you what I muttered under my breath).
I’ll never know whether Mr. Lug Nuts intended to make me feel stupid or was simply trying to help.
But the response, regardless of my perception of the intent of the feedback provider, should be the same.
“Thank you” is always the preferred response. That’s true even when saying it is excruciatingly painful.