I recently overheard a conversation and one person said to the other, “I know” followed by a lengthy sharing of their experience. I cringed and wondered how it was received. I imagine the person hearing it was nodding their head in agreement, acting like they were hanging on every word, all while saying to themselves, “My friend you have no idea.”

On the surface, the words, I know, are not offensive. We use it frequently to express empathetic with another person’s situation, which is what the conversation I overheard was about. Saying, “I know, I experienced the same thing…” and telling our story is supposed to be comforting for them, knowing it’s a shared experience. I’ve done it a thousand times and sadly, I’ve missed the mark far more often than I’ll ever know. We judge the impact of our words by our intent, yet the person hearing it judges it by how it hits them.

The words, I know, are powerful and can shut down a conversation, turn people off or keep people from working together quicker than any two words in the English language.

In my career, I’ve listened to countless candidates in an interview say, “I know what this department/organization needs, because I…” They want to be seen as an expert, to be appreciated for their knowledge. They want to help, but their words make the people they are interviewing with for the job feel stupid and less valuable. Guess what, they are rarely the one who gets the job.

I’ve also experienced conversations of leaders from organizations of different sizes, larger and smaller. Sometimes I was associated with the larger organization, and sometimes the smaller. Invariably somewhere during the exchange of ideas and issues, a leader from the larger organization will use those words, I know, and then go on to offer a solution to something they may not have been asked to solve. I find it interesting that those who work in larger organizations always assume they know more than those in smaller organizations. I don’t recall ever hearing, I know, expressed from a leader in a smaller organization.

The reality is the person saying, I know, may indeed know best. They may have the answer. But never forget,

“If you have the answer and no one will listen to you, then you don’t really have the answer.”

If we truly want to help someone or build a better relationship, let’s throw out the words, I know. When we use, I know, as the first words out of our mouth, it makes me or you feel good, smart, and helpful, but it won’t help achieve your goal.

Instead become inquisitive, seeking first to learn. Get them to share about what they are feeling, their problem or challenge.

Please tell me what you are feeling?

Tell me about your problem and what you’ve tried so far?

What would be most helpful for you?

Asking them shows that you care about them. If you care, they’ll be more open to seeking help from you, which leads to questions from them.

Have you experienced this before? How did you deal with it?

Do you have ideas on what we should consider?

That leaves you with an open door to help, to share what you know.

Stop your loud boasting; silence your proud words. For the Lord is a God who knows, and he judges all that people do. 1 Samuel 2:3 (GNT)

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