“I Know”

Perhaps one of the most infuriating responses, especially when repeated day after day by students, subordinates, or someone hired to do a job, is “I know.” When a contractor tells a subcontractor that a line of bricks has been mortared in place crookedly, and the mason says, “I know,” the initial response of any contractor is probably, “If you know that, why in hell didn’t you fix it?” So, most likely is the reaction of a supervisor or employer when an employee responds to a correction with those same words.

My wife the professor, who teaches classical voice at the university, must hear that phrase a dozen times a day, because, almost uniformly, when she tells a student that the student has mispronounced a word [and no, in most classical singing, you don’t get to choose your pronunciation; there is just one correct pronunciation], failed to sing in rhythm, or sung off the pitch, the student almost invariably replies, “I know.”

Do people use that phrase because they don’t want to admit their ignorance? Don’t they understand that, if they admit that they know better, they’re really saying “I know I’m doing it wrong, but I didn’t want to put in the effort to do it right.”? Or that they don’t have the skill to do it right?

The bottom line is that if you “know” it, fix it… or ask for help fixing it.

4 thoughts on ““I Know””

  1. Wine Guy says:

    I find that most people, when they say this, mean “Well, NOW I know…”

    1. That’s fine the first time. It’s not fine the second, third, fourth, fifth… for the same mistake, error, or omission.

      1. D Archerd says:

        As Ben Franklin observed, “To err is human, to forgive divine, but to persist is abominable.”

  2. Jim S says:

    “I know” all too often is shorthand for “I don’t care, I don’t care about your opinion or information, and I don’t care about the job/task/issue at hand, I did what I did and that’s all I’m doing, whether you like it or not, I just don’t care.”

    Context can matter, though… “I know” said in a tone of exasperation or exhaustion when you’ve informed someone of an error that they’ve honestly been trying to correct can be a sign that it’s just time to back off (if it’s not a safety issue, or there’s not another form of immediacy!) and let the student or person catch their breath. Or even to reassess the teaching/coaching model. “I know” in a tone of resignation and surrender can be a sign of just that — surrender and giving up. “I know I just failed the test/screwed up/wasted an hour of my and your time…” cut short to two words.

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