“No, I don’t know”

Linguistics, human equations & fun.

The air was crisp and cool, sun was shining. I was on my morning commute. The radio station playing in my car was set the night before on my commute home.  Last night it was rock & R&B. Morning was the realm of, well, morning radio.  I have no specific memories of what the host was talking about, only that every sentence he ended with by saying “you know”.   At this point in time, I did not notice the proliferation of “you know”.  I did, however change the station for the same reason many people tune out these shows; Forced laughter, call in contests, traffic reports,  nothing I needed, so I changed the channel to National Public Radio (NPR).

NPR you say, this guy must be a liberal.  No.  My role is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of a software company.  I’m an entrepreneur and a capitalist.  Closer to a libertarian than anything else. That is important to state;  NPR gets a bad wrap sometimes.  Anyone heard of Bill Gates? aka Founder of Microsoft, backer of NPR via the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.  Enough on that.

So  turn the channel to NPR, usually I’ll give it a minute.  Good topic, I listen, boring topic… I put in a CD.  It was a good topic, so I start listening.  Can’t remember what is was about.  The guest was brilliant. However, every time he finished a sentence he said, “you know” at the end.  This time I noticed it.  I felt trapped in my car, wanting to hear what this guest was saying, but feeling every statement he completed with “you know” was completely diminished.   I was compelled to call in.

A very nice woman welcomed me and asked what I would like to talk about.  I felt guilty and petty, but I was compelled by a strange rage.

“I’m feel really strange about calling in about this”, I said

“I am a long time listener”  (everyone says that).  “and I feel I’ve got to say something.  This guest you have on is saying “you know” at the end of every sentence.   It sounds horrible.  Can someone slip him a note or something.”

Uncomfortable silence.

The woman must have been listening to the live program.  At first I could tell she thought I was a crackpot.  ( I felt I came off as sincere).  She could tell I felt uneasy.   “Hold on a minute” she said.

A few seconds later, she came back and said “you’re right, I’ll see if we can do something”

I continued to listen to the program.  The “you knows” continued until the half hour break.  Every one felt like a stab at me.  When the break was over, a transformation had happened.  The guest WAS very intelligent and probably nervous being on the radio.  Most likely I had nothing to do with it, he might have just calmed down.   The “you knows”  had stopped.

Pleased with myself.  Yes, internally, I took full credit for the commentators transformation.

Into the office I go.  Broadlook Technologies, my baby.

Late in the morning the “you know” monster reared it’s head again.  Normally, I would not even have noticed.  One of my star sales reps was having a 4-5 minute conversation with a prospective client.   In the few minutes I listened in (we have an open floor sales environment),  I heard 5-6 “you knows”.   He was saying everything right, handling objections with skill, leading the prospect into a solution sell,  actively listening and responding.   However, he was killing his passion and confidence, as perceived by any listener, with interjecting “you know” into his conversation.

That is when I realized what “you know” is.   Lack of confidence.  Seeking approval.  Sometimes just a filler. In his case, I believe it was just a filler.  This guys rules the crowd at conference.  No lack of confidence and not the type to seek approval.  Somehow, it grew on him.  My guy, my friend, my star.

Has  “you know”  become the “um” of the 21st century?

I am guilty too.  This is not a “you say it and I don’t” kind of thing.  I am a “you know” offender.  Now, it is few and far between and I usually catch myself, but it happens.   And damn it, it is everyone’s fault.  We are our brothers keeper when it comes to the evolution of language.   Do you remember saying “google it” 5 years ago?

Remember the old movie, “Network”?  I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore?”

I am mad about this.  It really bothers me.  Why?   I am not an extremely polished linguist.  I’ve got an average vocabulary for someone in my position.   I’m not concerned that “ain’t” is now in the dictionary.  I may be a snob when it comes to my mac powerbook, but changing the English language, no, I’m not a puritan.  So why does it bother me?

Know thyself.

One simple reason.  I live with passion.  Passion about my beliefs,  passion about what I create and sell.  When someone ends or begins their statements with “you know”, it is reducing everything they said before.  Try the test of injecting “you know” into a famous speech.

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.  You know.”

“I have not yet begun to fight. You know.”

If you are in sales,  try injecting “you know” into your sales presentation.

“Our recruiting software is used by over 3500 client in 22 countries, you know”     ouch!

So where does this leave me.  Frustrated?  Hell no.  Let me give everyone that wants to sell to me a tip.  I love being sold to.  I love buying stuff.  I love being brought through the sales process by a person of excellence that is giving me a solution based on my needs.

I am putting the world on notice:  If you talk to me and say “you know?”, I will assume that you are asking me a question.  If you ask me a question, I am not going to stand idly by.  I am going to answer:

“No, I don’t know”

Will I be mean? No.  Will I do it until they get the hint? Yes.  Will they be insulted?  I do not know.  My basic tenet is that there is a spark of intelligence in all people.  There is no need for this in our language.  Let’s bring “um” back.   It was kinder and it did not pose a question.

This plague can be eradicated.  Doing nothing spreads it.

Join me in just saying, “No, I don’t know”.

I need your help,  for if I’m the only one saying it then people may be thinking I am saying:

“I, Do nat o”

2 thoughts on ““No, I don’t know””

  1. Great post. I am one of those sticklers with the use of language in the workplace as well, and agree with you that the space-filler sounds – the “you knows” and “ums”, etc. – are bringing down the quality of business communications.

    However, I’m also a stickler for proper word usage. Consider a sentence from your post: “One of my star sales reps was having a 4-5 minute conversation with a *perspective* client.” You meant *prospective*, correct?

    Cool blog. I’ll be back!

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