I’ve developed a problem with the phrase “know what I mean”, know what I mean? I’m hearing it a lot lately.
Particularly over the phone, and often quite early into a conversation.
Given we’ve only just started talking, it rarely seems clear how I would know what they mean.
Otherwise I wouldn’t be asking them.
And when I hear it said so early – as in, ‘yeah, I’d love to help but I can’t because (fill in the blank, ie. that’s not how I roll), know what I mean?’ – I’m thinking they mean something a little different from what they say they mean.
I think they’re getting on the front foot by laying down the rules as to how this conversation is going to go, which is nowhere unless it suits them.
A time-honoured technique aimed at establishing one-way consensus built around the idea that I mustn’t yet know what they mean because I’ve asked them a question, but if they say ‘know what I mean’ enough times in reply, I will.
Know what I mean?
Not quite passive aggressive.
More co-operative unco-operative, because lord knows they’d like to help but … know what I mean?
When I cop an early “know what I mean?” I go out of my way to indicate I have no idea what they mean.
Because clearly we’ve engaged in a collective quest for each of us to know what the other means.
Because one of us keeps asking the other if they know what they mean, and the other keeps telling them they don’t.
It doesn’t achieve much, but it in the spirit of clearing up confusion it only seems fair to point out one’s confusion.
To the co-operative unco-operative, this can seem a bit like throwing down the gauntlet, which it isn’t.
But it may be mistaken for persistence.
Lucky the co-operative unco-operative generally doesn’t care if you know what they mean.
In repeating it enough, history has taught them that you will either come to know what they mean, or leave them alone.
Which is the same thing and amounts to a productive outcome for them.
Faced with this impasse, you have a couple of options, depending on how much time you have to faff around.
You might ask them again just why it is they can’t do what you’re asking, because it’s seems pretty straightforward.
And then point by point, you may well be able to reveal to them just how possible it is to do what you’re asking, if they so choose.
Of course, this risks triggering an unfamiliar reflex known as ‘being helpful’.
This is usually resisted wholeheartedly on the “you don’t seem to understand me” grounds of “that’s not what I mean”.
By this stage things can get a little uncomfortable.
Effectively a face-off has occurred, underpinned by the notion “you’ve got to be kidding”.
Luckily this usually happens over the phone from a distance, dispelling the outright indignation facial cues of disbelief, mock groaning and an urgent need to maybe grab someone by the throat would generate in person.
Ultimately, decorum tells us we have to take people on face value.
Which is why it’s so convenient to some people if they’re not face to face.
Otherwise making something so simple, sound so impossible, wouldn’t be possible, know what I mean?