I was sitting in my school’s Intervarsity meeting last week and while listening to the speaker, she said something that really caught my attention; the phrase “if you know me…” It’s the phrase that describes one’s personality while also assigning a subjective and phantom-like citation that is entirely dependent on the listener’s interpretation. But what is the effect of using this phrase? Why not just describe yourself as whatever you want?
Think about it for a second. If I were giving a speech and I wanted the audience to know a little about my personality and who I am, I could phrase things in one of two ways. I could say, “I have a dry sense of humor,” and it would be a factual statement, an admission of personality. But when I say, “If you know me, you’ll know I have a dry sense of humor,” then the dynamic completely shifts. First of all, it implies that if the listener doesn’t have that opinion or knowledge of the speaker, then the audience doesn’t know the speaker. If the audience does know it, it makes them feel included and more personable with the speaker. In a way, it divides the audience into those who do know the speaker and those who don’t.
Secondly, the phrase leaves an invitation to know the speaker. It implies that if an audience member chooses to stick around with the speaker, then they’ll discover it to be true. I know when I hear the phrase, I start fact checking the person. I think of all the interactions I’ve had with that person to decide if what they say is true, and if it’s not, then I conclude I do not know the speaker very well. But it does leave the door open for me to pursue further knowledge of the speaker.
It also carries with it a notion of secrecy, like only the inner circle can know anything about the speaker or whatever the trait is isn’t something that is noticed on first interaction. I’ve never heard someone attach the phrase to something obvious like “I’m a man” or “I’m blonde.” What purpose would that serve? “If you know me, you’ll know I’m a man?” It doesn’t do anything. It’s used to address a personality trait that isn’t super obvious or a little known fact. “If you know me, you’ll know I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” is one I’ve used some derivative of in my blog before. I could also say, “If you know me, I’m a very honest person.” Honesty isn’t something you can look at a person and see. I can’t look at a stranger and say, “Oh wow, that’s an honest guy.”
Most of all, though, it adds credibility in a way. When I hear this phrase, I assume that there are others who know the person saying it who can back it up. When I say the phrase, I expect that people who know me would agree with the statement. But it doesn’t directly include this. There’s nothing in the phrase that says “other people can back me up on this,” but it’s implied, isn’t it? It’s kind of a way of citing all your friends, family, and close friends without naming them. When I don’t fall into the category of knowing whether the speaker is telling the truth, I get the sense that there are a lot of people who would agree, but I don’t know who they are. It’s another way of saying “just trust me, it’s true.”
So why then do we use this phrase? I have been paying a lot of attention recently to the words I use and the slang I use that seem so obvious to me. What is the desired effect of using this phrase? I think it’s kind of a way to brag about yourself while not directly attributing the praise to yourself. Whenever I say something about myself directly, the implication is that it’s ironclad. “I have a dry sense of humor” is a lot more absolute than the “if you know me” version. When “if you know me” is said, it says that the self-perception is partially based on feedback from others. I tend to speak more directly to people that I’m familiar with because the “if you know me” is already a given. When speaking to a large group mixed with people who do and don’t know the speaker, it kind of appeals to both audiences. The “dos” feel included, like they can back up the speaker, and the “don’ts” feel invested, like the speaker is opening themselves up to be known and seeking to know them.
Overall, I think it’s a pretty useful but slightly lazy phrase. It has its times and uses, but it can be overused. You shouldn’t use it to tell someone you’re friendly, honest, or some other trait, you should just demonstrate it. Frequently people can discover your personality within a few minutes of listening to you, maybe even a few seconds. It just becomes redundant for a lively speaker to say, “If you know me, you’ll know I’m a pretty happy person.” I believe it should really only be used to announce an unknown fact (which can be personality related). For example, “If you know me, you’ll know I’ve struggled with depression for years” or “If you know me, you’ll know I cannot stand turkeys.” On a typical day, you won’t be able to demonstrate your history with depression or fear of turkeys to the audience, so this is a good way to introduce those facts (assuming they’re relevant).
Now that you have a better understanding of this phrase, pay more attention to how you use it. I can almost guarantee that when you become aware of little things like why you use the phrases and words you do you’ll be able to communicate better. Besides, if you know me, you’ll know I can’t end one of these things without some kind of closing statement. So go speak better you crazy buffoons! Does that count?