Yeah, I know....
September 15, 2013 8:44 AM   Subscribe

When someone tells you some fact or story, is it rude to tell someone you already knew that?

I know some people who tend to respond to things in conversation with, "Yeah I already know that," or some variant of that. It kind of rubs me the wrong way for some reason.

I think this is also similar to when you're telling a story you've told someone before, and they go "Yeah, you already told me that." In both of these cases, I think part of the reason it can be rude is that it comes off as dismissive.

Being on the other side where someone is telling me something I already know, sometimes I'm not sure whether to say I already know that, or to just let it go. Maybe there's a better way of saying these things? What is the appropriate response when someone is telling you something you're already familiar with?
posted by side effect to Human Relations (21 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I think the non-rude way is to add something to the conversation. "Oh, yes, I read about that! And giraffes have high blood pressure too!"
posted by Native in Exile at 8:48 AM on September 15, 2013 [11 favorites]

"OMG, I heard about that! This is my opinion on it _______"


"I already knew that. You bore me utterly"

are different conversational approaches. I think you've described the latter.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:48 AM on September 15, 2013 [14 favorites]

My dad likes to retell the same stories and everyone in the family responds in a kind-hearted way, like "oh yes, I remember the last time you told me this story, it's so funny!" It works for him.
posted by joan_holloway at 8:49 AM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Depends on what the fact or story is, who is telling it to you, why they're telling it, and how long it takes to tell it.

Sometimes people just like telling a particular story. If it doesn't take too long and it's not excruciatingly boring, just go with it in the name of cementing social bonds and all that. If you want to remind them that they've told you the story before, you can smile and say "I love the way you tell that story!" or something similar.

If their reason for telling you this fact is purely to help you out with new info that you may not have, then it's reasonable to let them know, politely, that you've already got that information.

Contributing another related fact or story's a good way to build a conversation.
posted by asperity at 8:49 AM on September 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

It really depends on the context. If it's a friend or someone who I know well, if they are telling me the thing I already know, I'll do the "oh yes I think you were telling me about that" and then try to ask some kind of follow up question or add something of my own (e.g. Native in Exile's suggestion above).

If it's someone I barely know who is flaunting their ego at me, I'll be more dismissive or aggressive as a way of establishing my own status (e.g. "Oh, yes, the author of that study was my advisor in University and we actually had done the pilot together.")

I would suggest that if you feel like you are on the receiving end of these "yeah, I know" type comments, that there may be ways to start the conversation yourself that prevent these types of responses in the first place. I am a person who tends to re-tell stories, and/or has a bad memory of who I've told them to and I try to be sensitive to that. I'll often preface a story with "did I already tell you my story of the snakes in Utah?" or "you must have seen/did you see that study on the giraffes with high blood pressure...".
posted by gubenuj at 8:58 AM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you're telling a story you told someone before then I think saying 'I remember you telling me' and if possible asking for more information 'and how did it turn out?' is fine. Saying 'Yes, you said' can come across as a bit dismissive.

If someone is giving you information you already know then saying 'oh yes, I read that/ x told me' is fine I think.

The way to approach it is to try to not shut down the conversation. If you're saying that you've heard it there's no real way for the conversation to continue (without awkwardness and grasping around for a new topic). If you're moving the conversation on a bit by talking about a different aspect of it then that's OK.
posted by Laura_J at 8:59 AM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Relationships are more than simple communication. There's often a power dynamic in which one person is informing the other who may feel stupid for needing to be informed (or for being seen as someone who doesn't know what presumably everyone else already knows.) Similarly the informer may be showing off and feels put down being told his scoop is yesterday's news. Being sensitive to what is actually taking place in these situations will allow you to navigate through them without anyone getting upset.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:00 AM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

It depends on the situation, the history, the person doing the telling, and the way you tell them.

If its a one-time or rare thing, or if its in a group setting where the others might not know or the teller might be embarrassed, I think it's best to say nothing. Who cares if you already know, or if this person already told you once before? Be polite and bear it. If its a situation where you feel that you absolutely must respond, the most polite way would be something like, "oh yea, I remember you told me about this before. This is the thing where . . ."

People who feel the need to blurt out, "I already know that" or "you told that story before" simply don't have very highly developed genteel conversational skills. The only situation where I can imagine something like that being even remotely acceptable in social intercourse would be if the other party had a history of being an overbearing conversational lecturer, or of talking down to someone as though they have no knowledge.

That said, and this has come up in multiple threads here, it does seem to be the case that "wait your turn" conversationalists are often offended by "hold the floor" conversationalists who really mean no harm, and have been known to do things like this thinking that they are responding in kind to what they perceive as very impolite conversational behavior. It strikes me that people who might repeat stories or offer information that may likely be known are probably "hold the floor" types.
posted by slkinsey at 9:03 AM on September 15, 2013

There are subtle ways to communicate that you know a story already. A nod of understanding in the right way, or saying softly, "oh, right, I head about that." Usually, whoever is telling the story will say something like, "Oh, have you heard this already/have I told you already?" At which point the polite thing to say is (if you have time), "That's okay, I don't mind discussing it again" (if you think it's possible that the person is going to add a new take or twist on things), or to say, "I have, and I find it totally interesting, too. What did you think the best part of that story was?" Sometimes people enjoy the process of telling a story, and I don't mind accommodating that occasionally.

A possible take on all of this, though, is that sometimes it's way okay to let stories be repeated, because they are awesome, or you like the person who is retelling the story. Hearing it through a different perspective is often fine, and being patient and listening can not only be enjoyable, but allows you to deepen relationships with other people over a knowing connection or a good laugh. Not all of life is about knowledge retention. I have a group of friends in which we know we are retelling the same story to each other again, everyone has heard it, but it's something that allows us to re-experience something that is communally appreciated (and often has us holding our stomachs in laughter).
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:06 AM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

When someone tells you some fact or story, is it rude to tell someone you already knew that?

Well, like most things, there is a rude way to do it and a not rude way to do it. If you are polite and friendly and gentle, it is not rude, but if you are short and dismissive and disdainful, it can be very rude. It's not so much what you say, but how you say it.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:08 AM on September 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

I know some people who tend to respond to things in conversation with, "Yeah I already know that," or some variant of that. It kind of rubs me the wrong way for some reason.

I think this is also similar to when you're telling a story you've told someone before, and they go "Yeah, you already told me that." In both of these cases, I think part of the reason it can be rude is that it comes off as dismissive.

Yes, but first of all, they are different, even though they are both dismissive. The first is dismissive because the listener is saying that s/he is superior to the teller. It always feels awful when somebody does that to me (when I tell somebody something I discovered). It feels like, "There's nothing you can tell me because I know more than you."

The second is dismissive too, but it's dismissive for, in my opinion, a more "deserved" reason - that is, you are pissed off with the teller because s/he doesn't make enough note of your previous conversations to remember that s/he already told you that. So in this case the *listener* feels dismissed and is retaliating by pointing out the dismissal of the previous encounters, as if the listener isn't important enough have his conversations with the teller remembered and respected.

So in the second case you have to think about it: are the previous tellings not being remembered because the teller is such a narcissist that s/he isn't paying attention to the fact that s/he's already told the story? or is there e.g. brain damage involved? in which case s/he can be forgiven.

So, to sum up:

First Case: Dismissing Somebody Who Thinks They're Informing You of Something New, in Total Ignorance That You Already Know It:

Action: Don't do it, because it is rude (unless you want to be rude)

Second Case: Dismissing Somebody Who Thinks They're Telling You Something For the First Time When, In Fact, They're Repeating Themselves:


1: Screen for neurological involvement;


(a) If there is no neurological involvement, dismiss in polite way (unless you want to be rude)

(b) If there is neurological involvement, do not dismiss, because it is rude (unless you want to be rude)
posted by DMelanogaster at 9:08 AM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have had a website for a long time, at which I post all sorts of stuff. Of late, a few people send me links they think I might enjoy or use. Alas, in most case4s, I am familiar with those links, have already come across them. I note that I already posted it; that I will post it; that it is interesting--meaning I will not post it...But always I thank the person who sends it. usually I do tell them I am aware of that particular link.
posted by Postroad at 9:25 AM on September 15, 2013

I think it's going more than a bit overboard to suggest that anyone who tells you a story or fact they told you before is either a narcissistic jerk for not infallibly recalling the minutiae of every conversation they have ever had with you, or brain-damaged.
posted by slkinsey at 9:29 AM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I like the adage that says that when you're deciding whether to say something, ask yourself whether it is true, whether it is helpful, and whether it is kind. If what you're proposing to say isn't at least two out of those three, you probably shouldn't say it.

Telling someone that you already know the fun fact they just shared is definitely true, but it's not really either helpful or kind. So there's no real reason to say that. If a friend is constantly boring you by telling the same stories over and over again, it might possibly be both true and helpful to point that out in order to avoid disrupting the friendship because you're constantly annoyed. And there's probably even a way to say it that is kind. But "yeah, you already told me that one," isn't it.
posted by decathecting at 9:39 AM on September 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Another angle is if you perceive that someone is "mansplaining" something to you; under such circumstances, I think it is totally acceptable (if not required) to point out (as politely as you can muster) that you already know/understand X.


[Mainsplainer] "The world is round, but many people think it is flat. We know the earth is round because blah, blah, blah...."

[You, interjecting] "Yes, I've known that the earth is round for some time now. But now that we know the earth is round, I wonder if blah, blah, blah...."

As for friends/family who aren't mansplaining but are re-telling a story you've already heard, if it is short, then listen again and laugh (groan, grimace, whatever) in the appropriate places. If it is a long story though, and there isn't anyone else around (for whom the story might be new), then I agree with others to say something along the lines of "oh wait, I think you mentioned something about that before. Was that the time when the bear ate your banana??"
posted by Halo in reverse at 10:24 AM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

It is pretty rude, though between friends this might be just an excuse for good-natured ball busting.

I try to go with "hmm I think I heard something about that--tell me more!"
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:49 PM on September 15, 2013

Oceanjesse is the first to mention that the affect of your response makes a significant difference. A flat statement of "I know that." is just dismissive, which is what you may want with an egomaniac or with mansplaining.

Replying in an enthusiastic tone of voice, "I've heard that before, isn't it interesting!" or something of that ilk, lets the person know you've heard it before, but you enjoy sharing it. You can then go on to further the discussion, or diplomatically change it.

Friends put up with friends retelling stories, to a certain extent. If it's a good story, and you haven't heard it 30 times, Halo's response is good.

When you get old enough, all the stories are new again.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:10 PM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sometimes people tell me jokes that they learned from me (I'm thinking of times I can actually say, "Yes, I told that to you last Thursday.") In those cases, which are like what you describe in nature, I wait, smiling, for them to tell the joke, laugh at the punchline, and say something like, "Heh, it's even funnier when you tell it!"

They're sometimes a bit embarassed, but I deliver it with sincerity, and they never seem put-off.

In this particular case, I'd respond, "Yes, I heard that, too; isn't that interesting?", as others have said upstream.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:22 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

How to respond when ...

1. Someone tells you something you already know:
"Yes, I'd heard that too. Isn't that amazing? Did you know ... Do you you think it's true in every case? ... I wondered if it applied to ... etc." IOW, make it a conversation.

2. When someone tells you the same story the 2nd time:
"Yeah, you told me that. I was thinking about it and ... "

3. When someone says "Yeah, you told me that.":
"Oh, I forgot."

4. When someone says "I already knew that."
Be thankful they didn't say "I already knew that, and furthermore it's not just that but more to the point, it's this..."

You're a sensitive person, and not everyone is. Conversation can be hard, but it's a skill worth having. There's no perfect answer to any of these. But you're right to think about them.
posted by LonnieK at 6:47 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Without saying the dreaded "m" word, consider the you might be being rude to have received the rude reply. Retelling someone a story 15 times can be rude as it wastes their time. Lecturing someone about something they already know (and/or don't care about and possibly might have already let you know how little they care about something) is also rude. In both of the above cases, you're talking "at" someone instead of talking "with" someone. In the latter case, if it's something someone already knows (especially if it's basic knowledge in the field that they work, or they spend a lot of time in), it can be received as insulting; I.E. you think so little of their knowledge that they need remedial teaching.

If it's one person that you receive the rude "I already knew that"'s from, then it might just be that person is rude. If you receive these dismissive replies from a lot of people, you might want to search inward to see if there might be something bringing on the rudeness.
posted by nobeagle at 7:39 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

nobeagle: If it's one person that you receive the rude "I already knew that"'s from, then it might just be that person is rude. If you receive these dismissive replies from a lot of people, you might want to search inward to see if there might be something bringing on the rudeness.

I've heard this excellent rule stated as "If you meet four assholes over the course of your day, the asshole is you."
posted by Rock Steady at 8:55 AM on September 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

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