Do you say "I think..." or "I know..."?

This tweet raises for me a huge issue in architecture practice communication:

April Wensel is right that people communicate differently, and as architecture practice is more and more a team effort, communicating in ways that allow for collaboration and problem solving is more important. 

I always approach projects, both in the office and on-site, as collaboration among a group of people who all have contributions to make. 

I have experience working with minor starchitect-type people, however, who consider everyone else at the table to be there in service to their idea, and have no interest in entertaining suggestions, even when the suggestion could save time and money for everyone. 

This is sadly why architects are so often labeled prima donnas, and this is why I want to see more and more women take on the discipline.  Did anyone see the Billie Tsien discussion with RAMStern and Libeskind at 92Y recently? The boys are both making grand pronouncements and denigrating others and playing to the crowd - being starchitects. Billie was having a discussion: acknowledging others, making space for difference of opinion, allowing moments of silence as she actually pondered how to state her point, never grandstanding, and thinking how the discussion could be valuable and successful to everyone in the room - being an architect. (She did however make one killer joke, with one word. Flawless.)

Lots more to say on this but the point for me is: architecture *is* a collaborative process, and I am happy that there seems to be a trend in seeing teams get credit for bringing a complex situation into reality, rather than focus on one star. 

Feb 18, 18 8:31 am

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a related tweet :

Personally, I like to say ‘we know,” in reference to shared information that the other person(s) should be using or already aware of. Otherwise I try to say “what’s not clear to me is...,” but if I’m trying to get them to own their work (for good and bad) I’ll resort to “you/yours.”

Feb 18, 18 9:23 am

I like using the 'we' pronoun a lot too. I'm not sure it makes a difference always, especially with contractors, but I'm hoping we can all get on the same side of the table and feel like a team by using the word we...


Of course, if I'm talking to a building inspector, it's all "I'm not clear on this, and I didn't understand that, and could you show me where my interpretation of the code was flawed here?" Anything to get that dang permit set through


i know that you're being so reactive to a tweet raises for me a huge issue in architecture practice communication. just do what you want. say what you want.

Feb 18, 18 3:32 pm

A related item to "I think...":  I teach a lot of college kids, and at least half of them begin these kinds of sentences-- even those related to facts-- with "I feel like...."

"I feel like it's hot outside."

"I feel like Barack Obama was the previous president."

"I feel like six plus one equals seven."

When did this become core curriculum in grade-school English?  Was it the same time that trophies got awarded to kids who managed to match their socks?  And (how) can we stop it?

Feb 18, 18 3:58 pm

I make it a rule to tell them they can't use "I feel" or "it's just." The former internalizes the discussion and we can't have a reasonable conversation and the latter dismisses the tough/learning parts.


Nice. I usually say, 'don't tell me what you feel, tell me what you think.'


In grad school it changes to "That's interesting because..." or "I think that's interesting..." We had to outlaw the word 'interesting'.


When our clients say "that's interesting" it's usually a way of saying " I f**king hate it. '


“I feel” seems to come from the notion that everything is opinion and all opinions are equally valid.


^ Yes, and the notion inculcated by that generation's teachers spouting the hive mind of primary education's "best practices."


I've definitely caught myself... or should I say I feel like I've caught myself, using I feel to particular people (including my wife) who respond way better when they "hear" what I have to say as a component of my belief system and/or emotional construct, rather than a logical construct. I'd rather be viewed as someone who is trying to think through a problem, and if we disagree, it may be because I haven't yet grasped or been given all the information yet.


"that's interesting" is totally a clients way of saying, nope, I liked my idea, go back to that!


Apart from that, individually, we communicate differently, it also depends on who we're actually talking to, really. 

Feb 18, 18 4:01 pm

Thanks Donna for this topic. This is a good discussion as professionals. The words one uses communicates something to our client. If you want to convey impression of confidence you have to use 'confident' language. There is a public expectation that when we bill ourselves as "professionals" that we are suppose to "know everything" and "mastered architecture". Albeit, it is actually quite unrealistic because there is absolutely so much to possibly learn. Even they don't know everything about their own occupations. 

There seems to be a thing that to be persuasive in instilling a feeling of confidence, you have to be more confident sounding in your words and the choice of words... matters. 

I rather not use "I think" and it isn't good practice to say "I know" unless you actually know. I rather say, "I'll need to check on it and get back with you." or something similar. If you don't know but have a strong gut feeling, be honest and be forthright. "I'll need to verify and get back to you on that" or similar language. Sometimes it is because some things are nuance. Building codes and regulations will undergo periodic change and those are kinds of issues that it is never good practice to convey to clients the code requirements about something until you know for a fact what the current applicable requirements are. There is know way that you'll know with absolute certainty without going through the code checks and in-person dialogue with clients is NOT the time to do that because it takes too long. 

This isn't about women or men and is professionally important for all. I can understand that women may be pressured to talk with more authoritative language when the clients are men (especially misogynistic men) because that ego and talking weak and loaded with "uncertainty" will just add fuel to their ego and give ammo for them to degrade you and disregard you. 

There are men (and women) that want simple yes and no answers but the world is not always so black & white. Sometimes we can't instantly know the answer with a yes or no. We have professional judgment but to do that requires checking and verifying. It takes thinking things out. Architecture isn't for idiots who can't think. 

Feb 18, 18 4:10 pm


Feb 18, 18 9:35 pm

That's it!


naw what im sayin

What’s interesting (pauses for effect), is that I think (pauses again) this reflects a shift in thinking over decades. In the 80’s  “I think” would be acceptable and emotive descriptions were in the mix as well, but I feel ( ) they were not as compelling as analytical or philosophical arguments.

Now with all this fancy autocadding and modeling, “I know” has become the standard, because all of the comlplex calculations have been run reducing the matter to one answer- that or surely someone else on the internet has done the work already. 

Feb 19, 18 12:37 am

This. See my full comment below.


All the technology glitz disguises the fact that it still "garbage in, garbage out". It's still just a machine that does calculations really fast.


I think I say I know when I think I know, I think.

Feb 19, 18 3:41 am

During my time in school, the relevant term was "kind of," as in ".. the top floor is kind of cantilevered over the sidewalk..." Which really drove me crazy. 

I tend to use "I think" because it makes me cringe when I hear uninformed, definitive statements from others, and I don't want to be one who does that. However my employers are, whether I like it or not, in the business of selling confidence as part of their overall services. In that light, I've seen a couple of my co-workers be told by the bosses that we should always be speaking in confident terms, ie "I know..." 

Non-academic architecture practices tend to be in the business of making money. The business world punishes those who are less than 500% confident. It's no surprise that the language of business is used in architectural practice.  

Feb 19, 18 4:36 am

Yes! I have observed that people who express everything in falsely definitive terms tend to do really well in corporate firms.

Marc's comment at 12:37 AM hits the target for me. When CAD drawings first became common in offices a co-worker of mine, who had far more experience than I as an intern did, pointed out that the office was struggling to make sure the drawings we did in CAD were actually right as opposed to *looking* right. The shift to computer-drawn meant that we all looked at those hard, unvarying, certain lines on the paper *as if* they were immutable. In some cases this led to mistakes, such as a screw that could only be tightened from inside a pipe, simply because the drawing LOOKED so accurate.

Quoting you, Marc: Now with all this fancy autocadding and modeling, “I know” has become the standard, because all of the complex calculations have been run reducing the matter to one answer- that or surely someone else on the internet has done the work already. As someone who is often on the fabrication and installation side of this kind of work (my husband's business) I can verify - aka "I KNOW" - that fairly frequently the fancy modeling input has a flaw and what is required to actually build the pretty thing is much more complicated than the flawless-appearing drawings reveal.

So when the designer says "I know that we need 523 pieces to make this pattern, I laid it out in the computer" but then the installer, who knows the material, says "Maximum material size is exceeded on 78 of those pieces so you actually need additional material and we have have to cut and join them" then you look like an idiot. It's safer to say "As far as I can figure, we need 523 tiles, but if you see a flaw in my thinking please let me know" because THEN you are working as a team.

Feb 19, 18 6:26 am

I feel like I kind of think I might know who you may be talking about here.


In working with historic buildings, I find that a collaborative process is absolutely essential.  We measure.  We draw as accurately as possible.  But our drawings often correct the slight bow in a wall or slope of a floor that has moved over time.  We take a good estimate of how many tile or how many linear feet something would be, but it's really up to the contractor (per specifications) to verify dimensions in field and fulfill the design intent.  We (meaning designers I work with) have to rely on the contractor to do their job accurately.  Sometimes this manifests in the CDs as adding notes regarding visual lines we would like aligned in lieu of true dimensions, or using percentages in lieu of hard numbers. (Ex: 'Repoint 50% brick joints - this area.')  If we run into an unforeseen condition in the field, we often ask contractors how they would approach something, what can logistically and realistically be done, and how much harder/more expensive/time consuming would it be if they did it our way.  

I've had contractors who see something in the documents and propose alternative detailing that frankly works better than what we designed, and is cheaper for the client.  And we found ourselves internally discussing how much we wanted to give on the detail (does it make sense, why would they choose something cheaper?) and purposely deciding to be more collaborative given the contractor's background and our relationship with them.  The good contractors like to collaborate with us as well and have invited us on future projects.  The not-so-helpful contractors aren't invited to closed bids to work with our clients.

Feb 19, 18 9:49 am

I'm dealing with exactly this issue in a historic building right now. I don't know how much the wall needs to be furred out to get all of the ceiling cladding to be full boards, because I don't know how much variance exists across the existing condition or how much play the ceiling boards will need to have to accommodate unevenness in the ceiling. SO I *can't* give an exact dimensions, I can only say "fur to fit, VIF, confirm with architect before installing" etc.


When I teach, I use the Socratic method during group discussions, and teach students to avoid saying "I think" "I feel" etc... But to simply state an opinion clearly and directly as related to the topic at hand. 

If everyone was taught this way and remembered to do this in professional practice, everything would be fine. However, I often find that I need to calibrate the intensity of my language with different project teams, so as not to offend or overwhelm more reserved people. 

I do try to set expectations on new projects and actually do pin ups and crits in a more academic way, even though it's a corporate office. Just this small change (pinning up work and inviting one or two outside people) can 'prime' the team (including senior people) to be more receptive to direct criticism, and to be more direct in their own criticism and analysis of the project.

Feb 19, 18 11:25 am

The difference between architects and doctors

“I think you have AIDS”

would be unacceptable. 

Feb 19, 18 11:47 am

As they said in The Godfather, it's nothing personal, just business.  If everybody could check their tender egos at the door once in a while, we might have better buildings and maybe even make a little money doing it.  

Feb 19, 18 12:56 pm

^ Forget better buildings... we might have a better world.


I always say “I’m pretty sure, but Let me think more about it and get back to you.”  If I don’t know or am unsure I simply say “I’m not really sure, but I will do some research and get back to you”.   People appreciate humble attitudes. They hate know it alls.  I am 1000x more comfortable without the burden of expectation that I have to know everything.  I try to break that myth early on by emphasizing processes and the evolution of a design through that process...often pointing out my flawed initial hypothesis and my eventual  discovery of the best solution as a result of iteration, investigation, and my time investment.  I am a master of my process not a dictionary.  

Feb 19, 18 1:25 pm
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I think (hah!) it comes down to confidence in your own knowledge of architecture. The more confident I've become, the more willing I am to listen to others. Because if they have a better idea, we get a better projects AND I've learned something for the future. And if they don't have a better idea, I'm confident enough in my knowledge to call them on it and say no. But if you don't really know what you're doing, other ideas are threatening - you don't understand them so you shut them down, and enter the prima donna architect. 

And that's why it's important to know your s**t.  

Feb 19, 18 3:53 pm

Well-said, spiketwig.


Is it necessary to say either? 

Instead of "I know that we need 523 pieces..." or "I think that we need 523 pieces..." how about "We need 523 pieces..."

Feb 19, 18 5:21 pm

there's a lot of arrogance in this profession - there always someone who thinks they are smarter than you and they try and second guess you in front of team mates at status meetings - therefore I always say I know to force the issue - otherwise they will think you are weak and push you off the team

Feb 19, 18 6:19 pm

And how's that working out for you? Fake it until you make it can only get you so far. I personally hate it when people say they know something when they actually don't.


still can't think of an example where you would say "i know" unless you're going to say "but" right after.

Feb 19, 18 9:19 pm

"I know a guy" when they claim something can't be done. "I know how we can solve XYZ issues - followed by sketches of said solutions". "I know what you're thinking" is the best one, if you actually get it right and can visualize/document it properly.


But I find myself using the "did you know (that) ...?" method way more frequently

Saying ‘but,” or using other conditionals/modifiers is fine. Being open to those helps to develop the process.


I miss the term "I've been playing with *insert drawing/concept here*" and what if we "???" like somehow as architects none of us know that you spent the last 3 days working on multiple schemes in plan, section, with sketchup models, etc and are only now showing a few sketches because we're still in schematics and don't want the project to look too "baked" and because even with the 3 days of work, there's still large areas/issues that need to be worked out and if we printed a hard-lined CAD/revit view of it, colleagues would tear it to shreds.

Feb 20, 18 10:01 am

Here here Donna!  I think all the time and like to present it that way, without making every exchange a competition of sorts.  Good architecture is all about collaboration, at the very least because you are building for everybody on some basic level.  

Better to take one's time and actually learn a skill patiently rather than "faking it till you make it!".  And even then, you say "I think" because you need to encourage others to chime in.  As Henry Hobson Richardson used to say, "It's not whether you come up with every great idea, what matters most is the ability to recognize an idea as great" (who ever comes up with it.)

Feb 20, 18 10:08 am

I've taken to drawing at least two totally whacky but terrible ideas as sketches when charretting as a team starts a new project, if only because they are softballs for criticism and get the conversation rolling. 

It's good to signal that you are thinking about projects deeply and process-based, but we still have to encourage young architects to be confident and state their opinion without qualifiers.

Feb 20, 18 10:26 am

True, that's how innovation often starts, with totally whack ideas or with people who are not held back with too much practical knowledge.


Black and white thinkers suck. Yay for shades of gray and all the colors too. Yay for self-awareness too, a trait that is long overdue for recognition in the workplace. Yay for responsiveness too. 

Feb 20, 18 10:47 am

I find that the least competent use "absolutely"or  "100%" all day and are the least collaborative.  The louder and faster someone talks is also a big indication for me.  I find it sad that the least experienced people often use the "our office always does it this way" or "I've always done it this way" without any critical thinking.

The more competent seem to use language along the lines of "I've seen it done this way and it does work, but maybe there is a better way to build this" or "here is one way that the problem can be solved logically, but there might be another that is more appropriate".

It is rather amazing that there are so many that lack self-awareness and humility in the profession.

Feb 21, 18 1:47 pm

Dunning-Kruger Effect

the peak of the chart is colloquially referred to as "Mount Stupid"


And then there's people who will agree with you and then forget they agreed with you a mere two seconds ago and revert to their old thought. Oh well. 

Feb 23, 18 11:26 pm

I always try to use E-Prime whenever possible. It leads to less arrogant, more accurate communication. 

Feb 24, 18 1:49 am

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