The four short words on the screen made my eyes hurt: "Look, I get it."

Is there a more annoying phrase on the planet? Yet, some people use it constantly--not realizing that it's an obvious sign of very low emotional intelligence.

Of all things, it was a pitch to try to get me to subscribe to an email newsletter that got me thinking about this phrase. (I write a daily email newsletter myself, so I'm quick to pay attention to how other people market their newsletters.) 

I'll paraphrase to avoid embarrassing this person, but the pitch began, basically: "Look, I get it. Your email inbox is already full."

No, I thought to myself, you don't "get it." It's not that my email inbox is full; it's that I don't think your newsletter looks particularly interesting. 

But then, struck by how annoyed I was, I searched for the phrase in my inbox, and across the Internet. It was like when you think about buying a new car, and you suddenly notice dozens or hundreds of those cars on the road.

Once I saw paid attention to "Look, I get it," I couldn't stop seeing it.

Again, paraphrased, but just from my own email inbox:

  • Look, I get it. You want to get started with NFTs, but you don't know how where to begin.
  • Look, I get it. You want bigger returns, but you're afraid of the risk.
  • Look, I get it. You probably think climate change is the biggest challenge of our time.
  • Look, I get it. America puts entrepreneurs on a pedestal and doesn't care about the ordinary worker.
  • Look, I get it. You want the best for your kids. But you don't always know what's right.

Over and over and over, each example getting more grating and less effective than the one before it.

Why? Let's break it down, one word at a time, to show why "look, I get it" might just be the biggest verbal indication of low emotional intelligence that there is.

Word no. 1: "Look."

We start with a rude interjection. No matter what has come before this word, it either stops the conversation or else it serves notice: Look, you're not going to be allowed to speak. Instead, someone else will speak for you--putting their spin on what you might have said. 

Word no. 2: "I."

I use the word "I" all the time. You do, too. By my count, I'm up to about 17 instances in this article so far. However, emotionally intelligent people pay attention to how their words will sound to other people. The word "I" in this four-word phrase signifies that you're doing the opposite.

Word no. 3: "Get."

"Get" is used as a stand-in for "understand," here, but think of the connotations: a casual, shorthand, amorphous type of understanding. It's the shortest syllable you can use to suggest this thought, and it signifies only comprehension (maybe), not empathy or concern or respect.

Word no. 4: "It."

"It" does a lot of work in this phrase; it's a pronoun that doesn't even have a reference yet. I suppose we'll find out: "it" might mean "your objections," or "your concerns," or else, "why you don't want to buy my product." But, he or she who cannot articulate your feelings is probably less likely to understand them. 

What comes next...

As bad as "Look, I get it" is, however, what comes next reaches the heights of absurdity and pure lack of emotional intelligence.

Because, in almost all cases, "Look, I get it" is an antecedent for a straw man. It introduces a weak argument, formulated by someone who wants to overcome it, in a way that makes it a lot easier to defeat.

But--and this is important--it means that the entire premise of "Look, I get it," is almost always inherently untrue. Even worse for our purposes, it's woefully ineffective:

Look, I get it. Allow me now to argue against a tangential, deficient, weak objection that would be a lot easier for me to defeat than your real objection (which I might not even understand).

It might make the person saying it feel better for a fleeting moment, but it's unlikely to help them reach their goals.

This isn't about just being nice

Life is full of little annoyances and verbal tics. Few of them merit a full examination. But when it comes to "Look, I get it," I think there are two reasons to pay attention:

  • First, if you find yourself using it, it's a red flag that you're formulating a weaker argument than you think you are. It also means that you're sending a signal that you lack confidence in what you have to say, since you're putting it up against a straw man.
  • Second, when you see and hear others use it, it's a red flag that they either have low emotional intelligence, or else that they don't have any stronger strategy. Either way, that tells you there might be opportunities for you to leverage their weaknesses in any further negotiation.

By the way, what's the simple alternative to "look, I get it?" Instead of claiming that you "get it," ask smart questions: 

  • "Can you help me understand how this looks to you?" 
  • "Would it be too much to ask what stops you from taking advantage of this offer?"
  • Or maybe even better, more open-ended: "Tell me what you're thinking."

As far as I'm concerned, this is why we study emotional intelligence. It's why even those people who question whether emotional intelligence really exists as a measurable entity can benefit from learning some of the techniques people use to grow stronger.

And, as I write in my free e-book, 9 Smart Habits of People With Very High Emotional Intelligence, emotional intelligence is not just about developing empathy or being nice to people.

Those can be nice side-effects, but the main goal is something much more focused: leveraging emotions -- yours and other people's -- to improve the odds that you'll achieve your goals, both in business and in life.