How to Respond to ‘You Really Seem to Know What You’re Talking About’

Kelley Cornish, Head of US Diversity and Inclusion, TD Bank, advises on how to respond when someone tells you “you really seem to know what you’re talking about.”

By Alana Winns and Christian Carew

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2 comments


  • I’ve had several different versions of this: When I worked for the feds, I got a lot of white guys passing by my office (we were basically being hired en mass so everyone was new) doing this sort of shocked, rubberneck thing (imagine a cartoon character walking by a cubicle, shocked by whom he sees sitting there, his body keeps walking, but his head and neck are stock still). I thought it was hilarious and I do enjoy poking the bear (white people are actually quite easy to “mess with” through their racism and preconceived notions). They’d come in my office, uninvited, and pepper me with questions. One white guy who apparently took a particular interest in me because how on earth could I be doing the same job as he (I got a lot of that from the other ones, too), asked me after a meeting if I had understood what had been discussed. I looked him dead in the eye and said very clearly, why, yes, I had and if there was anything he wanted me to explain to him I would be happy to do so (huge smile). Not too long after he told me he knew why I had been hired. Wide-eyed innocence: Really? Why? Because you’re really smart and good at your job. Why, thank you I responded, a small laugh, and a huge smile. At that moment, he totally got me. That bozo was later fired. I guess (no, I know) I could do my job way better! Bottom-line, I was one of very few females and the only black female. I actually got along with all those guys and earned their not so grudging respect. The trick was to never appear intimidated, to stand your ground professionally and politely and to have all your ducks in a row at. all. times. I was able to appear humble and polite and absolutely confident all at the same time. Know your stuff. Admit when you don’t because they are trying to trap you.

    Working elsewhere, I got, again, the same shocked response, including from people who had taught me while I was attending community college and couldn’t believe that I now possessed a masters’ degree. People who were shocked that I held the position I did. People who were shocked that I could write a business letter in standard business English.

    One time in another venue, I had discussed at length hearing loss and the acquisition of language and the critical learning period about a teen client, the white parent (male) wanted to know how I knew all that (I’ve also gotten inquires about how I knew – how to calculate my hourly salary from the yearly, how to calculate the distance of thunder versus lighting and other things people learn in kindergarten). A little taken aback (no matter how many times this happens, you are because you’re just being you and then some white person just slaps you right back to reality), I recovered, squinted my eyes, cocked my head, and drawled, um, I read and research a lot (?). In other words, where do *you* think people obtain knowledge? Through study, training, curiosity, exploration, research, reading? That’s where I gain knowledge. Is there a special place that white people gain knowledge that’s different than other people? Maybe we get knowledge through some alien, unknown, foreign, weird, inhuman process? Basically, I make sure all of that is in my voice and posture, while looking innocent, smiling, and being polite as hell.

    I also get the phone voice thing, too. People reveal a lot when they think you’re one of them. I had a sister-in-law, who had this little “white girl” voice. She worked for a cable company. Back then cable was new. She was working in Florida. My brother told me white people would call her all the time, “to get that n****r channel off their TV’s (the BET channel).

    Hilarious and so, so sad. Imagine going around and not being able to realize that other people are pretty much just like you and being shocked all. the. time. when you meet black and brown people who are not the stereotypes that you were lead to believe! You miss out on so much in life and some really good friendships. In my life, I just wait for the other person to finally conclude I’m human and that we actually have much in common.

  • Nina Guercio

    I really love this video advice. Not everyone is a practitioner of “promoting” oneself, and I’m learning it’s ok to do so in ways that don’t feel like I’m bragging about myself. This advice allows us to turn what feels uncomfortable into a very empowering opportunity.

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