“Foot in Mouth” syndrome and the “Curse of Considerate Clarification”

Aside

I’ve been told a few times that I make people think exactly what I didn’t want them to think. Let me explain. For some reason, in addition to putting my foot in my mouth by accident, I manage to make others suspicious of hidden agendas in my words because of the very things I say.

Here’s a stunning example of “Foot in Mouth” syndrome:

I was at the art opening of a gifted photographer last night. We had been students together in graduate school. During our visit, I recalled that he had recently been married. I was preparing to ask how things were going when I recalled a previous experience with the same artist. Not three years earlier I asked, “How’s Suzzy?” after having met his girlfriend weeks before. He awkwardly replied, “We’re not together any more.” UG! The artist–being a quiet man–had nothing left to say, and I–dumbfounded–had nothing to say either. The next three years were filled with many uncomfortable visits in which I could never establish a good speaking rapport with this nice man.

So, here I am preparing to ask after his new wife, thinking, Oh dear, what if they didn’t get married or they’re divorced or something? I didn’t want to have the awkward silence again. All these thoughts were spinning in my mind as I said, “So, are you still married?”  Still?!  STILL!!!!???? Not, “How’s your wife?” or “How is it being a newlywed?” or “I heard you got hitched. How’d it go?”  Nope. STILL. I can’t believe myself sometimes. Perhaps I should strike the word from my vocabulary. Luckily he chuckled and said they had been married just a few months, and I backed out of it by joking I had no faith in marriage apparently. My husband comforted me later by saying it was nothing, but there it was. My foot. My mouth. Not what I had hoped to eat that night. I only had room for cereal when I got home after that feast.

And then there is the “Curse of Considerate Clarification,” or the 3-C problem as I call it:

I think I learned from my mother to be very mindful of my words–how were they making others feel, how do they sound to others? I have become very sensitive to peoples’ expressions, responses and actions in reply to my words, which often sends me in a day-long analysis of where I went wrong or where they misunderstood. This is very exhausting.  Changing the way you think is hard, but I’m trying to change the habit. Especially since my consideration for others has back-fired in my face.

Like last night. It didn’t backfire, but nearly so. Jake and I went out to dinner at a great Mexican-Irish restaurant (yup–and it’s an awesome pairing). The five-year-old joint is just a half block down the street from the New York favorite Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, which had just opened. Naturally the barbecue restaurant was packed every day. And we were benefiting, as here we were eating at this very popular place without waiting for a table. Surprised I asked the manager who seated us, “So, have you noticed your business dropping due to the new place down the street?” Immediately, as I glanced at the numerous empty tables I thought Oh crap, she might think that I think they are losing business, or that they are too slow for a Saturday! Quick! Tell her that’s not what you meant! So I said, “Oh! I hope you didn’t think I meant you guys would be losing business to them. I’m sure you won’t be affected–it being such a different market.” The manager smiled, agreed by citing how busy they had been thirty minutes before, and then went to seat another couple. I was relieved! It is this kind of situation that so many times has prompted the reply: “Well, I didn’t think you meant that originally, but now that you brought it up that’s exactly what I’m going to think.” Go figure!

What I’ve learned is that I need to trust that others will ask me to clarify what I meant if they took it negatively. I should hope they will consider my character and intent. I should also remember to pause before I speak to think of what I want to say.

But finally, if I feel like I need to clarify, I can avoid the 3-C problem by restating. Instead of: “I hope I didn’t make you think…” I can say: “Let me clarify. What I meant to say was…” or “That didn’t sound right, let me rephrase that.” By rephrasing what I say I remove the possibility that the listener will suspect me of ill-intent or veiled malice. I certainly won’t wind up prompting them to doubt my intentions! And perhaps with any luck I will spare myself a little exhaustive worry!

 

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Here’s your Hypocrite Certificate

There is one thing I can’t stand: people who complain over and over about things and then do nothing about it!

I have this problem sometimes too, but I acknowledge my hypocrisy so I can feel somehow slightly forgiven because I at least know I do it. Not the best excuse–I’m a work in progress–but I am trying. And usually I try to DO things to alleviate my frustrations by altering my behavior.

But man! People at work today. I just couldn’t handle it. It was a weird day in general, but the obvious hypocrisy of two particular women today was so silly and ridiculous that I was left speechless (quite a task)!

This afternoon, my facilities manager Carmen (name changed) was discussing how every workplace seems to deal with the same problem: people are slobs. They leave dirty dishes in the sink for days; they are too lazy to pick up a paper towel they dropped on the floor, or wipe off their crumbs from the break room table. They make disgusting messes in the bathroom and refuse to clean it up. The list goes on.

So here I am talking about this with Carmen and these two other ladies are also very passionately protesting such behavior: “Slobs!” “How inconsiderate.” “Savages!” After a few minutes of their complains (with which I heartily participated), I tried to interject my positive solution: “Well, I guess at some point though we need to move past our frustration and decide to model the proper behavior so other people feel pressured to do the same….” Before I could finish my thought, the two ladies were forcefully shaking their heads. Nope. I don’t think so! their faces said. They wouldn’t do that. “If everyone else breaks the rules, so can we,” they countered.

And that, my friends, is why so many people never find actual solutions to their problems.

Being nice can give you free stuff

I’ve been gone for a while. Sorry about that! I have no really great excuse. I moved to a new apartment awhile ago and I have been nesting. That’s it. Just making art, and nesting. Working on the next Be Nice. piece actually, which is in its final stages of completion. I hope it will make you laugh.

Anyways, in that spirit, I have a game I think you should play. It’s free, easy, and sometimes you get cool rewards, like free dinner, discounts, or free dessert. Usually you just get a warm fuzzy feeling, so I would let that be your motivation if you choose to play it. People can sniff out others who are looking for a freebie handout, so best to keep your motivations pure. Anyhow, it’s a one-player game, though you can involve your friends. My friend Katie and I like to compete for who can “out-nice” the other in pretty much any situation. Seriously, we do. It’s a blast. But this game is one that you can do whenever, wherever you like, with whomever you choose. And it’s great. It’s called the “Be awesome to customer service professionals until they are smiling, laughing, and happy” game. Not the best name–I’ll have to work on it. But you get the idea.

The rules are simple:
1. Be yourself, be friendly, and be genuine.
2. You cannot know the person–they must be a stranger.
3. Don’t plan it, just do it at the drop of a dime, when the opportunity comes up.
4. Pay attention to the game’s effect on the other person and how awesome it makes you feel (trust me, this game makes it feel great to be you, which is pretty cool).

It is pretty unusual for the “customer” to be friendlier or nicer than the worker, but that is what makes this game so effective. It catches people off guard. And when you do that, you have a better chance of really having a positive impact. Not to mention, when you cheer up that worker, they’ll pay that forward to future customers and friends. Here’s my most recent example of how this can be done:

Last night I was watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix. I’m on a big kick and I’m re-watching ALL the old episodes while I sew. I was excited because my husband was off in his studio working, so I had the computer all to myself and could watch my show (he’s not such a fan) for the entire evening. Just me and some tear-jerking drama. I had fully immersed myself in the beginning of season 6. I was invested. Then, out of nowhere, Netflix had a server error. NOOOOOOO! I checked my internet, my browser. Nothing fixed it. How could this happen?! This was my Grey’s night! In a last-ditch effort, I called the customer service number on the screen and after three tries, I got in touch with a customer service rep. At this point I think many people would be pretty miffed. But how could I be? The guy on the other end of the line sounded super friendly, animated, and totally helpful. And I later learned it was his last call of the day, and he was still courteous. I love this kind of Rep.

Naturally I started to chat the guy up: “Where am I calling you?” “Portland, Oregon,” he replied.  “Oh! I am so jealous! What an awesome place to be I hear!…” From there we just rattled away at each other, and it was great. He was just getting off work, and I had the pleasure of sending him into his evening smiling and laughing. Being cheerful–even though I had a reason to be grumpy–had managed to make his night end on a positive note, and it made my little video viewing inconvenience not even matter!

I have plenty of examples like that; a credit card rep in India who I had more in common than I knew–AND who told me some sweet places to go if I ever get a chance to go to his country; an electric company rep originally from NYC who was putting herself through school while working full-time–she was a blast to talk with. An ice cream shop clerk who laughed herself red when I told her about growing up on a farm as a child, chasing giant cattle into their pen with a stick. It can make your evening, it can change your mood. Have fun!

Who hates wrong numbers?

I do. I get calls for a dentist office every day–even weekends. It was aggravating at first, especially when I found out the internet (yes, the entire internet) even had their number wrong. Rather than changing my number, I take comfort in the fact that I am gone usually when the calls occur. But on the occassion that I get a wrong number, I make sure I am courteous, nice, and even helpful. I actually give the caller the correct number! My hope is that it makes that person’s day a little brighter. After all, if they are calling the dentist, there probably aren’t very enjoyable experiences in their future.

 

© Be Nice. Creator and Be Nice. (somethingsonice.wordpress.com), 2008-2009.