By Daniel Dunaief
Look, we’re out of practice. It’s totally normal. We’ve spent so much time talking to kids who don’t listen, to pets who need a break from us and to computers that seem determined to sabotage our efforts to work from home that we may have lost a step or two in our social graces.
Slowly, like hermit crabs emerging from their shells, we are stepping out into the phased world, in which we can do this, but can’t do that and where we are seeing more three-dimensional people and not those two-dimensional figures who flash across all manner of electronic devices.
As a quick refresher, I’d like to offer a reminder of the things that should give us pause if we’re about to share them with others who may be a bit sensitive.
The following should serve as verbal red flags:
Not that I’m looking, but … if whatever comes next is something you shouldn’t be staring at, such as anatomical areas, private letters or emails, you shouldn’t finish the sentence.
Don’t take this the wrong way … well, if a part of you recognizes that what you’re about to say could be problematic or painful for the listener, consider saying it in a different way or not saying it at all.
Obviously … this can go in one of two directions. A truly obvious statement doesn’t need sharing. A statement you think is obvious but isn’t so clear to the listener becomes a way to offend that person, who may have a reflexive defensive response.
I’m no expert, but … we all often talk about subjects in which we have no expertise. We might be anywhere from slightly informed to ill informed. We should be able to share what we think we might know, but we may not want to challenge someone who designs buildings on the best way to put together a LEGO house.
This is such a minor point that I hesitate to bring it up … maybe instead of hesitating, you should just not. Correcting the day of the week on a story about an event that occurred over 10 years ago seems unnecessary and distracting.
I don’t want to take the wind out of your sails … you’re probably about to do what you say you’re not doing, so own it and say you disagree completely or let me continue to sail off into my happy sunset.
What do I know, but … This expression suggests that you are about to do one of two things. You’re likely preparing to deliver serious criticism, but want to couch it by suggesting that it might not be based on anything other than a disdain for you, your wardrobe choices, your career path, or anything in between. Alternatively, you’re about to say something that seems supportive — “what do I know, but your idea for submersible homes seems compelling to me” — but that really suggests that you’re hiding behind false humility. If someone follows your advice, the “what do I know” expression is your way of dodging any responsibility for their mistakes.
I don’t mean to offend you, but … this is one of my favorites. It suggests that you know you are about to be offensive and that you don’t mean it, but you just can’t help it. You’re about to share something that may dress up as helpful, like a Trojan horse, perhaps, but that will likely cause damage.
Holding our tongues can be incredibly difficult, especially when we’d like to tell the person in front of us how we want to make a minor, but likely obvious point that we hope doesn’t take the wind out of their sails or offend them. We also don’t know what we’re talking about because we’re not experts. Still, it was sort of good to see them.