Words from my childhood. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”. Remember that? It is still about a nine on my memory meter, right up there with “Don’t do as I do, do as I say”. How many times did you hear that growing up? Yeah, me too.
Anyone that has walked a few miles in this life knows that there are a lot of people that either didn’t hear those phrases or weren’t paying attention. I have been on the receiving end of more then a few, how should I say this, “less then civil” remarks over the years, and admittedly, have on occasion, responded in kind. But as good as throwing out a zinger feels at the moment, there is always one constant. It hurts.
I can’t say I remember anything in particular that was said to me by for instance, a high school teacher. But I can remember a remark that was thrown my way by my first grade teacher. Verbatim. They just don’t go away. My Mom used to say “consider the source”. In many cases, she was right. Where they came from said a lot more about the comment then where they were going.
I never studied psychology, so I don’t pretend to have the answer to why people frequently try to belittle others. I suspect to some it is an esteem issue, while others use it as a defensive mechanism and still others aren’t wise enough to realize how their words are received. Whatever the reason, the result is the same.
The shame of it is, although we may not always be able to say something nice, we can always say something nicely. I am reminded of the old joke about the officer that had to tell one of his recruits that his father had died. So he lined up all of his men and said “Everyone who’s father is still alive, take one step forward. Not you Quinn”.
I worked in a Customer Service environment for many years in a national call taking center. Needless to say, our company was constantly being judged by the voice on the end of the phone. As a manager, all the irate calls ended up on my phone and I will have to say, in the majority of the cases, my customer rep had been right, but what they said and how they said it was flawed.
I am a firm believer that it is not too difficult to think of something nice to say. If you can’t, perhaps you aren’t thinking hard enough. Of course, there are also those times when the best comment is no comment at all. Sometimes, a knowing smile is all the response that is necessary. I had a co worker make a critical comment to me one day in a meeting. I just looked at him and gave him a little smile. As we exited the meeting, he caught me by the arm and said “What was that supposed to mean”? I said “If you can’t figure it out, nothing I can say will help you”. And you know what? That felt good too.