Thursday, May 5, 2011

When They Are Boring, Crude, or Just So Wrong…

You probably don’t suffer fools gladly, but sometimes you know you must. 

Maybe it’s because the fool in question is your boss, so your job is on the line.  Or perhaps at a party given by your neighbor, you have an annoying dinner partner who you’d love to tell off, but can’t without offending your host.  Maybe you might want to show compassion to a senile old aunt who makes oddly racist remarks.  Awkward situations like these are waiting for us everywhere.

So if your goal is to stay calm and poised, I have a very good tip for you- one which I use quite frequently myself.

At a friend’s wedding many years ago, well into Open Bar time, an elderly man with cocktail in hand introduced himself to me as the bride’s “favorite uncle Tiny.“ (He was a very big man.) “You know why I’m the favorite uncle, don’t you?” he asked with a wink, and gave me a conspiratorial elbow shot in the ribs.  Leaning further forward and treating me to the full bouquet of his finely aged cocktail breath, he informed me at great length about how he was the real financial benefactor of this wedding, because his brother, poor soul, never had the success that he himself had earned.

I was stunned and horribly uncomfortable.  How could I respond?  I thought it was wrong of him to tell a perfect stranger something that would deeply embarrass the bride, but I also didn’t want to offend him. I could feel the sweat running down my arms, ruining my dress and forcing me to spend the rest of the night with my arms down at my sides.

Later that night, my mom (who was at the wedding, and had also been cornered by Uncle Tiny) reminded me of what one of her friends always said in response to someone who was boring or too controversial for her taste: “I hear you.”

These three little words – I hear you - will keep you compassionate with the elderly aunt, poised when you have no comeback (or can’t use the one you’d like to use), and will keep your integrity intact when talking to the politically incorrect, because all you are doing is hearing them, not agreeing with them.  I hear you is the neutral Switzerland of responses, and I can tell you from experience that it comes in very handy.

Good luck with your goal!

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