“Criminey!” That has become my favorite expression. It seems to fit into any circumstance without being vulgar or off-putting. Ha! I finally used that weird hyphenated word “off-putting” so I can check that off my list of things to accomplish.
Words are tools, which can be sharp and dangerously painful or they can be used to express emotions that are difficult to place on a page. When my teenagers were little I encouraged them to always look for better words to use. When my daughter got into trouble for yelling at a kid on the playground, “Are you stupid or what?!” I made her come up with a better way to say that same thing in a more tactful way. I know—where did she hear that phrase in the first place? Our lovely neighbors who fought constantly were so nice to share that phrase and many other lovely explicatives.
My point is that the gift of being tactful with words is an art form which must be cultivated and developed. One of my favorite movies which gives a perfect demonstration of this is Wild America. In this movie the smart college girls essentially tell off this one young man for putting his younger brother in danger. It wasn’t as much what they said but how they said it. The young man stood there for a few moments for their words to sink in and then felt ashamed. The college girls smiled and walked away.
In a work environment this comes in handy. It works even better if the person you said something to has to go look up a word so that they’d fully understand what you said. This is great because by the time they have done that you have cooled off so that when they come up to you to defend themselves you have already tactfully prepared some new way of dealing with their attitude. Most will never come to defend themselves because you have already shown them you can out-talk them.
Even though I may have mastered this gift of being verbally tactful I have found that writing a tactful response is a bit more difficult. How many of you have typed out a scathing retort and emailed it back and then the next day wish you could retrieve it and delete it? Many of you, I am sure. Another problem is trying to use sarcasm, which in an email can come off as downright bitchy and snotty, which was not your intent at all. I have a tried and true guideline which helps me on this. If you find yourself emotional when you read something, write your response as a draft, look at it the next day, and check it out to make sure you weren’t over-reacting or come across as snotty. Nothing good usually comes from any writing which is based in anger.
We have all read something online which made us search for the correct response besides the original “WTF” reaction. I myself will admit I have posted things I may have regretted later—not WHAT I said but HOW I said it. Once I even told a woman that was angry about the comments she was receiving that if she didn’t want anyone’s honest opinion then she should open her own forum and simply state in its rules that people were only allowed to agree with her there as it was “her forum.” While I was tactful I also was honest. There are some people that really aren’t looking for honesty at all. They simply want some people to nod and agree with them.
How many of us have read a blog or article and wondered, “What were they thinking,” when that person posted that? How many of us have replied to a post and then later started seeing some rather nasty comments that followed and then ultimately that cyber stalker begins to follow you into other forums? It is scary and can be intimidating. Some people do not realize that a post or comment is an opportunity to voice an opinion and rarely is the actual tossing down of the gauntlet for someone to decide who is right and who is wrong. The very nature of a post is to bring about intelligent conversation and dialogue.
Communicating on the Internet is interesting. I am taking law classes online and some of my fellow students are in countries which strongly regulate opinions. They are free to say things on the Internet that they would never be free to say in their own front yard. Because of this I think I look at what people write a bit differently. One never knows what circumstances have brought about someone’s opinion and attacking it without knowing that is simply a waste of time and effort. I guess that what I learned most in that law class was that law is interpreted by each individual based upon their own experiences and culture. Appreciating those differences of opinion can often bring us understanding that we otherwise would never have realized.
In writing the “pregnant pause” is of course a huge and valuable skill to assimilate. Giving yourself “pause” to consider before reacting in a huge component of tactful writing. I often ask myself before I post a comment, “What would be gained by what I have just said?” If I find myself merely nodding and agreeing all the time it feels like I have become that brown-nose that never wants to upset anyone. There are enough “yes men” in the world. I don’t want to be that nor do I want to be the person with something contrary to always say.
I had a conversation with my teenagers the other day which was explaining the difference between adults comparing ideas to adults arguing about a topic. The significant difference in the two is that comparing ideas does not make one person right and everyone else wrong. It is the brainstorming session which enriches our lives instead of the combative argument which nobody really wins. My teenagers were going to have to learn that now I am not so much a dictator to them but a voice of opinion and experience. Cultivating a way to disagree with someone without being hostile is a valuable tool. Unfortunately it is a tool many adults have not learned and mastered.
I am a very honest person and if someone asks for raw honesty I will give it in the most tactful way possible, however when that slim opportunity demands brutal honesty I will share it without any other motives but to be helpful. It is my hope that those who may misunderstand my motives will have saved a grain of salt to apply in copious amounts. The times when you find yourself reading a post and have that knee-jerk reaction of “WTF” I hope that you use that pregnant pause to your benefit. Those that wish to be groomed into cyber stalkers should look for another target, because from me all you will get is the word, “Criminey.” That word comes in handy!