Friday, August 01, 2014

How to be mean (or nice)

I don’t believe there are very many truly mean people in the world, certainly not in professional situations where long-term reputations matter. But just because somebody doesn’t have mean intent doesn’t imply they aren’t behaving in a mean way. Consider the following different sentences:

  • Did you lose the keys again?
  • Did you lose the keys?
  • The keys are missing. Any idea where they are?
  • I can’t find the keys.

All of these statements map onto the same reaction we’d like to get from the listener: a sense that something is wrong with the keys, and a plea for some help rectifying the situation. But it’s the way things are said that makes a difference; the statements at the top of the list are mean ways of saying things that could have been said using a phrase at the lower end of the list.

So I’d like to suggest that people try to say things the nice way. Don’t be mean.