Monday, May 07, 2007

It Should Go Without Saying

It's a familiar phrase that's usually used in a somewhat contradictory manner. Here's a hypothetical:

"It should go without saying that she's one of the most brilliant, ground-breaking, critically and commercially successful authors of our time."

But it doesn't go unsaid. You said it, anyway - largely, I'm guessing, for the sake of flattering the person being introduced. Plus, this informs the unlikely few who weren't familiar with the person, beforehand.

I think that's what this usually comes down to: accommodating the unlikely or the uninformed.

Or maybe these sayers of that which should go unsaid have been burned in the past:
"I think our workflow system has gaps that we could address with a few quick and simple procedural changes."

"What? Are you saying that the rest of us are so stupid that we couldn't set up a good system or identify its flaws? So, you're basically saying we're useless - that we're bad people - no good for the company, our families, or ourselves?!"
Okay. No one verbally responds that way, but that's what often goes on inside their heads. Whether its due to their own deep-seated personal insecurities or professional shortcomings, many people react to suggestions and criticism assaults on their right to exist and an indictment of their worth as human-beings.

Because of this, time gets wasted on explanations and disclaimers that "should go without saying:"

"I think our workflow system has gaps that we could address with a few quick and simple procedural changes... Now, I'm not saying that the boss or you guys did a bad job setting up our current system. In fact, I'm sure it aligned with our needs and the time-constraints of the time. Because of your skills and hard work, we've accomplished so much over the years. Now, with your help, we can execute a system that will allow each of us to achieve even more for this company and for ourselves."

Oh my goodness.

Why, oh why, can't we grown folks just say things to each other in the simplest way, without having to worry about so many unjustified* assumptions and people leaping to conclusions?
"Wow. You look really nice, today!"
"What, I look like shit every other day?!"

"We shouldn't have gone into Iraq."
"Why do you hate freedom/America?"

"Hi. I just want a fade and a trim, but please don't cut any lower/higher than here."
"What are you saying, that I don't know how to do my job? I went to this hair care school and have this much experience, blah blah blah blah blah..."
Folks know I'm good for trying to "read between the lines," but even I don't think people should have to say:
"You look great today, which is not a statement in favor of or against any physical aesthetic you've had in the past or that you may exhibit in the future."

"I'm against the war, but I'm support the troops and don't want America reduced to the plaything of ideological extremists."

"Here's how I'd like my hair done, but my preferences are in no way meant to tread upon your lofty credentials or many years of experience in your field."
Sometimes it really should go without saying, if only we, as listeners, would just let it go.

* - because, y'know, sometimes there are valid reasons to be offended or feel attacked


Liz said...

I like this post. Not that your other posts are bad or anything... ;)

We do this kind of stuff because our identities and self worth are so wrapped up in the work we do. I think there just needs to be a better balance. At most places, if someone's performance is regularly valued, if they are involved in decision making processes, and if improvements are an ongoing conversation, then it's no big deal to hear that something needs to change. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen as much as it should.

West said...

I hear you.

I guess that applies in personal and professional settings.

Angie said...

Good post, Crazy Man!

B. Good said...

"Wow. You look really nice, today!"
"What, I look like shit every other day?!"

Guilty as charged!

Noah Brand said...

My father taught me that when you're going to criticize someone, you open with a compliment. See, when you say something a person doesn't want to hear, they decide they don't like what you have to say, and they stop listening. When you say something they DO want to hear, they think "I like this guy's thinking, I bet he's got some great ideas." Then you can get them to listen.

So you phrase it as "America's military is the finest in the world, and I think it's a crime that they're being wasted on a pointless war cooked up by a bunch of Washington crooks." You say "I love what you've done with my hair in the past, but today I'm looking for a style that's right between here and here... think you can pull that off for me?"