46 Comments
Feb 25Liked by Tom Pendergast

Interesting. As it happens I am almost always right, too! But I'm not touchy about it.

But marriage is all about compatibility, and luckily I married an equal asshole: if I say the dinner in delicious tonight, she cuts right in with: "So are you saying that last nights dinner wasn't up to my usual standards"?! Same with flowers and chocolates: like many tough Scottish women she regards peace offerings with waspish suspicion!

Her standard response to being found wrong on anything is to threaten to leave, which is pure bluff, but she cant resist saying it. I'd describe our relationship as lively and argumentative at times, but the rest of the time we are brilliant, and generally we give as good as we get. Take the rough with the smooth, eh?

We've been together for 36 years, so it must work, and its seldom dull. I would hate a dull marriage!

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Well, you’r wife sounds a little like mine, though Sara usually seeks to accommodate for a time before she pulls me up short. But she is equally convinced that she’s right about everything … she’s just more subtle about demonstrating it, thankfully. Like you guys, we’ve worked it out, but it definitely took some fireworks along the way.

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For five years I managed a QA team tasked with finding bugs in Microsoft's software (I used to note that unless you can get paid to find sand at the beach, you will not find an easier job). Daily, I was in meetings with alpha-dog coders who always felt they were the smartest guys in the room. Whenever anyone would say something I felt was wrong about an approach or a problem instead of saying the first thing to come into my head (which usually was some varient of can't you see how freekin dumb that is?) I would say my magic phrase which was "perhaps I'm confused." I would then get my potential antogonist to walk through their logic, explaining it to me like I'm stupid until either they saw the flaw in their logic or I found the flaw in mine. It sure made meetings go smoother than the confrontaional approach.

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Oh my, developers are the perfect target for “I’m confused,” aren’t they? I worked with that sort late in my career, but I don’t know that I consciously deployed that approach. Clearly, I should have.

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Er, I'm confused. 😁 You had to know SOMEONE would say that, so I thought it might as well be me. Seriously though, a very thoughtful and honest article. I don't have a particular phrase I use in such circumstances, but after my initial annoyance I make myself think of an alternative, more generous, explanation. That usually proves to be correct, but even if it isn't it's better for my own peace of mind to believe it to be so rather than react in the heat of the moment.

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Do you think Americans “like me” (that is, a little blunt and direct) need phrases like this more than Brits “like you” (stereotyping as more subtle)? Clearly, that discussion is too complex to settle in a comment section, but I do think cultural tendencies will feed into it.

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Not sure, Tom. In the past I'd have said more than likely, but these days there are seemingly loads of people in Britain who instantly and vociferously adopt the most negative view possible.

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I use the phrase “Help me understand…” when I realize I need to get clear on intent before I react. It’s a phrase that has to have the right tone or can be taken (and meant) as horribly condescending. But with the right intent (to truly understand the other’s intent), it’s incredibly powerful.

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yeah, I think “help me understand” plays some of the same function, but I don’t think I know how to deploy it without the condescension. There’s something really tricky about using any such phrases, which is that the moment they become widely used and known, they can start to feel like a cliche, and some people (myself included) will see through them or be suspicious of their potential for manipulation. Not to overly defend my chosen phrase, but the one benefit I find in using it is that it places the onus on me as the confused person, and in that way (potentially) shortcuts any defensiveness.

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I love your chosen phrase, and can see incredible value in that approach! And you’re absolutely right than any phrase overused becomes cliché. It all comes down to tone and a true intention of curiosity. It’s the intention of curiosity that’s the tricky bit, regardless of phrase—taking that beat to recognize you’re reacting to something (like you did with the text—taking the pause to recognize what’s happening) and then shifting the reaction from defensiveness to curiosity.

FWIW, my husband can’t use “Help me understand” —he can’t get the tone right. 😊

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I too like “help me understand” and sometimes “I’m confused.” But you just hit the nail on the head when you said you have to be thoughtful about how you employ these. If you already know that the person saying these things is a know-it-all, you can see right through phrases like this. If someone like this overuses “I’m confused,” I start to think of them as inauthentic. Mixing it up with “can you clarify something for me: _____” (you repeat what you thought you heard them say, and then ask a question about how you perceived what they said). Also, “I’m not sure I’m fully understanding you” or “I want to be sure I’m understanding you correctly.” It’s good to have a bunch of these in your arsenal, though they are all a version of “I’m confused.” And you’re right that all of them are better than just bulldozing right in like an asshole (I have been guilty of this more than anything in my life 🤦🏼‍♀️).

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I *wish* I had a safeword. If anything, I follow Nike's philosophy: Just Do It.

Relatively recently, when we were driving, some driver did something that pissed me off. I said to my wife (a little tongue in cheek), "You know, if everyone drove like me, the world would be a much better place." And she said, "You don't have any patience." She was right there. Patience is not high on my list of virtues. Then it dawned on me... "Hey," I said, "if everyone drove like me, I wouldn't *need* patience because they'd already be doing everything right!"

Check and mate.

Just because one is an asshole doesn't make one wrong... Still, I'll try out that "I'm confused" thing to see what happens!

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Oh graham, you sound just like me!!! Try it out though, even if it’s just on yourself, as a way of getting you to think twice before provoking an unnecessary fight.

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Feb 25Liked by Tom Pendergast

We really enjoyed that ! What’s the name of that counselor again ?!? 😎

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Feb 25·edited Feb 25Author

Glad you liked it. Chuck’s gone, I’m afraid, done in by a wife who couldn’t stand his passive-aggressive bullshit! (A joke, and I’ll acknowledge, in poor taste.)

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Feb 25Liked by Tom Pendergast

Bravo Tom, another fantastic life lesson shared. I have personally been afflicted with the same problem at times in my life, and although I never had a perfect solution like "I'm confused" I can say that variations of replies like that almost always expose that I was over-thinking and got what they were saying wrong, meaning it was never intended to be provocative nor a threat.

The sneakiest version of assholism that I'm aware of is when a few adult beverages have been consumed, and so I must still remain quite vigilant during those somewhat rare occasions. I will definitely make it a point to add your solution to my mental tool-kit, and greatly appreciate it!

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yeah, you can get real good at holding back and thinking before you speak when you're sober, but pop a beer and that restraint goes out the window. Cheers buddy; thanks for reading

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.. have to think about that - have been called ‘a know it all’ here n there - for sure .. but someone pointed out how different ‘knows a lot’ about certain matters really is.. & why I follow Exemplars

‘smartest guy in the room’ is a defining ‘character appraisal’ best avoided - even worse being described as ‘smartest guy in every room he’s ever been in’

fyi - your phenomena is what I call - ‘self installing a mental tool’ & easily done - once routine it’s in your mental tool box & can even be enhanced and/or variations developed & deployed as needed

For sure have often heard ‘I’m not sure I understand’ utilized - opening a path to discussion 🦎🏴‍☠️

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I like that phrase "self-installing a mental tool!" I think I'll use that sometime. You still have to learn how to use the tool, but at least you know you've got it.

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.. thanks Ted - think i adapted it from Edward de Bono - deploying ‘po’ as crucial tool re aspects of Problem Solving - Lateral Solutions’ - ‘po - letting time into the solution..

But I took more from him than that.. oh yes I have ! Not a quick thinker - had to create pre-fab responses that were non combative for use with disarming combative persons - once the ‘scenario began - i used the installed mental tool to ‘stretch it out - to where it could more easily ‘diffused .. more ‘manageable so to speak - for me

i has some good anecdotes re this & other ‘encounters - am actually grateful i ain’t ‘glib .. & besides .. ‘never won an argument my entire life.. n plumb stopped even tryin 🦎🏴‍☠️

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This is such a great post! Thanks for reposting! 💚

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Thanks Sue

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I love this and will be stealing it…I’m often confused in general, so the authenticity will be there :)

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Thanks Jenna. I'm always happy to hear how it works for others.

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Feb 25Liked by Tom Pendergast

I use it all the time. You "taught" me to use it and I swear it really does stop me from saying something I may later regret. But what I love most about this piece is for someone who had Assholism you took the time to understand it and work on it. I know a lot of A-holes who do not.

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"Taught" is probably not the right word: I demonstrated it's use not backfiring in any case, and you were smart enough to take it up. And thanks for the compliment. I always knew when I was being an asshole and I didn't like myself for it. I wonder if some people just honestly don't know or if their desire to best others is just too strong for them to care.

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Feb 25Liked by Tom Pendergast

Love your phrase and will be using it to save myself from assholism. Thanks for sharing!!

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Good luck, let me know how it works

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Feb 26Liked by Tom Pendergast

"I'm confused. - Tom Pendergast" on a Post-it above my desk. Brilliant!

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Feb 26Liked by Tom Pendergast

Loved this one, Tom! Thanks for writing it.

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Danielle! Thank you ... personal note coming your way.

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Feb 27Liked by Tom Pendergast

As a longtime mental wheel-spinner and self—storyteller, I can really appreciate this. I spend a lot of time trying to parse meaning from online comments and reactions, this feels like a good tip to help with that.

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Oh yeah, this rule really pertains to online life doesn't it? I pull out another of my golden rules ("It's not about you") whenever some comment feels really off-base.

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Yup, almost always true.

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Loved this post, Tom - I've taken away plenty of learning points from it! Also, it's prompted me to remember some advice I'd heard for the first time as a very, very young child: 'Engage brain before opening mouth'.

Now, I wish I could say that I always DO that, but hey, nobody's perfect! 😉

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Thanks Rebecca. Why does it take us getting old(er) to learn these basics?

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Well, youth is wasted on the young, Tom - isn't that what they say?! 😉 I often look back and wish I'd lived my earlier life with a wiser head on my shoulders! 🤣

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