Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I'm sorry for you

When managing impact one is often forced to deal with people who have been impacted. It is often worthwhile to re-frame the impact in terms of possible intent. Since, in most cases, it is difficult to determine true intent one can re-frame the impact to the extent that the interested parties are receptive. Try telling yourself that you really love everyone so much that you couldn’t have meant harm; so isn’t it really their fault that they chose to be insulted? Try saying that to yourself a few times real slow; it grows on you…doesn’t it?

How far can you take re-framing impact? You can re-frame impact to the extent that the interested parties are receptive. I'll use a hopefully illustrative hypothetical example.

One day Don super glues a bunch of $20 bills to a sidewalk. After the glue sets up he yells: “FREE MONEY LOOK it’s FREE MONEY”. When enough people crowd around trying to prize lose some free twenties Don runs to the top of a nearby building and drops a grand piano on them.

The first thing Don can do is re-frame the insult. He can call dropping the piano out of a 12th-story window something like “Piano Relocation”. The victims were accidentally hurt by PR. This sounds better than “They had a piano dropped on them from a 12th-story window”. This is a good-reframing as it almost sounds like a natural event, and does not imply any perpetrator. This insult re-framing will not work. Sometimes the insult is just so obvious or public that it impossible to gather up all the threads, put them in a jelly jar, and call it a modern tapestry. Re-framing the insult is always worthwhile, but it cannot be relied upon as a sole curative.

Don could also say: “Darn that pesky gravity!”

Don needs to re-frame the impact. The first step should include some accusation. “Why were you standing there?” This suggests that the people under the piano did something wrong.

Some of you are thinking that any conscious survivors would respond with: “We were prying lose twenty dollar bills; you yelled ‘FREE MONEY’ so we came over to get them.” This might appear to be damning evidence, but if the effected individuals are willing to debate the issue things can be made much less clear.

“You were trying to TAKE my money” Don can respond “I said this is ‘NOT free money, it is marking the impact point for a Piano Relocation’.”

Here Don blends moral accusations and lies to create a powerful new type of reality. The victims are actually thieves; don’t they deserve some divine retribution? They ignored warnings; should they also be liable for damage the piano suffered?

Personally I think lying ups the ante too far, but I don’t drop pianos on people. The liar risks getting caught in a lie. The exposure caused by being caught in a lie can translate to re-evaluations of other statements. You don’t want people to re-evaluate your re-framing while picturing you as a source of perjurously incorrect information. Life itself can be much easier if other people just don’t think too much about anything you do or say.

Of course the piano situation is so severe that the threat of dialog itself breaking down is highly likely. I would hope that it would be much more likely for someone to reply with a “Dude, you just dropped a piano on these people so just shut up”. Just like with re-framing the insult, the effectiveness of re-framing the impact is dependent on the severity of the situation. Piano-dropping is quite severe.

Luckily most insults are more insulting than life-threatening. In less severe situations one can pepper a response with ready re-framing phrases. One of my favorite is:

I’m sorry you feel that way

This statement is caring, and empathetic, diabetically sweet, and bears no relationship to almost any situation it is used in. You have feelings. I can see that you are a feeling human being. You are human. I am so sorry for you. Since this implies infallibility on the part of the apologizer it is sometimes called a ‘Papal apology’.

This marvelous statement can be made more effective still by removing the potentially humanizing reference to feelings. Feelings can be called miscommunication or misunderstandings. This makes it a clearer statement about your failure.

“I’m sorry that you misunderstood me”

The statement can be made even better by removing you from it altogether. Perhaps you could actually be “some people” or “people like you”. Personally I think the replacement of ‘you’ is a great opportunity to insert some choice adjectives, but be careful as extreme adjective misuse can quickly turn your audience unreceptive.

“I’m sorry that some ignorant troglodyte has misunderstood me”

Further refinements of impact re-framing statements can be used to craft apologies much more insulting than most typically-encountered primary insults.

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