Doubling Down on Insults

Humor is well-known to be a great asset in work and life. But what if you have to deal with a person who dishes out a lot of criticism and it just doesn’t seem funny? Try taking the criticism and doubling down. The term comes from blackjack and means risking two cards to get a big win.

A woman I knew was arguing a lot with her brother after their family went through a difficult time. The two fought bitterly, taking turns rearing up with vicious jabs or backhanded insults. With intentional practice and mental grit, she learned how to defuse these fights consistently. Now when he launches an insult or a remark she finds offensive, she pretends her job is to double the insult. So if he barks, “I am really worried about your ability to be focused!” she says, “I have got to be the most unfocused person I have ever met. One minute I am glued to a video game, the next I’m sorting silverware. I am so incredibly unfocused!” A round or two of this behavior, exaggerated a bit more each time, defuses the situation and soon brother and sister are laughing together. The big win is the dose of healing laughter that propels the relationship to the next level.

Managers, too, can hone this technique when dealing with difficult people. A perceived slight is often harmless and can even be used to advantage.


Cabin Fever Interlude

We have been counting the days around here. Six down, two to go. Two adults and one child spending eight days at home during inclement weather with few social events planned. It is not the Battle of Algiers, but it is our humble experience of adversity. How are we getting through it? We invent new games and reintroduce old ones. The grownups take turns with chores and free time. We locate forgotten DVDs on the shelf and watch our child’s face glow across from an enchanting movie on the screen. I rediscover my old passion of baking and work on a white chocolate layer cake for the next day’s birthday party. My husband prepares a special lunch and we have all the time in the world to enjoy it. We have longer discussions and more caring dialogue. We let the child gallop through the rooms, though we wince. We watch more TV than usual in the evenings and talk in the daytime about long-term plans. We are surprised to hear our child asking for carrots and gobbling blanched string beans. The child plays Jingle Bells on a ceramic bowl with a spoon, in perfect rhythm. I open a box of sculptor’s clay. We will endure such unstructured days.

Feel the Pain and Breathe Deep

Do you breathe into pain? I am generally reluctant to take pain medicine. I even gave birth without an epidural so you know I am committed. (Or should be committed!) Yesterday I had the norovirus or something like it. It was brutal, but at first, I didn’t take any painkillers. I just breathed into the pain to experience it and learn from it. Rather than get up and try to move mountains, it can be useful to ride each painful wave. Some say pain is a map, directing you to new places.

Difficult Conversations, Sandwich Method

70% of the thousands of people interviewed by the wise authors of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 have “difficulty handling stress.” Here is a technique that can help draw out the bile of any difficult conversation: the sandwich method. The sandwich starts with a nice piece of bread: a positive comment on the other person’s work. The middle of the sandwich is the critical comment or difficult news that must be delivered. The third layer is another soothing reflection of something that has gone very well. When challenge comes knocking at my door, this is the method I know will work. In business writing, it is very clean and elegant. And in those closed door conversations between two people whence the truth must out, it is the most graceful way to proceed.