By Bikram Vohra
Have you noticed how people sometimes say something so out of line that you wonder what exactly they meant? It is not even a backhanded compliment, it is a sort of blunt and harsh remark, often personal, that leaves you unflattered.
Someone walked up to me the other day and said, still writing away, huh, one thing I can say about you is that you are a survivor.
Someone says something like that, what answer do you give? Thanks, sweet of you. Sorry, I should commit professional hara kiri, make you happy. You think the bell has rung, time to cap the pen and watch reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond with a blanket on my lap? You know that undertone of surprise is largely insulting, migoodness, you still at it, everyone has gone home. Then they flatter you further. Must give you credit, still going gung-ho, excellent, super, really impressed.
Here is a knife, just shove it into me and get it over with. Then the final nail: good to keep busy, one feels younger that way. Nice way to add salt to the gaping wound. Now, you are well over the hill.
Like I was one of those insects, wriggled my way out of tight corners, something mildly unpleasant about the way it was said, as if I had not been a sport and played the game according to the rules. Time to vanish into the ether, fade away without a whimper. Almost as if one had manipulated the survival by a little bit of underhand skulduggery. There you are counting your blessings and thanking the lord for letting you carry on despite having broken fences, crushed walls, damaged bridges of communication, destroyed possible networks, done it your way without compromise come what may and this person makes you feel unwashed and slightly soiled as if the principles you stood by were made of brittle glass.
Now, he has demoted me and my self-worth, as seen by me, into a bit of a push and shove specimen doing the dirty while nobody was looking. Would such people have been happier if I had set my work on fire and gone nose down in flames?
We all do it, don’t we, that ability to hurt with flattery. That way no one can accuse us of being mean spirited, after all, we were being nice, nothing to be offended about.
In the corporate world, people are very generous with tactless and thoughtless labels, and they use them with the misguided notion that they are being socially pleasant. Another word that is used cruelly is loyalty.
Oh, he is one of the company loyalists. As if being loyal was a sad and pathetic way to be and indicated some flaw in the person’s makeup. Loyalty, anyway, as I have always said, is just a lack of option. Open that door a wedge, mate, and see how swiftly I am out of here. Might as well say he is there on sufferance, all washed up, one of yesterday’s people who should really have packed his bags and gone by now, hanging on because no one has cut the slender thread. I have never quite figured out why loyalty is an embarrassment. Isn’t that what you are paid for?
I know a kiss of death CEO who says, “One thing I agree that so and so has is perseverance, he is like a terrier with a bone’. He might as well say this guy is a pain in the neck, and if you are giving him a berth, make sure it is a wide one.
Very close to this is the accusatory compliment; the man has one asset, he is not rigid, he is flexible and open to suggestion. Why not just call him a jelly-spined lickspittle who, when asked to jump, asks how high?
Then there is that tag used with disdain. Workaholic. We say it like we were throwing darts at the person, migoodness, what a sad, pathetic guy, you have to admit, he does 14-hour days, and makes us look baaaaa-d, the little creep, very hard-working. If it was such a virtue, where is the need for admission, it isn’t some grubby secret. What you are really saying is that everything else about him is terrible. The moment you use the label ‘admit it’, you have pretty much indicted the guy forever. It is a condemnation by one’s colleagues, as if by keeping long hours the individual is letting the side down by showing up his peers. What could he possibly be doing except sucking up to the bosses and making the rest of us look like shirkers?
Occasionally, we praise someone by saying we admire his tenacity (stubborn mule that he is), his sense of honour and fairplay (if only you knew the inside story), his ability to complete a task (ha, with a little help from the rest of us), and his capacity to lead from the front (if only he knew the back from the front, he will throw anyone under the bus to save his skin).
A relatively subtle damning is to call someone meticulous. That’s like saying he is a complete 100 percent 24 carat twit who cannot see the wood for the trees, and only exists to make life miserable for others in the office with his passion for the nitty gritty that actually is his cover for rampant incompetence.
So, if you find yourself being called a whizzkid, watch it, they have your number, and it could soon be up. Then, of course, we cannot digest career-minded individuals, and what we are really saying, is that they are dangerous because they will let down anyone to advance their progress.
A step above is the person who is accused of being ambitious. One would imagine we all are, but those that fall on the way like battle-weary troops and give up, hate those whose staying power is longer. So, they turn ambition into a dirty word, as if you were not a team player but someone to be wary of and not get too close.
What’s your favourite phrase?
Bikram is former editor of KT. Everyday humour is his forte