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Faint praise

For my own safety and the privacy of those involved, this story may or may not have any basis in fact.  Those involved with this story have had their names changed to insure their privacy.

This morning a coworker (Bartholomew AKA Bart) had us (me and another coworker – Martin) listen to a song he and another coworker (Elizabeth AKA Beth) reworked for a project.  After listening to the song, I was duly impressed with the singing ability of Beth and said so.  Martin agreed, and continued to say that “with a little practice and the help of a voice coach” she could be really good.  I thought about what was said and I decided to point out that it could be viewed as a backhanded complement.  I continued by pointing out that if someone were to look at his code and say, “Wow, that some really nice code.  You know, with a little work and some tutoring sessions with a professor, you could be a really good.  Now how would you react to that?”.  His response was as expected, seeing the insult in what was being said, even if it started out as a compliment.

The point being that sometimes it’s best to stop at the compliment and leave off the rest of the narrative.  Normally I might now post about such things, but I saw the following story on a social media site and it made me think of the morning’s interaction and how it’s related.  That story is:

So, in a little town in Nowheresville, USA, there’s a river that’s about to flood, and needs to be quickly dammed.

The local college sends three professors: a structural engineer, a chemical engineer, and a literary critic.

The structural engineer suggests building a concrete dam to stem the river, and the mayor calls in a construction company to do the job. A week later, the dam is completed, but in a few days the river’s current becomes more intense, and the dam crumbles.

Next, the chemical engineer suggests adding a gelatin solution to the river, to solidify the whole thing. The mayor calls in a favor with a multinational chemical company, and they deliver a half ton of customized gelatinizing solution.They add it to the river near the source, and the whole river turns to gelatin. But a few days later, the current of the river becomes even stronger, and the water pressure at the source starts to break the gelatin apart

Then, out of nowhere, an awful thunderstorm appears over the town. the heavy rain starts to make the river flood.

In a last ditch attempt, the literary critic steps up to the river bank

He coughs softly, purses his lips, takes a momentary glance at his fingernails, and says “I suppose this river is… adequate.”

…and suddenly the flooding stops.

The two other professors rush to the critic’s side and ask “How the hell did you stop the river from flooding?”

And the critic replies, “Simple. I dammed it with faint praise.”

Backhanded compliments and faint praise can both have a detrimental affects on individuals.  Those that are gaining confidence and seemingly unstoppable can be brought to a stand still with such “compliments” and “praise”.  And it’s often not an intentional malicious act by the offending party, they often view it as being helpful.  So, I guess the question to ask yourself before doling out such helpful tidbits is: “How would you react if someone said something similar to you?”

By Mark

I work in IT and ride Motorcycles. I do one to support the other.