Unless the Next Words Out of Your Mouth Are Going to be, "Can I Help ___?" Do NOT Tell Me I "Look Tired"
When I wrote For the Love of God, STOP Asking People If They're Okay, I never really thought anyone would care. I love psycholinguistics (I just finished James Pennebaker's The Secret Life of Pronouns, and it was SOOO good!), and I'm all about empowerment... but people hardly seem riveted when I talk about either topic.
But somehow, STOP Asking People If They're Okay tends to be one of my most popular posts every month. Given this, I've got another one to add to the list:
STOP TELLING PEOPLE THEY LOOK TIRED.
WHAT IS THE POINT?
Would you walk up to someone and say, "Whoa. Your hair looks crapy today!"
"Ew. You look like you've put on a few pounds."
"That is the ugliest outfit I've ever seen!"
Hopefully not. Not unless it's important, and you're going to follow-up with some kind of actionable offer or advice, like:
"I have some bobby pins if you want to run and fix it."
"I'm going to start packing you healthier lunches." (Obviously you'd have to have a certain kind of relationship for this to come up.)
"I have a cardigan in my car if you want to borrow it for the meeting."
My "long layover in Korea after three months in Southeast Asia" outfit. I would have gladly taken that cardigan. :P
Saying "you look tired" is the same way. You're not helpfully telling them they've got something stuck in their teeth to spare them some embarrassment.
You're just telling them that you think they look like shit.
What does that accomplish? Either they are tired/sick/stressed, and they're just trying to make it through the day, and you've just made it even worse... or they're totally fine, and you just made them feel like they look like shit for no reason.
Conclusion: if you go around telling people they look tired, you are either intentionally or accidentally being a dick.
There is one exception to this rule:
If you immediately follow up with something helpful, like, "Want me to take over the driving?" or, "Want to grab a coffee?" or, "You can head home, if you want -- I can finish up from here."
See how the one thing is totally kind of mean, and the other is actually potentially helpful?
I'll add, as an aside, that contrary to one of the most obnoxious stereotypes about women ever, women -- and men! -- value solutions. As I wrote in a recent post,
Myth 6.2: <If> a woman talks to you about her problems, <then> she's looking for a shoulder to cry on, not an actual solution.
But don't take it from me! Take it from Albert Einstein, who once (supposedly) said:
When I work with my students at Paved With Verbs, I don't offer solutions or advice before I feel I deeply understand the problem, goal or accomplishment. Because what would be the point of that?
So, yeah. I am all for honestly. I am all for honest feedback and constructive criticism. (It's not "shaming" -- it's developmental feedback. If you get some, treasure it -- it's one of the most valuable things anyone could give you.)
But I'm not really for making mindless comments that are rude and accomplish nothing. If your intentions are truly "caring" and "good," then put your money where your mouth is. Offer to help said tired person, even if just in some small way.
Sometimes, people get annoyed at me for paying attention to words. (I've moved straight from Pennebaker's The Secret Life of Pronouns to Benjamin Bergen's What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves. I highly recommend both, because words never get old.)
But words mean things. And smart people like taking time to reflect on meanings and ideas and stuff. And, when you think about it, "You look tired,"is actually a rude thing to say. It's not about "microaggressions" or "political correctness" (if you've ever even skimmed through my blog posts, you'd know exactly how I feel on those topics).
It's about basic consideration and politeness.
6/2/2017 02:59:32 pm
6/3/2017 05:29:40 am
For what it's worth, I am riveted when you post about psycholinguistics and empowerment.
4/18/2019 03:33:48 pm
Couldn’t agree more. Almost every time I’ve been told this, it’s not true. I feel fine (even great sometimes!) and as you said, it makes me wonder why that’s not coming across. I suddenly feel like shit and for no reason. I have never told someone they look tired. I just don’t get it. The most I can think of that I’ve ever done is ask someone if they’re tired while driving on a road trip. Or if we’re out late and things start dying down. But that is to offer a solution such as “let’s go home then!”
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Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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