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Better Business Communication Results

Use of false humility

Use of false humility

Another trick of suggestion that is frequently abused is false humility. This trick can be most readily practised with greater success by those who, rightly or wrongly, have achieved some sort of reputation. With my eldest daughter’s last stressful year at high school still a vivid memory in our family, we often noted from her comments about her day and her teachers that some of them, the lazy ones, frequently resorted to it in order to escape from a stupid position they’d put themselves into.

The teacher may make a statement which, if not obviously untrue, is none the less open to serious question. One of her class may have noticed the objection and may have expressed it politely (or otherwise).

If the teacher is honest, she will at once confess her error. If she is more concerned with her prestige than with her honesty she will either reprimand the teenager for questioning her authority or she may descend to a trick. She may say, “I'm sorry, Renee, but you’re too subtle for me, I just cannot understand what you mean.” Probably she will accompany such a remark with a sly smile and give a knowing wink to the rest of the class. Poor Renee is now in a difficult position: discomfited, her classmates are sniggering if not laughing outright. She feels she has made a fool of herself, and stops abruptly. The teacher has secured an easy triumph.

It is not easy to counter such a trick of suggestion, particularly in public. The philosopher Schopenhauer suggested that the only effective way to combat it is to return it in kind. Renee could have said, “I am sorry for my stupidity and inexperience. Your failure to understand what I meant is entirely my fault. Let me try to explain more clearly.” If she then repeats her objection in the simplest possible words, in such a way that no one can fail to understand what she means, the lazy teacher is in a far more difficult position.

Of course, teachers are used to this sort of argument from students. Usually they will use their authority to stop rebellious students like Renee: “We’ve wasted too much time on what is such an obvious point. I’m sorry if you don’t follow, Renee, but every one else appears to have understood me perfectly” as soon as she realizes that she is being trapped.
And Renee gets in trouble with a teacher for daring to question them.

Thankfully there weren’t too many teachers like that in Renee’s final years in secondary school…

 

Effective use of the Schopenhauer method

The Schopenhauer method of answering any one who exploits the ‘mock-humility’ trick of suggestion is a more effective weapon when your oppo-nent stands on more or less equal terms with yourself. Against people in au-thority, such as teachers or bosses, or people in a position of prestige, such as political speakers on stages, the method is far more difficult to use effec-tively, as we’ve seen. Even if we can’t use this method to discomfort oppo-nents who are unfairly using tricks of suggestion, we can at least refuse to be taken in by them.

 


Back to Why we are unwilling to ask for explanations   :   On to Summary

 

 

 

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