March 11, 2010

phrases to fear

I once heard someone begin a speech with something like this:  "We all know the three biggest lies.  Number three is, of course, 'I'll respect you in the morning.'  Number two is, 'The check is in the mail.'  And the number one biggest lie is those three little words: 'I'll be brief.'"

We've all worked with people who start every conversation with something like, "I know we don't have much time, so I'll make this quick."  Then they talk for 20 or 30 minutes, making no progress and repeating themselves frequently.  Eventually we just sigh and roll with it because we're not rude enough to say, "Three minutes is quick.  You have three minutes."  And then hold them to it.  We're weak in that way, and we become the enabler when we should be sending them to On and On Anon, the 12 step program for compulsive talkers.

Worse, however, is a phrase I've begun hearing a lot and seeing even more as the subject of emails.  "Quick question," they write.  Are they being hopeful?  Evasive?  Or is it simply like knocking on a door, a generic sound that indicates they want to talk to you?  What I've found is that, yes, the question is indeed always quick.  Providing the answer, however, is typically epic in scope.  I imagine a White House email:
From:  Da Prez [obama@whitehouse.gov]
To:  Bernanke [ben@economistsgonewild.com]
Subject:  Quick question
Ben, quick question for ya:  How should we fix this thing with the economy?
In the rare cases where the "quick question" has an answer at all, the answer is undoubtedly so complex and nuanced that it would make for a good PhD dissertation subject.  Or two.

But neither "I'll make this quick" nor "quick question," nor, for that matter, any other phrase uttered in English, can generate the kind of visceral terror resulting from these four words:  Dude, you're on speaker!

6 comments:

fairyhedgehog said...

I love On and On Anon!

jinksy said...

You've given me the first giggle of the day, ta!

Bernita said...

Have noticed that about those "quick questions!"

A long-winded guy I once knew always stopped half way through and uttered an ominous warning "I'll make a long story even longer."

Peter Dudley said...

I must give credit for On and On Anon to my good friend Jim Kirkpatrick.

Bernita, that seems like the kind of guy to avoid at all costs. It's people like him that caused the invention of Caller ID.

Laurel said...

I'm playing blog catch-up!

The "I'll be brief" syndrome afflicts many of us. Outside sales can cure it. When you cold call someone, you better know what your message is, keep it elevator speech short, and stay on point.

"Do you have a minute?" amounts to the same thing, but it's a little more effective. Even people who aren't in sales know on a subconcious level that this is a trial close, asking for agreement to something on your way to getting to what you really want. You lose them if you exceed the bounds of the agreement, like when a minute turns into twenty.

lissa said...

I never did encounter these quick questions, how many of us are repeating ourselves but don't know it?

fun post