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Bad Talk

By Mike McGough

October, 2019

She was a nice enough person, but she engaged in more than her share of negative talk. Her family had gotten used to it over the years, even though it was still bothersome. Her friends, at least the ones she had not put off totally, had learned to tolerate her when she was in one of her moods. Her bad talk seemed to know no limitations. She could find something negative or bad to say about most anything. 

Her timing was either excellent or horrible depending on how you defined excellent and horrible. For example, if you liked being at a birthday party where someone in the room just had to point out all the negatives of the aging process, her timing was excellent. On the other hand, if you were uncomfortable in a conversation where a pregnancy was announced, and someone felt the need to explain all the trials and tribulations of parenthood, then her timing was horrible. 

It was interesting to watch her work a room, unless you were one of the people in the room being worked. Sometimes her bad talk seemed to be well planned and carefully thought out. It was like she was staging a premeditated attack. It was clear that she had a purpose in mind and chose her words accordingly. Other times she seemed to be shooting from the hip, firing comments as they came to mind. In these cases, it was rather disquieting to see how effortlessly she could wound people with her negative talk. In either case she had a good aim and her biting comments were generally right on target.

She was well educated, financially solvent, and she held a highly responsible position with an international trading company. Generally, other than when she was honing her skills at bad talk, she was socially amenable, kind, and agreeable. If you were around her for any length of time, you quickly learned that she could turn her bad talk on and off effortlessly. It was clear that it was planned and premeditated, and her words and her subjects were carefully chosen. 

Unfortunately, her negative comments defined the personality trait that seemed to be her identifying mark; that was how most folks knew her. Her disquieting comments were often the criteria folks used to identify and then define their relationship with her. In her business dealings, some thought that made her tough, a no-nonsense kind of person who had little compunction about speaking her mind. But to her family and friends, her biting statements came off as insensitive, judgmental, hurtful, and driven by a deep sense of jealousy. There seemed to be no conversation into which she could not introduce a cloud of doubt, a shadow of question, or an image of concern. 

Because of her status and authority in the company, her reputation, and her associates’ need to sustain business relations, those who dealt with her professionally were forced to tolerate her hard-hearted thoughts and comments. They had to deal with her, so they did. She was just part of the cost of doing business with that particular company, or one of the trials that had to be tolerated if you worked for that company. However, in her personal life, none of that status stuff counted for much. In these relations it was a person-to-person matter. It was a more level playing field where relationships are indeed personal, and where power-over associations didn’t really exist. 

There was a certain sense of irony about her that illustrates a most interesting dichotomy in how people talk to each other. As quick and resourceful as she was when it came to offering negative comments, she was just as slow to accept or tolerate such comments from others. In fact, when someone offered her a negative comment or questioned a thought or comment of hers, even if they were just turning one of her comments back on her, she was easily hurt. She displayed an intolerant sensitivity, and she quickly demanded an apology, followed by a warning that she did not appreciate being talked to in such a manner. To anyone who spent any time around her, the dramatic difference between the comments she was comfortable making and the comments she was comfortable accepting was great. Many of these folks had difficult reconciling how someone who was so comfortable offering negative comments was so uncomfortable accepting them.

Everyone engages in a little bad talk from time to time. There are instances when it is both necessary and appropriate. However, when it becomes a dominant driver of conversation, it’s probably being over used. Unfortunately, recognizing it can be difficult, because like bad breath, bad talk is easier to notice and be offended by when it comes from another person’s mouth!