I am not sure if this phenomenon is unique to the corporate world or is equally prevalent in other walks of life too – the delicate art of insulting the other person by insulting yourself.
Before you wrack your brain to figure out the sanity level of yours truly, let me begin with an example – ‘is it me going mad?’. There you go – by asking you this rhetorical question about myself (knowing fully well that I am NOT mad) I have indirectly (no, it is actually very direct!) implied that you are mad!
Hopefully you get the trend now. Let me illustrate with a few corporate scenarios that are worthy of being patented under ‘corporate culture’. You say to a coworker, “I don’t know about you but I am drowning in the new system”. What you actually mean is, “How can you and others readily accept and adapt to the new system that is doubling our workload? You guys should be protesting”.
Then there is the famous dumb question routine. In a meeting to discuss the new customer service procedures, after a long presentation explaining every nuance in the game (most of which has gone way beyond your comprehension), you get up and say, “Pardon me, this is a dumb question but ……..”. While the truth is that it IS a dumb question, you desperately make it appear that you are the smart cookie that is pointing out a flaw. The higher the level of the executive asking the question, the dumber it usually is – with the added advantage that everyone else cannot even laugh out aloud.
A variation of this dumb-question routine is to randomly interrupt a discussion and say, “Excuse me if I am getting ahead of myself but what about …..”. The unsaid stuff here is, “Know you lesser mortals that I am ten steps ahead of you. Many of you may never reach there but in the unlikely event that someone does get there through the logical sequence of traversing the other nine steps, I am not going to wait for someone else to steal my thunder”.
Here are some more I-will-insult-you-by-insulting-me favorites:
“Maybe I am missing something here but when is lunch scheduled?”
(actually, “Can’t you guys see that it is way past lunch time?)
“This is perhaps not the right forum to ask this but I was wondering …….”
(“You idiots, I know about this topic also – I was just joking about the right forum”)
“Perhaps we can compare notes later but your conclusions appear to be very unusual”
(“I have no notes and I have given no thought to this but I am quite certain you are wrong”)
In the dog-eat-dog arena of corporate games, self-deprecation is a vintage sport played by none but the best in class.