Friday, 23 September 2016

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 23 September

When someone condescends to you, just calm down, advises Thomas Blaikie

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
I can’t say how little I care for it when someone responds to an important point in conversation, made with energy and conviction, with the words ‘I can see you’re upset.’ Is this something women suffer from more than men?
Phyllis Harman, Battersea

Dear Phyllis,
‘I can see you’re upset’ or ‘I’m sorry you’re offended.’ Many of you will be familiar with this response when you’ve expressed strong views, either disagreeing strongly with the person you’re talking to or expressing anger at something they have done.

It’s invidious. There’s a veneer of ‘empathy’ and understanding. The person is not making any concessions, but they wish to appear not to be dismissing what you said out of hand. But really that’s exactly what they are doing. The implication is all too clear:

‘You’re being emotional; you’re overwrought and hysterical. I’m not going to take you seriously.’ If they said, ‘Calm down, dear, it’s just a commercial,’ it would amount to exactly the same thing. You remember when David Cameron, the former PM, tried this on in the House of Commons and got into hot water.

Women (and gay men), who are still stereotyped as irrational drama queens, are more likely to fall victim to this tactic. I can imagine there’s a reluctance to accuse straight men of being ‘upset’. On the other hand, I’m prepared to believe that someone might say ‘I’m sorry you’re upset’ in good faith, not realising what they’re doing – perhaps someone who’s been on one of those courses on ‘managing conflict’. Of course, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that the person they’re talking to really is being ridiculous.

But, more likely, it’s what people say when they know they’re thoroughly in the wrong. I never cease to be astonished at how defensive people are and how reluctant to admit to a mistake. Or, if they do have a rational defence, they’re reluctant to express it, fearing confrontation, so instead opt for evasion. The ‘I’m sorry you’re upset’ approach deflects responsibility. The person is not saying, ‘I’ve expressed views which anger you,’ or ‘I’ve done something wrong which has annoyed you’. No, it’s all twisted round so that the other person’s ‘upset’ response is the issue.

It’s a positive duty not to let anyone get away with this kind of manipulative carry-on. Another unfortunate assumption that lies behind the remark – that, just as there’s no such thing any more as righteous anger, only abuse, by the same token, passionate conviction is just being ‘upset’. A possible response might be: ‘Yes, I am upset. But that’s not your problem. I’ve taken the trouble to explain myself in a rational, coherent way. It’s your responsibility to do the same.’

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER


Observed at the Royal Albert Hall during regular attendance at the Proms: pre- performance announcements that photography is forbidden obviously a joke. Why not set the camera flash off while you’re about it? Unbelievable: the lit-up screen for all to see. Ditto when phone ‘looked at’ during the concert. Photos taken likely to be murky blur in any case. What is the point? Fanning: again distracting. Why not bolt onto the stage if you need to draw attention to yourself? Also useless: the heat generated by fanning cancels out any benefit. Individual ovations: a standing ovation is given by the entire audience or not at all. A woman next to me complained to the ovating man in front of her that she couldn’t see. Quite right. She got a huffy response, of course. Finally, leaving before the concert is over – before the applause is over and the players have left the stage. Most concerts end at 9.30pm, so there can be no tyranny of last trains. Yet droves drain from the hall, pushing past those trying to show their appreciation.

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