The spirit of the staircase
The French have a wonderful phrase, lesprit de l’escalier. It describes that feeling when you’ve stormed out of the room after an argument and you’re already halfway down the stairs when you think of the perfect quip that you wish you had said.
I had a similar feeling last week but instead of wishing I had said something, I was wishing I had kept my mouth shut.
I have an annoying tendency to want to get the last word in. I don’t have a problem coming up with a barbed quip. My problem is wishing I could take them back.
This happened while I was hosting the conference portion of UX Fest last week. On the hand, I don’t want the discussions to be dull so I try to come up with thought-provoking points to bring up. But take that too far and it gets ugly. There’s a fine line between asking probing questions and just being mean (I’m reminded of headline in The Onion, “Devil’s Advocate Turns Out To Be Just An Asshole”).
Towards the end of the conference, there was a really good robust discussion underway. But I couldn’t resist getting in the last word. In the attempt to make myself look clever I ended up saying something hurtful and clumsy.
I apologised, and it all worked out well in the end, but damn if I haven’t spent the last week on the staircase wishing I could turn back time and say …nothing.