What is the point of "bless her heart" and other "tee-ups"? After all, a blessing is a good thing, right? Wrong, not when it is instantly followed by some snarky comment.
Like the author of "Why Verbal Tee-Ups Often Signal Insincerity" I cringe when someone says to me "Don't take this the wrong way . . . " I mean you know what's coming. Professor James Pennebaker asserts these "tee-ups" are preludes to criticism and worse.
"Language experts have textbook names for these phrases—"performatives," or "qualifiers." Essentially, taken alone, they express a simple thought, such as "I am writing to say…" At first, they seem harmless, formal, maybe even polite. But coming before another statement, they often signal that bad news, or even some dishonesty on the part of the speaker, will follow.
"Politeness is another word for deception," says James W. Pennebaker, chair of the psychology department of the University of Texas at Austin, who studies these phrases. "The point is to formalize social relations so you don't have to reveal your true self."
"'In other words, 'if you're going to lie, it's a good way to do it—because you're not really lying. So it softens the blow,' Dr. Pennebaker says.
"Of course, it's generally best not to lie, Dr. Pennebaker notes. But because these sayings so frequently signal untruth, they can be confusing even when used in a neutral context. No wonder they often lead to a breakdown in personal communications."There is speculation about why we use "tee-ups" or those little phrases that pack a wallop and how they may be leading to some unpleasant conversations and hurt feelings.
Has someone ever prefaced a comment to you with "I am only telling you this because I love you" or "I thought you should know" or even the dreaded, "I just want to be honest." Hurt feelings? You bet.
"'If you are feeling a need to use [tee-ups] a lot, then perhaps you should consider the possibility that you are saying too many unpleasant things to or about other people,' says Ellen Jovin, co-founder of Syntaxis, a communication-skills training firm in New York. She considers some tee-up phrases to be worse than others. 'Don't take this the wrong way…' is 'ungracious,' she says. 'It is a doomed attempt to evade the consequences of a comment.'"But I bet there are "tee-ups" this author missed. After all, he's a college professor, not a college student. What kind of "tee-ups" make you cringe?