You are entering the world of the unintentional de-motivator. Where a well meaning cheer to inspire and validate causes the exact opposite emotion in the recipient. Instead of complimenting the strained roundness of a big, red, shiny fully inflated balloon, you’ve unintentionally let the air out. Pffffttttt. Nice job, pinhead. Congratulations. Head on home and try not to kick a puppy on the way.
If you’ve done this, you are a De-Motivator.
I will be taking to the streets of Cincinnati this Sunday for the Flying Pig Marathon (which is waaay awesomer than the lame Phoenix Rock N’ Roll Marathon by the way*) with my friend. We will tame Cin City as a duo. We’ll be Batman and Robin (without the homoerotic overtones and “tingly” senses.) When this plan was hatched, the first thing my friend mentioned is that, while running with him, I’ll get to hear all the times people say to him “looking strong big guy.” Which he hates.
To be fair, he is bigger than the average U.S. male. He’s about 6’1-2” and roughly 200 lbs give or take. Not exactly gigantic…just the next size up from average. Go ahead and click on his site here and see for yourself (that’s him on the left). Not exactly Andre the Giant, right? Nowhere near Hurley from Lost either. Both of those guys I’d give a “Looking strong big guy” too.
So, what gives? And who thinks it is motivating to say “looking strong big guy?” By doing so, you are (a) implying that the person is a little on the LARGE side and (b) doing surprisingly well for someone so LARGE. It’s really a backhanded compliment and not one you want to hear 20 miles into a race.
I wonder if these same folks hang outside of Jenny Craig facilities just so they can compliment the patrons with “Hey, you aren’t nearly as big as I thought you’d be. You are at least 4 sizes down from the moon. Good job!”
Or tell a pimple faced teen that their pock marked cheeks look more like simple hail damage rather than asteroid craters. Good for you! (Add a wink and a thumbs up.)
Sure, I’ve caught myself marveling at the real short guy in front of me with those tiny little legs turning over two steps for my one and wondering how in the hell he keeps that pace. But, never in a million years, did I consider saying “Wow, despite the fact that you appear to be built to the perfect size to retrieve things I’ve lost down my backyard well, you are really fast!”
(Well, I considered it. But didn’t say it.)
Have you ever received one of those back handed compliments before? One of those moments where someone with a well intentioned, smiling face just sucked the life right out of you with an ill-timed or poorly worded comment?
Just to be clear, as a spectator you should probably never say the following:
“Wow, great job! I never thought you’d make it this far!” (Said at mile 5 of a marathon)
“Hey, thanks for helping but the volunteers should get out of the way of the runners!” (But you’re not a volunteer)
“You are the fastest plus size model on earth!”
“Aww, how cute! Look at you run!”
“Awesome job overcoming your disability!” (Though you have no disability.)
“Don’t worry, the aid stations are still open. Keep going!”
If you shout any of these things – even with the biggest smile on your face – you are an Unintentional De-Motivator. Please consult my spectator cheering advice post from last year for help.
I think the closest I ever came was during the Disney Marathon when an aid station worker started following me down the road waving a cup of Gatorade in my face and saying “You look like you really need this.” Er, thanks. I think. Truth is, I did so no hard feelings.
As this Dynamic Duo hits the streets of Cincinnati, I’ll have my Looking Strong Big Guy (LSBG) meter ready to count. We’ll see how many Jokers there are out there.
For now, the LSBG meter is prepped, ready and set to zero.
* Mainly because no one ever describes that one with the word “awesomer.”