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Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones

Cinergy Coaching by Cinnie Noble

Do you remember the expression “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”? If so, you may also recall, as I do, that it was (and may still be) a stock response to verbal bullying in grade school playgrounds. The meaning is evident and is simply described by one resource as follows: “A response to an insult, implying that ‘You might be able to hurt me by physical force but not by insults’.” Apparently, the earliest use of this expression is from an American periodical, The Christian Recorder (March 1862), which further added to this adage – by way of explanation: “True courage consists in doing what is right, despite the jeers and sneers of our companions.”

The phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” has no doubt been superseded by more current streetwise comebacks. Though we often consider such techniques as ones that children use, adults also employ jeers, insults, sneers, or name-calling (see a previous blog called Name-Calling) and despite the notion that names (read also: jeers, insults, etc.) do not hurt, they do. They also serve to polarize and create a power imbalance that precludes effective conflict engagement and communications. Names, jeers, and insults initiate and perpetuate conflict in ways that can leave indelible marks by echoing indefinitely in the ears of those on the receiving end.

Not to condone taunts such as those described above, I have wondered what compels their use. It may be that people who employ these and other such methods never learned more constructive ways of managing themselves and others. Perhaps, they have run out of other ways to cope, defend, or express themselves in response to the emotional pain they are experiencing. It may be they learned such techniques from bullying role models. They could have found such methods give them a sense of power or compensates for their insecurities. These thoughts on why such techniques are used do not make them acceptable or excusable. Rather, they are meant to help understand the drivers that motivate the use of these methods and considerations for those to whom they are directed.

Today’s ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) blog asks readers who tend to jeer, insult, sneer, or name-call in conflict and those who are the brunt of such techniques, to consider situations when either or both occurred.

In a conflict situation in which you have sneered, jeered, insulted the other person, called her or him names, etc., what specific technique(s) did you use? What did you specifically say or do?

What motivated you to use that technique/those techniques?

What were you aiming to achieve by doing so? What did you accomplish? What did you not achieve?

Under what circumstances, in general, do you find yourself using the technique(s) you referred to in your answer to the first question?

What conflict masterful technique(s), in general, may work more effectively if you want to learn new methods in the circumstances you described?

Considering a situation when someone has name-called, sneered, jeered, or insulted you in a conflict, what did she or he specifically say?

What do you think compelled her or him to say or do that?

What did you say or do in response?

How did that work? How did it not work?

What other response do you think may have worked better now that you think about it?

What other ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) may you add here?


Cinnie Noble

Cinnie Noble is a certified coach (PCC) and mediator and a former lawyer specializing in conflict management coaching. She is the author of two coaching books: Conflict Management Coaching: The CINERGY™ Model and Conflict Mastery: Questions to Guide You. MORE >

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