Q: We recently hired a new attorney who is constantly putting herself down, calling herself stupid and apologizing for asking questions. I’m a direct person, but I don’t want to just say, “Stop apologizing and being so tentative,” because the last thing she needs is more criticism. How can I best help her?
A: What I want to know is, how did law school not eat her alive?
I recently discussed ways to respond to this kind of reflexive cringing and self-deprecation (Sorry, your feedback to chronic apologizer is all wrong), but I’m revisiting the topic because I want to mention a sleight-of-word technique I’ve seen used (and begun using on myself) to good effect: repeating her statements, but flipping the negative to positive.
She: “I’m so stupid for asking this basic question …”
You: “I wish more people were humble enough to ask that essential question.”
Of course, you’re not obligated to take on that degree of emotional labor. But if you’re not in a position to give direct feedback, this kind of subtle coaching might inspire her to try detoxing her own inner narrative.