What I should have said…

A letter writer never knows how to respond to bad news in the moment. 

You’re not alone, says our elder. It’s called ‘the spirit of the staircase’.


Dear EWC

I have an issue that I’m very, very, very upset about! Many times when someone tells me something bad, I can’t react properly at the right time. I always have to talk to myself later: “If I’d known I’d have told him that, if I’d known I’d have said this, etc.”  These things that I was supposed to say come to my mind when the time is over! Thanks in advance.


Catherine replies

What you have described is a very common problem. The French have a term for it, l’esprit de l’escalier, which translates in English to ‘the spirit of the staircase’. The idea is that a person will not think of the correct thing to say until later, when he is walking up the stairs. 

When I was younger, I used to feel as you do. I felt bad that I didn’t react properly at the right time. However, as I aged, I changed my point of view. Now, I feel that it’s wise to give myself time to react to important news. 

Here is my advice: you don’t ever need to feel rushed to give a response. You can cultivate a reputation as a man who thinks before he speaks. When someone tells you something upsetting, look and listen to what he is saying. Then you might say, “I’ll need to think about this awhile.” In this way, you can buy yourself the time you need in order to gather your thoughts. 

Good luck! I hope my advice proves helpful. Please feel free to write again to let me know how things work out. 

Article #: 471344

Category: Self-Improvement

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