Quotation of the Week: Meryl Streep

Recently, Meryl Streep was interviewed by the Harvard Professor, Henry Louis Gates, for a four-part PBS series about family roots.  In the interview, Mr. Gates tells Ms. Streep that on one side her roots go back to the founding fathers and a Quaker who left his church rather than cease agitating for independence from the British.  Streep, mockingly responds:I know it should make me feel even more important than I already am.It takes a lot of self-confidence and chutzpa to come up with a classic line like that.  When I read it aloud to some friends, it brought howls of laughter.  Self-deprecation:  communication that expresses something negative about its originator without being called for in the context by others, disparagement of one’s own ability.HEADS UP!  Humorous self-deprecation can be a highly useful rhetorical device in business communication.  Furthermore, humorous self-deprecation is a serious subject that can connect you with your audience. Typically, it has two important consequences:It can dilute emotions of anger, frustration, even sadness. Its affects are imperious, powerful and can’t be ignored. FYI:  Research shows that speakers who use tasteful, self-deprecating humor are rated far higher by all listeners than speakers who avoid its use.  Of course, that kind of humor requires a great deal of self-confidence.  At the very least, it requires us not to take ourselves too seriously.In my previous life, I worked to develop self-deprecating one-liners, though I used them sparingly.  It still shocks me to have someone I’ve known for years comment on a self-deprecating one-liner long after I assumed it would have been forgotten.  It always comes with a smile of respect and liking.  And by the way, respect and liking have been shown to be among the most powerful “weapons” of social influence.  Self-deprecation used sparingly and appropriately dominates conversations.  It enhances our credibility.  For nearly three centuries, scholars from Aristotle to the 21st century have looked at the factors of influence. Credibility is always the most powerful form of persuasion, far more than good reasons or the artistic use of emotions. Why is Meryl Streep such a great, influential actor?  It is not merely her acting skills, but first and foremost her genuine humanness, illuminated by hilarious self-deprecation.  There’s a moral for all of us in her humorous self-deprecation.
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