Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Open A Can Of Worms (MY Eng #35)

This is part of a running series about English idioms - less about language, more about life itself. Previously, we covered 'missing the woods for the trees', 'the elephant in the room', 'practising what you preach', blowing hot and cold', 'no smoke without fire', 'one swallow does not make a summer', 'apples and oranges', 'cut to the chase', 'leave no stone unturned', 'that's the way the cookie crumbles', 'can't have your cake and eat it too', 'old is gold', 'putting the cart before the horse', 'mountain out of a molehill', 'pot calling the kettle black', 'bite the bullet', 'go the extra mile', 'silence is golden', 'the devil is in the details', 'sink or swim', 'once bitten twice shy', 'don't count your chickens before they hatch', 'don't put all your eggs into one basket', 'chicken and egg', 'walking on eggshells', 'flogging a dead horse', 'better late than never', 'storm in a teacup', 'between a rock and a hard place', 'darkest before dawn', 'empty vessels make the most noise', 'birds of a feather flock together', 'separate the wheat from the chaff' and 'let sleeping dogs lies'.

Humans are social creatures. Camaraderie are built by conversation. We warm up to people who bear open their souls to us.

The principle applies across the board. Interviews are aimed at testing our communication skills. Outspoken folks tend to impress the higher-ups.

Yet, danger lies in speaking too loudly, saying too much. The more thoughts we voice out, the more chances we allow ourselves to be judged.

Sometimes, it's best to hold back, and to err at the side of caution.

* * *

We've all made such mistake before. Dropping a casual innocent remark, only to stir up a big drana and open a can of worms.

Imagine you're at a weekly meeting. Everyone gives their update. Towards the end, the project lead inquires whether there any matters arising. You, trying to be helpful and make sure nothing goes wrong, points out a potential risk factor. The discussion gets heated. Who overlooked this? Who should take responsibility? The meeting drags on for another hour, you earn a dirty sidelong glare or two from the others, and everyone gets new tasks. All thanks for your intervention.

Now, of course, critical problems need to be highlighted. If the can is already open and worms are spilling out, don't be sweeping them under the rug simply to escape extra overtime shift.

Still, most times, we tend to bring work that's neither important nor urgent upon ourselves. Every action plan comes with a degree of risk of unintended adverse effects. If the risk is minimal and easily mitigated, there's really no need to inflate its magnitude by tenfold just to get people's attention - to make a mountain out of molehill (this idiom's covered before!)

Likewise, moderation is critical when you're making a pitch to a panel of assessors (whether during an interview, project proposal, or debate). Don't oversell your ideas. Don't overstate your case. Don't show off your knowledge for the sake of sounding smart. Overextending yourself can backfire badly. The more you say, the more you invite questions and criticisms.

Say what needs to be said to achieve your goal. Nothing more, nothing less.

* * *

Of course, the difficulty is knowing when to start, and when to stop. We may fall short if we don't put more force behind our words. But pushing too hard may in a direction may prove to be deal-breaker.

Still, the starting point is to be on a constant lookout for random cans strewn in our path. Don't go opening cans without knowing what's inside. Give it a shake, read the label, check the expiry date.

Above all, be patient and prudent. Moderate our behaviour. Sometimes, less is more.

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