DEAR ANNIE: Sometimes, in the course of conversation with someone who has an accent, I’ll find myself mimicking their speech. It’s entirely unintentional and embarrassing, and I’m sure it irritates the other person. I’ve had to explain multiple times to people of varying vernaculars that I’m not mocking them. How do I defuse awkward situations like this, short of avoiding conversation in the first place? — Don’t Shoot the Mockingbird
DEAR MOCKINGBIRD: Your flock is bigger than you’d think. A common psychological phenomenon known as “mirroring” or “the chameleon effect” leads people to unconsciously emulate those with whom they’re speaking. Though it can be embarrassing, this tendency is not inherently a bad thing. In fact, psychologists believe that it signals high levels of empathy, and a 2013 study found that this kind of unconscious imitation actually tends to make conversational partners feel more positively about the speaker.
Of course, we shouldn’t go around deliberately imitating people’s accents. But when you do find yourself slipping up, briefly apologize when it feels appropriate, and then move on. You’re not intentionally hurting anyone, and you’re probably not the first person they’ve encountered who’s done it.
DEAR ANNIE: Concerning the lady who was attacked by her neighbor’s dogs: You were exactly right to recommend she contact the authorities. I can’t imagine any local jurisdiction where vicious unleashed dogs attacking citizens would be allowed or their owners not held responsible. I’m sure I will be one of many voices who would encourage her to immediately contact an attorney to file a civil suit for wrongful injury. There’s no doubt she has a case. — Lawyer Dave
DEAR LAWYER DAVE: If ever I miss the mark, then I can count on my readers to help me find it. Dozens of you wrote that I should have recommended that “Sincerely Confused” hire a lawyer. The following letter includes a few more tips.
DEAR ANNIE: “Sincerely Confused” should notify the dogs’ owners’ home insurance company of the incident. She’ll need to provide a detailed, written personal account of what happened. She should also seek such statements from those good samaritan witnesses, too, if possible. Additionally, she should include copies of the police reports, as well as copies of her hospital records and any notes from follow-up doctor visits. And she should compile an itemized list of every single medical cost associated with her attack (the full charges, not just co-pays).
Since some time has passed, it seems she might be reluctant or fearful of pursuing a lawsuit. But she should still talk it over with an attorney. At the very least, she may be able to negotiate a settlement with the insurance company privately. I encourage her to choose an amount sizable enough to compensate her for all expenses incurred, plus the lifelong burden caused by her injuries. Project what it will cost to pay for future medical visits and to buy the equipment and therapies necessary to cope with her condition for the rest of her life.
If the cops or city doesn’t do it first, a claim like this might get the dog owner’s attention. If they hope to stay insured, I’ll bet they build a fence. My heart goes out to her! — Bitten Once in ND
DEAR BITTEN: I’m sorry to hear that you learned from a similar experience, but I appreciate your wisdom, and I’m sure “Sincerely Confused” will as well.