Donna Kim-Brand

Have you ever been accused of having a hair-brained scheme? Or is that a hare-brained scheme? No one seems quite sure which way to spell this odd word, even though they understand the gist of what it means. And that it’s usually meant in less than kindly terms.

It means ‘foolish’, ‘devoid of good sense or judgment’, ‘brash action not well thought out’, even to the point of being ‘reckless’. So, of course, you aren’t likely seeking to attract this description to your thoughts or actions or yourself; unless maybe you are a wild-eyed inventor or innovator used to being accused of living on the edge, which you take as a compliment, not an insult as it was meant.

Let’s consider the options either way, by considering how each of those spellings might be the original.

One connection with hair and brain is obvious – the proximity on your head. Additionally, unless you have a condition with hair loss, you have many thousands of hairs jutting from equal thousands of follicles on your scalp. On a bad hair day or one where you actually want your hair to look like Albert Einstein, there is a wild flurry of wispy strands swirling about your head, which looks a lot like the 100 billion neurons with their dendrites groping for connection with each other in your brain. Geniuses are rarely really understood by the common man or woman, so much of what they bring forth as their life work is often first considered, …well, hair-brained. So this spelling makes sense.

As for hare-brained, one thinks of a hare as a wild rabbit, with large floppy ears and vigorous and erratic hopping as trademarks. Eccentric for sure. And when you add in that other well-known bunny trait, a talent for breeding lots and lots more hares, you can begin to see how hares could be connected to the concepts behind hare-brained. Out of control, for sure!

I finally found a source that claims the term dates back to 1500’s Scotland, when it was, in fact, spelled both ways. The assumption was that hair-brained meant you had a hair-sized brain, while hare-brained referred to having ‘no more sense than a hare’, in other words, a tiny brain. So while the mystery still isn’t fully cleared up about the’ why’, nowadays dictionaries tend towards harebrained, without the dash in between.

So, let me ask you – how could you best handle it if someone challenges an idea or suggestion you’ve made or an action you’ve taken by calling it or you ‘harebrained’? First, you’ll be able to smile, because YOU know something THEY probably don’t. You could play with them a bit and ask them to spell the word for you first. This would likely catch them off-guard, which is a way to tip the discussion in your favor or at least interrupt their expected pattern of dominance. In reality, they might be correct in their assessment of whatever you did (or plan to), and you can use their reaction to make your ideas better. Thinking it through might just save your hide! And then sometimes, they are just being dramatic, or don’t want to share any responsibility, so they try to make you look crazy by way of letting themselves off the hook.

One of my most useful coaching insights is that there is usually a request behind a complaint. Rather than you reacting with knee-jerk defensiveness, here’s a more effective way to handle this kind of situation. Realize that sometimes people who complain unwittingly try to shift their discomfort onto you by complaining. When this is the case it is nearly impossible to satisfy them no matter what you do – they only know what they don’t want, and may not be sure what they do want. By asking them to clarify “what is the request behind your complaint?”, or “so, what specifically do you want me to do about that instead?”, it puts the ball back in their court to identify what would make them happy. It turns a vague emotion into a specific task. Then you can either agree to do what they request, or not. At a minimum, it opens a deeper discussion about what is bugging them and what realistically can be done by either of you. Try this low-drama approach out the next time someone tries to dump their complaints on you, legitimate or not. It’s tends to be a win/win approach which builds rather than destroys a relationship.

With this in mind, I wish you a wildly creative, inventive life, tickling at the edges of harebrained!

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