General Question

El_Cadejo's avatar

Have you ever been told that you make others feel stupid?

Asked by El_Cadejo (33676 points ) January 13th, 2013

I was at the bar tonight with a friend and he was telling me that my biggest problem was that I make other people feel stupid. He said it was both when I just talk to someone(like I need to prove I’m smarter) and more so when it turns to debate. I really don’t know how to take this…

I think he may be right in some sense that I do, but I don’t know that it’s something I do wrong.

Some insight…
I don’t even know how to say this part without sounding too egocentric which is why I think I have a hard time talking about it, but honestly I feel like I’m smarter than a good portion of the people I talk to on a daily basis. It probably doesn’t help being told your whole life just how smart you are.

When I have a conversation with you, I want to have a legitimate conversation. I have no need for small talk or any of that mindless chat. As such a lot of my conversations tend to have more substance than the “did ya see the game?” conversations.I talk more about ideas rather than events or people. I also have a tendency to use bigger words than most people I talk to or know more about the given topic. Does that make people feel intimidated?

I’m very prone to getting into debates about various things. I absolutely love it because I feel like it makes both people understand whatever topic it was even more. Not to say I’m annoying with it to the point that I’m Mary Mary Quite Contrary, but with my friends, we tend to debate a lot. (this site over the years has only made me more prone to debating various topics.)

If we’re having a conversation with each other and you say something that is incorrect, I’m going to correct it. I’m sorry, I just can’t help it.I think a lot of it stems from being an INTj

I suppose I could just let things go, but I feel like I’d also have the problem of just not caring about the conversation at all after that point.

I actually think my personality type has a lot to do with all this. I tend to be an extremely logical person when it comes to things but I’m also really blunt. I’m not going to agree and say that “x” was a great idea if I can see a million holes in it. I see no purpose in, as the link said, sugar coating things.

And if this is all my personality type, is that really something I should be working to change? I mean I’ve always been of the opinion my whole life of this is me, take it or leave it. Is this something I should change to appease others?

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51 Answers

CuriousLoner's avatar

Appease no one. Next question.

No, but really I don’t see anything wrong. Only thing I would say is if you are purposely flaunting about being smarter and total dick about it. To me that is just as bad as the douche bag tool who walks around thinking he is Macho Man Randy Savage or something. Just stop.

I am sure some people will be intimidated.

harple's avatar

I think changing your personality and changing how you react to others are not the same thing. I believe it is possible to choose to try to react differently to other’s lack of knowledge/intelligence whilst not compromising your own personality/intelligence/beliefs.

I have also been accused of making others feel stupid. In a different way from the way you describe, as I’m not one for even the mildest conflict so rarely get into a debate on something. It is more that I used to have little patience with people who lacked common sense or who couldn’t see the “obvious” answer to the problem.

Patience is a very good thing to learn in life. A clever person can argue and pick holes in those around them without thinking/caring of the effect of the way they are doing it. An intelligent person can patiently accept the failings of those around them, and can know when to let things go, or can come up with a different way of helping others to understand.

It can be as simple as the language you choose to use. There’s a difference between directly putting someone down or telling them they are wrong, and in asking a question that challenges their thought-process such as “Have you thought about what that would mean for xyz?”

SABOTEUR's avatar

I used to get that. I tend to speak passionately when addressing things I know about. I’ve been told I can be quite intimidating.

I find myself now being especially conscious of how I phrase things. I also have to watch the tone and volume of speech to avoid being perceived as angry or arrogant.

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El_Cadejo's avatar

@CuriousLoner No, no not like that. Honestly I’d rather avoid most conversations than have them in the first place….

@harple I suppose your right. I am also like you in the ” I used to have little patience with people who lacked common sense or who couldn’t see the “obvious” answer to the problem.” Thats actually a big problem for me. I’ve tried to work on that patience, but every time I try I find my self just getting fed up with the conversation and wanting to move it. It’s doing nothing for me at this point.

I guess I will also have to work on how I’m saying things as to not hurt others feelings.
Edit: I’m thinking about that and really I don’t know what hurts or doesn’t hurt peoples feelings. I mean out right insults to them or their intelligence sure but otherwise, what offends? I don’t know that I’ve ever really been offended without being called something.

@SABOTEUR I get extremely passionate as well. I generally don’t raise my voice over it unless its with a close friend but its never in a way of anger or anything.

SABOTEUR's avatar

@uberbatman Yeah, patience is key…especially when explaining basic work procedures to co-workers who should have mastered and implemented those procedures years ago. Even in more mundane conversations, I’ve had to learn it’s not always necessary to make a point. Often best to allow someone to understand something however they understand it.

CuriousLoner's avatar

@uberbatman Ah ok I wasn’t sure. Maybe the bar is just bad place though, for debates? Or is this anywhere you would talk to someone?

I mean maybe they just don’t have any interest in going into a in depth debate on said topic. Not everyone is interested in what you have to say and vice versa.

Who knows maybe they are just not even in the mood to talk and small chit chat is easier for them. Long stressful day at work or they’ve had enough other things on their mind, what not. The last thing they might want is a long conversation or heated debate.

Just food for thought.

augustlan's avatar

Yeah, I’ve heard this about myself, too. In my case, it seems to be my vocabulary that is the main culprit. Some people really don’t like it when you use ‘big’ words. Or, as you say, thinking in a more abstract way.

The small talk thing is something that I’ve learned to appreciate…it’s a necessary social lubricant and can be quite enjoyable if you can relax into it. It helps you get to know someone well enough to go deeper. Think of it as the price you have to pay to get to the conversation you really want to have, and it can be well worth the effort.

Has anyone ever said something like this to you: It’s not what you say, but how you say it? If so, remember that you can be both truthful and kind. How you phrase things matters in how it will be received. And in how you will be perceived.

CuriousLoner's avatar

@augustlan I like how you put that. I agree didn’t think of it from that angle. Ice breaker of sorts is also necessary for some people.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@CuriousLoner No, this was more of a general everyone I talk to, not just a bar thing. I do also understand time and place for certain conversations. And besides no religion or politics at a bar so that takes away that fun :P

It just happened to come up at a bar cause that’s where we were hanging out after work.

I get what you’re saying though.

@augustlan “It’s not what you say, but how you say it? ” YUP :P I think I’ve gotten better at that but clearly not enough. I mean I don’t outright offend people or call them or their ideas stupid but still how I speak must be offensive in some way. I also get accused of being a know-it-all. I don’t know how to deal with this one either. I do know a ton of random shit, and if I don’t know about whatever particular thing, I’ll be the first to tell you instead of saying BS like it seems most are ready to do. Should I not input as often about a subject if I have something insightful to say? Or does this just go back to not what you say but how?

I’ve also been called too smart for my own good….’

This question already, without me doing anything, is feeling like far to much effort to put into social interactions…

Shippy's avatar

Oh I don’t know just put a bit of honey on it.

livelaughlove21's avatar

I’ve been told that a few times, but not by many people. One of these people simply isn’t very bright, to say the least, and easily takes offense. To be honest, a person with average intelligence could easily stump her. She’s a very hard person to talk to about anything that matters.

My husband has also said this and, yes, I’m choosing to work on that. I think he feels this way because, like you, I’m a very logical, realistic person and I don’t sugarcoat anything. I also have a habit of correcting grammar, which I know is annoying. Although I do have more book smarts than he does, I don’t think he’s stupid and I don’t want him to feel that way. Therefore, I’m working on my sensitivity there.

I don’t hear this very often, though, because I usually tailor my choices of conversation to match the people I’m speaking to. I think this is just good manners.

I know a few people, one that immediately comes to mind, that just has to be right about everything and seems to try actively to make others feel stupid and inferior and, you know what? That’s the most annoying and disrespectful thing in the world. It gets to the point where you just want to scream, “WE GET IT! YOU’RE SMART! NOW KINDLY SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

It’s the pretentiousness that gets to me. Like just because someone doesn’t agree with your view, they must be stupid and it’s your job to enlighten them at any cost. Cockiness is one of the most unattractive qualities in a person.

I do think it’s a flaw, but there’s no reason to change your personality if you see nothing wrong with it. For the sake of your friends, though, I would opt to surround yourself with people you don’t feel superior to, assuming such a person exists. I’ve stopped speaking to people like this before. I love debates, but not with people like that. If you don’t have an open mind, I’m moving on.

LostInParadise's avatar

I have been told that and I also have been told that I explain things well. I much prefer the second comment. Sometimes telling someone they are smart is a way of saying that they can’t follow what you are saying. If I am debaing someone, I want to make sure that I am being understood without seeming condescending. Better yet is if I can present things in such a clear and logically forceful way that the other person thinks they came up with the idea on their own. That does not happpen often, but it is a worthy goal.

bookish1's avatar

Dude, grad school is the best cure for thinking you’re smarter than most of the people around you ;)

But if you’ve made it this far the way you are, why change now?

marinelife's avatar

It depends on how you feel about your results. Do you have good friends? Are you in a stable romantic relationship?

Are you satisfied with your life?

If so, why change?

Ron_C's avatar

I used to have that problem when talking about solving problems whose solution was quite evident to me. I had to train myself to be more humble and talk on or near the person I was instructing. It seems to have worked and now we have better technicians and a smoother running department.

laureth's avatar

Boy howdy, yes. (Also, I’m an ISTJ.)

I feel bad about this, too. My recent question about how to grow a low-maintenance vegetable garden is a perfect example. Here’s the thing. Usually by the time I ask for help with something, I’ve usually thought it through as well as I can by myself. I’ve come up with, investigated, and probably rejected, all the easy, off-the-cuff, top-of-the-head answers. So when I ask out loud, most people provide the first answer which occurs to them, which is probably something I have rejected for some reason or another, and because I’m blunt and have no social skills, I say something like, “No, that won’t work.” And then people feel like I’m saying they’re stupid, and that’s not what I mean to convey.

I’m also told that I’m intimidating, for many of the same reasons.

Should you change to appease others? I don’t know. I think in some ways, it depends on the outcome you desire. If you need for this person to like you in order for life to go smoothly (such as a boss), you may want to adjust this so that life is easier for you in the long run. If it’s someone that you will know for a long time and it will be just too hard to change an important part of your personality for them on a permanent basis (for me, it’s my mother-in-law), always having to adjust behavior can be onerous, and I would suggest being yourself, perhaps with the lightest sugar coating possible necessary for basic human kindness. If it’s someone you don’t care about at all (door-to-door God salesmen, for example), who the heck cares?

snowberry's avatar

Not since I realized that having relationships is more important than being right.

wundayatta's avatar

I can’t recall ever being told I make someone feel stupid. But then, I think that is unkind, and I almost never let myself be unkind unless someone deliberately tries to push all my buttons. Even then, I try not to. If someone is trying to push my buttons, it’s because of some problem they have, and getting angry with them and trying to make them feel stupid is kind of pointless, since they already probably feel inferior. Still, I don’t like it when someone is out to get me, so I try to stay away from them.

Other than that, which is all inference, the only thing I’ve ever heard is a couple of people said they were intimidated by me. I think they meant they didn’t think they were smart enough to interest me. Oh. Now I can think of a third person who said that. She was with me and another friend, and we’re always busting on each other. People think he’s smart, and while he does have a large vocabulary and thinks very quickly, he’s not very emotionally clever, which causes him lots of problems.

In any case, it always mystifies me why people might find me intimidating. I really give people the benefit of the doubt. If they don’t understand something, I’ll try to explain it. It’s only if they disagree with me for reasons that seem willfully stupid that I will stop being polite to them. Willful stupidity is not convertable. People choose to ignore the data and analysis in order to maintain their point of view. When someone does that, they don’t deserve kindness because kindness won’t help them.

But if someone simply doesn’t know something, I don’t hold that against them. If they are willing to learn, then there’s no problem. And, of course, if they have something to teach me (as most people do), there’s no reason to be intimidated, as far as I can tell.

So I think most people are equal—we may not know the same things (in fact I hope we don’t), but we have things to share, which means we are valuable to each other.

People sometimes say they think I’m smart, but I never feel like I’m smart. There are many people out there who know a lot more than I do. There are many people out there who are doing a lot better than I am. I hope no one ever has cause to feel that I make them stupid. On the other hand, if people feel stupid, then I don’t think I have anything to do with it. It’s just like with me. When I feel stupid, that’s on on me. And I pretty much feel stupid all the time. But I don’t blame it on anyone else. That’s stupid!

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BonnieBlue's avatar

No, I can’t say I have been told this. Doesn’t resonate with me. Rather, I like to encourage others and bring out their best.

DigitalBlue's avatar

Yep.
Unlike you, I don’t really think of myself as smarter than average. I’m very curious, I love to learn, but I don’t think that I’m particularly smart. However, for as long as I can remember, people have told me that I make them feel stupid or some have gone so far as to accuse me of thinking that they’re stupid (which, in those cases, has never been true.)

I really think it’s an issue of insecurity. I don’t think that there is something that I necessarily do to make people feel that way, but it seems to be a rising of their own insecurities about not being “smart enough,” or whatever. I’m not sure how to change that, or if you can.

GMGirl's avatar

Many times. Thanks for the question and for the link to Intj description. What a helpful insight into my personality. Wish I’d read it years ago. Weighing in as a slightly older member of the Intj tribe, my reaction to this question is tempered by years of experience in irritating people. I’ve learned to temper my vocabulary, to filter it for given situations. This requires some positive intent and skill, because if filtering is done poorly, I come off looking condescending, when I’m really trying to create a more comfortable atmosphere for the people I’m chatting with.

As one person who called me on my tendency to sound arrogant put it, the bottom line is about respect, rather than being right, or sounding more intelligent. I’ve learned to take the focus off the details of the conversation, the thing we’re talking about, and put it on the dynamics of the conversation. If people are feeling uncomfortable with what I’m saying, or how I’m saying it, they won’t hear what I’m saying, and dialogue degenerates into diatribe. Since like you I love a good debate, how I come off sounding is an important factor in having a good and fun debate.

I agree that the danger of debating in a bar is that alcohol, while making the whole thing seem fun, causes us to lose our filters and inhibitions, and reigning in our natural enthusiasm gets harder. Our tendency to sound like we think we know more than everybody else causes discussion to dissolve the more we drink. What starts out as fun can turn into a shouting match, and apologies the next day. I remember one presidential debate that ended up with me shouting at George Bush and my fellow TV viewers. I got evicted from the house until I cooled off, and got to enjoy the New England evening by myself on the porch for a while!

gailcalled's avatar

Hang around with a different crowd.

Coloma's avatar

You are most likely a “NT” intuitive thinker type. NT’s types LOVE and are energized by intense conversation esp.if you are an extrovert as well and are the information hounds and knowledge seekers of the MBTI.
I am a female ENTP and have been told I am intimidating because I am assertive, outspoken, highly articulate and can hold my own in any conversation. NT’s can often come across as arrogant and rather know it all-ish, but that is not our intention. We simply LOVE rousing and interesting conversation and despise aimless small talk, short of the basic catch up with friends.

It is a never ending exercise in self awareness, trying to keep the balance between not feeling the need to “dumb down” and yet, recognizing our style can be overwhelming to many others that are not as well endowed with sharp minds, heavy analytical strengths, divergent thinking skills and a vault of information that can be retrieved from our data base in a nano second.lol
I think the key is to try and find like minded friends that can match your intellect and spar a little without falling to pieces.
I have an ENTJ friend and OMG! That guy gives me a run for my money no doubt. He is the only person I know that thrives on lively conversation and when we get into it hours can pass and we just keep getting more and more energized by our discussions. He wears me out and THAT is not an easy task. haha

JLeslie's avatar

There is probably a good chance you are smarter than a lot of the company you keep. If not in general smarter, then maybe just more knowledgeable about certain subjects.

Last night I kind of dismissed something a friend of mine said when a bunch of us were talking about a friend’s medical condition, and I immediately apologized for being somewhat rude to her; it came out badly what I said. It was not that what she said was stupid, more that what she said triggered my feelings of what doctor’s do, dismiss women when they talk about symptoms they have, the particular symptom we were discussing was hair loss. Anyway, I have been told I know a lot about medical conditions by friends, that I am smart, and I do know more than the average person about many medical conditions. Unfortunately, partly, because I have been sick.

Also, some people really hate debate, and they see questions as challenging them or saying they are stupid or wrong, rather than people just wanting to understand the other point of view or seek more knowledge. Do you ask a lot of questions when in a conversation?

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BosM's avatar

The good thing is that you’ve reflected on yourself and how your INTJ type is influencing your behavior, it’s who you are. The reason people take those tests (Myers Briggs) is to understand their own natural tendencies and those of others.

Here is what you need to think about – you have to decide what is more important – building relationships or being “right”. As you progress in your career, and in life, you’ll find that building relationships is essential to a successful and fulfilling life.

Search on these topics “Soft Skills” development, Conflict Style, Leadership Style, and Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman) to gain more insight into yourself and how you can use the information to develop self awareness and build better relationships.

And BTW, you should thank your friend for caring enough to give you honest feedback. The next step is yours. Good luck. Peace, BosM

GMGirl's avatar

Thanks, hadn’t heard of soft skills. I did a search as you suggested and came up with the mindtools.com website, an interesting looking resource. Learning about soft skills seems like a good place to begin to build better relationships, especially for the work environment.

BosM's avatar

Mindtools.com is a great resource. Check out this article on Why Soft Skills Matter. http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCDV_34.htm

I recall this topic in Grad School in our Leadership/Teambuilding tract but can’t find my material but found this highly rated book on Amazon: “The Hard Truth about Soft Skills”:
http://www.amazon.com/Hard-Truth-About-Soft-Skills/dp/0061284149/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

Daniel Goleman “Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence”.
http://www.amazon.com/Leadership-Emotional-Intelligence-Daniel-Goleman/dp/1934441171/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1358105987&sr=1-7&keywords=daniel+goleman+emotional+intelligence

Sunny2's avatar

Yes. It made me think about listening more to the way the people around me speak. I then adjust my language accordingly. If you are speaking to someone who obviously doesn’t speak your language, you simplify what you say. I’ve also been in the company of people who were using technical terms I didn’t understand and felt kind of stupid myself; in which case, I just listen. I can’t add anything to the conversation. Some times I ask a question, if the question I think of doesn’t seem too off subject.

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HolographicUniverse's avatar

The issue is not in your personality, if you were to interact with my peers and I you would feel like a commoner. The issue is in the ability to consider your surroundings and behave accordingly to social contexts, that is an issue that many reclusive individuals have thus they’d rather keep their own company. To have proper etiquette is to realize that you can be intimidating and learning how to prevent the feeling of inferiority in others, if you are smarter than the company you keep then you must realize that there is no apparent need to flaunt your intelligence in a casual environment.

So no, your personality is not the issue and it would be foolish to alter your behavior in favor of appeasing another, but when in social situations be a little more considerate to those who cannot relate to you, and if you find this difficult then why place yourself in such environment at all?

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

I have frequently told that others feel inadequate around me and they tell me I am the cause. OK, I have a level of education higher than most others. Yes, I am interested in many things and have always tried to learn from every new (to me) experience and from everyone who knows a lot about things I know much less about. As a result I know a little bit about a vast array of subjects and a great deal about a much smaller range of subjects. I ask questions frequently and will offer answers to the extent that my knowledge permits. If I inadvertently make others feel inadequate, I regret doing so. If others believe that I do so on purpose, they are mistaken. Comments?

YARNLADY's avatar

Not really. I did have a couple of people say they thought I was arrogant, but I think that is just turning around their own feelings that I made them feel stupid.

Coloma's avatar

I also think that being verbally astute and articulate, combined with enthusiasm can often be seen as arrogance, when it is simply enthusiasm for sharing ones knowledge. I think this is especially true for more extroverted personalities.

tranquilsea's avatar

There’s nothing I love more than a great debate that comes up out of the blue. I’ve been told, now and then, that I am intense and that I use “big words”. I have a broad education and I can make connections that some people can’t. I’ve often considered whether I should temper what I say and I always come to the conclusion that I shouldn’t. What I do work on is making sure my delivery is gentle. If someone makes an ignorant statement I ask questions to find out why they believe what they do. I used to just counter the ignorant statement and that made me a bit of an asshole so I stopped.

What I’ve been lucky to find is a group of friends that I can be uncensored with. So I have people I go to to debate things with. When I’m out in public, though, I make sure I keep my mouth shut when the people around me start talking about weird things LIKE giving colloidal silver to their kids. I intensely study the silverware, walls or ceiling with a large smile on my face.

For individual people though, if someone is game for a debate then I’m up for it too. I gently find out their debating skills through floater questions and adjust the intensity of the debate based on what I feel they can handle. If they are countering me point by point though…game on. There’s nothing I love more.

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burntbonez's avatar

I suspect this has more to do with how people talk than with who is smarter and who is not.

tranquilsea's avatar

I want to add that I dumbed down when I was a teen in an effort to fit in more/better. It took a lot of years to understand that doing so wasn’t a good thing. It took more years just to be comfortable with who I am.

dabbler's avatar

No one will say you made them feel stupid if you listened to them and acknowledged all the valid points they made.

So if people say that about you it makes me wonder if you are listening or if you are just being impatient or combative, and you think you won – that you are right, when the other party stops. Further if you respond to and acknowledge only points you can counter/contradict you’re using classic sophmoric arrogance.
Or you’re using debate tactics; some people like conversations where someone wins, but a lot of people want a collaborative chat where everyone wins. That doesn’t happen when someone insists on appearing more informed or right or insightful than everyone else in the conversation.
Most people will learn something better if they have not been backed into a corner, if you want to think you’re teaching ‘em something.

Another thing that makes me think you’re not listening is your contempt for “did ya see the game?” conversations. If you think they are of no use then you have missed the opportunities to participate, and maybe learn about that sports domain and why it fascinates the talker, and when you have appreciated that you can prod the conversation to something you’re more versed in.
I don’t know that much about sports, and follow then hardly at all. But I have some great sports conversations with serious fans and especially with amateur players. I let them teach me about the game and what’s exciting about it to them.

Another possibility is that you’re making unnecessary criticism or personal attacks while making your brilliant points. If you are able to convince and illuminate with simple facts and respectful presentation people will admire your big brain. If it takes brow-beating then your point is not being well made you have proven something besides that you have a big brain.

As far as “If we’re having a conversation with each other and you say something that is incorrect, I’m going to correct it. I’m sorry, I just can’t help it” There’s nothing wrong with that at all, IF :
– you didn’t interrupt the talker to do it, you let them finish their point, or if you did interrupt them you bring the conversation back to where it was when you interrupted.
– keep corrections in perspective of the over-arching topic. Nit-picking just shows you’re anal, but if you can make a correcting point and get back to covering all the big points of a topic you’ve accomplished something different from a debate.

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blueiiznh's avatar

You stated things pretty clearly. I wouldn’t sweat it.
You are who you are and not everyone has to like you or agree
The world wound be boring if things worked like that.
i have been told i am unapproachable by a couple people. I just laugh at that because i am far from that.
stay you!

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El_Cadejo's avatar

A lot of really great answers here. Thanks guys for giving me some things to think about.

lifeflame's avatar

I know I’m smart, and probably smarter than the average person. But I like to listen. I like to listen because I’m looking to learn things I don’t know—or try to see things from a new points of view. If we disagree, instead of convincing the other person of their ignorance, I’m curious as to how they arrived at their conclusion. I also see it as a challenge to be able to communicate an idea (especially really hard ones) in a way that they can understand. And if they are really boring me, I move on…

gailcalled's avatar

To be explicit rather than tacit, no one has ever said to me, “You make others feel stupid.”

El_Cadejo's avatar

@lifeflame I feel like I listen a lot as well, I have been told I’m a good listener, but I also question what people say as I means to understand their point of view on topics. I don’t think everyone appreciates that though and would rather just have what they said accepted at face value rather than think about their views.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

@dabbler Despite my training, I too often fail to use my listening skills in socially appropriate ways.

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