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In opposition to the mic drop

Recently I attended a party for a friend who is embarking on a new career opportunity. She had poured her heart and head into the job she was departing, had earned the trust and admiration of the executive team, and was now becoming an executive director of a compelling new venture. She had poignant and inspirational things to say about her experiences. She said them all, as well as her thank yous and good-byes, then she did something unexpected. After cuing the sound guy, she unabashedly busted a move to Meghan Trainor’s “NØ.”

It was brilliant.

Giving yourself some love for a job well done is a habit we all should develop. So is giving yourself a little credit in the moment. My friend did both. As she was dancing, another friend leaned over to me and said, “Hashtag mic drop,” then we both started to sing along.

I’ve been a fan of the mic drop ever since Randy Watson (Eddie Murphy) executed the move in the 1988 comedy flick Coming to America and President Obama perfected it at the 2016 White House correspondents’ dinner. The definitive exclamation point at the conclusion of a kick-ass performance or speech, mic dropping is the ultimate in self back-patting. Sound technicians hate it, but everybody else seems to love it.

Since my friend’s party, my opinion of the mic drop has changed.

In the seconds after a perfectly executed drop, the speaker accepts our wild applause, leaves the mic on the floor, and exits victoriously into the wings. There’s nothing more to be said because the speaker has left us dumbfounded and grateful. This works at the end of a comedy routine, or a farewell party, or musical performance, or even at a U.S. President’s 8th of 8 correspondents’ dinner because there is finality built into the moment.

But in real life, the mic drop doesn’t work. In fact, it’s counterproductive. If I spend my time coming up with a show-stopping statement while you do the same, we’re not having a conversation. We’re likely not even on the same topic. And nothing, literally nothing, will happen after we’ve dropped our implicit mics except that our means of communicating lie broken in discarded heaps.

This rings true whether ten people are sitting around a conference table or an entire nation engages in the serious business of choosing a president. When it comes to complex problem-solving, strategic planning or policy-making, only a fixed microphone will do. In our daily lives, this manifests as the opposite of groupthink. At the national level, this means civic discourse and engagement more than once every four years. And if our leaders can’t converse about bigotry, the economy, the environment, healthcare, terrorism and education, then we have to show them how.

Because stop, drop and walk away isn’t an option.

Do you know what happened when my friend started to rave at her own party? We clapped along, cheered her on, and got up and danced with her.

The mic drop closes the show. Dancing gets the party started.

Shout out to my friend who inspires, among many things, this story. For the most complete history of the mic drop that I could find, check out this 2013 Slate article. BTW, this story was first published on August 1, 2016.