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Making Your Point Without Stabbing Someone
by Susan Dunn

I work in a profession where I'm paid to "make a point," but it doesn't work that easily. I mean people don't call for coaching and say, "I can't get a promotion (or a girl)" and I reply, "You're rigid and abrasive and turn people off. Do this instead." It's as much of a dance as the dance you do every day at work and at home, where the first rule is, "don't step on the other person's feet." I may be competent, but if I'm abrasive, who's going to listen?

The second rule you learn at dance class is that someone leads (the man in this case), and their job is to "frame" the other person (the woman). This actually does apply pretty well to coaching. I'm the leader, and my job is to know the direction we'll be taking, and to frame the client. It's their show. I'm the coach, but it's their game.

But the thing about not stepping on their feet still applies.

It's more important in intimate relationship, because they're more highly-charged, but it's important in work relationships too. They can be highly-charged too, just in a different way.

In the coaching relationship, it's assumed change will occur. Most people who come to coaching realize something's not working, and are ready for some new options. It's assumed that while I'm not an expert at them (they are), I am someone who has options. In other words, it's not an adversarial situation. I'm Home Depot and they've come for some new tools.

Nevertheless, how I say what I say makes a big difference, and here's something I've discovered over the years. The more powerful the point I want to make, the less powerfully I state it. When there's a point to be made, and I sense it's time to, I lower my voice, sweeten the tone, and slip it in very quietly. I state it and then let it sit. It is usually well-received when presented in that manner.

Charge neutral, it's called. In this case you're proactively defusing possible anticipated conflict, which may or may not occur. It applies doubly if you're getting powerful discontent aimed at you. The best way to defuse it, and get back into a productive discussion, is to remain calm. There's not a person on earth who isn't afraid of strong feelings. The stronger the feelings, the more discordant, the more the relationship matters to you, and the more power the other person has over you (able to fire you, for instance, or leave you and take your kids and your 401k with them), the greater the fear. Our gut reaction is to "fight or flee" -- attack back, or leave -- either by shutting down emotionally, or physically leaving. Neither of which will get you what you want.

In order to disarm the situation, manage your reactions and charge neutral. Calm your voice, gestures and expressions. Don't back off from what needs saying, but don't deliver it like a stealth bomb either.

When you demonstrate you can do this consistently over time, your partner will feel safe, whether it's someone at work or at home, trusting that you won't fly off the handle, explode, implode, sulk, attack, retaliate, or leave. In this way you keep the lines of communication open with an easy flow, and you'll get the information you need. It's important to remember that pleasant or unpleasant, you need information.

Part of personal power, an EQ competency, is being able to master your own emotions and those of others so you can stay engaged but not overly invested emotionally in the outcome. You want to say what you have to say but send it like a dove, to light gently on their shoulder, not like a hand grenade that destroys everything in sight.

Did you ever notice that people who are truly powerful are very gentle? That's one of the reasons we listen to them and like to be around them. They can point something out to us without destroying our self-confidence, raising our defenses, or making us dislike them.

To remain liked is a given in the intimate relationship, but a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review suggests that we should not underestimate the value of being liked in the workplace. Tiziana Casciaro (Harvard Business School) and Miguel Sousa Lobo (Fuqua School of Business) found that given the choice people consistently and overwhelmingly prefer to work with a "lovable fool" than with a "competent jerk." In typical business vernacular they suggest "leveraging the likeable."

People who have personal power do better because they connect better with other people, and that's what it's all about. But of course here at EQ Central, we don't like those options of "lovable fool" or "competent jerk." Why not be lovable and competent? Then you have real power.

It's not enough to be wise, someone said, one must also be charming.

Susan Dunn, MA, The EQ Coach, , Coaching, Internet courses and ebooks around emotional intelligence for your personal and professional success. Coach Certification Program - fast, affordable, no-residency, training coaches worldwide. Email for free ezine.

Susan Dunn may be contacted at or


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