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Contrasting provides context and proportion. When we’re in

the middle of a touchy conversation, sometimes others hear what

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we’re saying as bigger or worse than we intend. For example, you

talk with your assistant about his lack of punctuality. When you

share your concern, he appears crushed.

At this point you could be tempted to water down your con­

lent-“You know it’s really not that big a deal.” Don’t do it.

Don’t take back what you’ve said. Instead, put it in context. For




instance, at this point your assistant may believe you are com­

pletely dissatisfied with his performance. He believes that your

view of the issue at hand represents the totality of your respect

for him. If this belief is incorrect, use Contrasting to clarify

what you don’t and do believe. Start with what you don’t


“Let me put this in perspective. I don’t want you to think

I’m not satisfied with the quality of your work. I want us to

continue working together. I really do think you’re doing a

good job. This punctuality issue is important to me, and I’d

just like you to work on that. If you will be more attentive

to that, there are no other issues.”

Use Contrasting for prevention or first aid. Contrasting is use­

ful both as a prevention and as first aid for safety problems. So

far our examples have been of the first-aid type. Someone has

taken something wrong, and we’ve intervened to clarify our true

purpose or meaning.

When we’re aware that something we’re about to drop into

the pool of meaning could create a splash of defensiveness, we

use Contrasting to bolster safety-even before we see others

going to either silence or violence.

“I don’t want you to think that I don’t appreciate the time

you’ve taken to keep our checkbook balanced and up to

date. I do appreciate it, and I know I certainly couldn’t have

done nearly as well. I do, however, have some concerns

with how we’re using the new electronic banking system.”

When people misunderstand and you start arguing over the

misunderstanding, stop. Use Contrasting. Explain what you

don’t mean until you’ve restored safety. Then return to the

conversation. Safety first.




You Try

Let’s practice. Read the situations below and then come up with

your own Contrasting statements. Remember, contrast what you

don’t want or intend with what you actually do want or intend.

Say it in a way that helps make it safe for the other person.

Angry roommate. You asked your roommate to move her

things in the refrigerator off your shelves and onto her shelves.

You thought it was no big deal, simply a request to share the

space evenly. You have no hidden agenda. You like this roommate

a great deal. She came back with: “There you go again, telling me

how to run my life. I can’t change the vacuum cleaner bag with­

out you jumping in and giving me advice.”

Formulate a Contrasting statement.

I don’t want __________________ _

I do want ___________________ _

Touchy employee. You’re about to talk to Jacob, an employee

who continually blows up when people try to give him feedback.

Yesterday a coworker told Jacob that she’d prefer it if he would

clean up after himself in the lunchroom (something that every­

one else does), and Jacob blew up. You’ve decided to say some­

thing. Of course, you’ll be giving him feedback, and that’s what

usually sets him off, so you’ll need to be careful up front. You’ll

want to set the right tone and lay out the context carefully. After

all, you like Jacob a lot. Everyone does. He has a great sense of

humor and is the most competent and hard-working employee

around. If he could only be less touchy.

Formulate a Contrasting statement.

I don’t want __________________ _

I do want




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