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Consider Maria, a copywriter who is currently hostage to some

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MARIA’S STORY Consider Maria, a copywriter who is currently hostage to some pretty strong emotions
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pretty strong emotions. She and her colleague Louis just

reviewed the latest draft of a proposal with their boss. During

the meeting, they were supposed to be jointly presenting their

latest ideas. But when Maria paused to take a breath, Louis took

over the presentation, making almost all the points they had

come up with together. When the boss turned to Maria for input,

there was nothing left for her to say.

Maria has been feeling humiliated and angry throughout this

project. First, Louis took their suggestions to the boss and dis­

cussed them behind her back. Second, he completely monopo­

lized the presentation. Consequently, Maria believes that Louis is

downplaying her contribution because she’s the only woman on

the team.

She’s getting fed up with his “boys’ club” mentality. So what

does she do? She doesn’t want to appear “oversensitive,” so most

of the time she says nothing and just does her job. However, she

does manage to assert herself by occasionally getting in sarcastic

jabs about the way she’s being treated.

“Sure I can get that printout for you. Should I just get your

coffee and whip up a bundt cake while I’m at it?” she mutters,

and rolls her eyes as she exits the room.

Louis, in tum, finds Maria’s cheap shots and sarcasm puz­

z l ing. He’s not sure what has Maria upset but is beginning to

despise her smug attitude and hostile reaction to most everything




he does. As a result, when the two work together, you could cut

the tension with a knife.

What’s Making Maria Mad?

The worst at dialogue fall into the trap Maria has fallen into.

Maria is completely unaware of a dangerous assumption she’s

making. She’s upset at being overlooked and is keeping a pro­

fessional silence. She’s assuming that her emotions and behavior

are the only right and reasonable reactions under the circum­

stances. She’s convinced that anyone in her place would feel the

same way.

Here’s the problem. Maria is treating her emotions as if they are

the only valid response. Since, in her mind, they are both justified

and accurate, she makes no effort to change or even question

them. In fact, in her view, Louis caused them. Ultimately, her

actions (saying nothing and taking cheap shots) are being driven

by these very emotions. Since she’s not acting on her emotions, her

emotions are acting on her-controlling her behavior and driving

her deteriorating relationship with Louis. The worst at dialogue

are hostages to their emotions, and they don’t even know it.

The good at dialogue realize that if they don’t control their

emotions, matters will get worse. So they try something else.

They fake it. They choke down reactions and then do their best

to get back to dialogue. At least, they give it a shot.

Unfortunately, once they hit a rough spot in a crucial conver­

sation, their suppressed emotions come out of hiding. They show

up as tightened jaws or sarcastic comments. Dialogue takes a hit.

Or maybe their paralyzing fear causes them to avoid saying what

they really think. Meaning is cut off at the source. In any case,

their emotions sneak out of the cubbyhole they’ve been crammed

into and find a way into the conversation. It’s never pretty, and

it always kills dialogue.




The best at dialogue do something completely different. They

aren’t held hostage by their emotions, nor do they try to hide or

suppress them. Instead, they act on their emotions. That is, when

they have strong feelings, they influence (and often change) their

emotions by thinking them out. As a result, they choose their

emotions, and by so doing, make it possible to choose behaviors

that create better results.

This, of course, is easier said than done. How do you rethink

yourself from an emotional and dangerous state into one that

puts you back in control?

Where should Maria start? To help rethink or gain control of

our emotions, let’s see where our feelings come from in the first

place. Let’s look at a model that helps us first examine and then

gain control of our own emotions.

Consider Maria. She’s feeling hurt but is worried that if she

says something to Louis, she’ll look too emotional, so she alter­

nates between holding her feelings inside (avoiding) and taking

cheap shots (masking).

As Figure 6-1 demonstrates, Maria’s actions stem from her feel­

ings. First she feels and then she acts. That’s easy enough, but it

Feel –…… Act hurt silence

worried cheap shots

Figure 6-1 . How Feelings Drive Actions




begs the question: What’s causing Maria’s feelings in the first


Is it Louis’s behavior? As was the case with the nacho-mother­

in-law, did Louis make Maria feel insulted and hurt? Maria

heard and saw Louis do something, she generated an emotion,

and then she acted out her feelings-using forms of masking and


So here’s the big question: What happens between Louis act­

ing and Maria feeling? Is there an intermediate step that turns

someone else’s actions into our feelings? If not, then it has to be

true that others make us feel the way we do.

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