A Tool for Emotional Risk Management — Name It and Claim It
In my last post, I suggested that one of the biggest obstacles to those in the professional services was a discomfort with taking emotional risks. Since there is no trust without risk, this creates a barrier to trusted relationships.
There is a key, a technique for mitigating emotional risk; it’s called Name It and Claim It. I’ll express it grammatically, though it can’t be emphasized enough that you must say the words genuinely, with care. If you’re faking it, if you’re phony, there are no words to do the job.
Think of a big bad truth; an elephant in the room. The thing that everyone knows is true, but no one wants to talk about. Name It and Claim It is for getting those “elephants” out in the open. Because the thing about elephants is that if you don’t speak them, they take control. But if you can Name It—that is, speak the elephant in the room—then you can Claim It—you can recover control.
The elephant may be that you are nervous. Or that the other person is nervous. That you’re about to say something highly personal. Or that you’re concerned about a lack of information. Or that you are low in experience on a given issue. Or that you may not know how to phrase something. Or that others know more about a given issue.
Whatever you’re afraid of, that’s the Elephant in the Room. That’s what needs naming. So here’s the skill.
List as many caveats as are necessary to slightly overcompensate for what you’re about to say—then say it.
That’s it; though every word is important. Here are a few examples:
- “at the risk of sounding like a broken record, being redundant over and over again, let me remind us all one more time that…”
- “I know we’re busy here and everyone’s got a loaded agenda, and we’re all supposed to be business like, but I’ve got to tell you—I’m a little nervous.”
- “I’ve never been in your situation, and of course you’ve seen many more of these than me, and maybe it’s presumptuous of me, but—I think if I were in your shoes that would be very upsetting to me.”
- “Before we go too much further in the conversation, I’d like to make sure neither of us gets embarrassed by it turning out that price is either way above or way below what the other person thought, so—I’m thinking this is a low 7 digit number. Is that wildly in the same ballpark you were thinking?”
- “I’m probably way off here, and I haven’t had my eyesight tested lately, and the light is bad, but—isn’t the emperor not wearing an clothes?”
Name It and Claim It feels risky. It is. But it is like a vaccination. A small pain now mitigates a much larger pain later. A small emotional personal risk can add huge payoff by suddenly making a big issue eaiser to talk about.
When you Name and Claim properly, the worst that can happen is that the other person validates all those fears you expressed—“yes, you really should have waited, and you’re right, it is embarrassing,” and so on. But the important truth is—you’ve spoken the thing that needs speaking. From then on, everything has changed.
Because when humans say something out loud to each other—as opposed to letting it fester unspoken within each person—a connection is made. You may continue to disagree—but sullen, resentful disagreement is far more corrosive than spoken, acknowledged disagreement. One is connection; one isn’t.
Name It and Claim It doesn’t just mitigate risk; it actually creates trust at the same time. Because it usually amounts to one person taking a personal risk in the realm of intimacy. People reciprocate. If I take a risk in front of you—honestly, sincerely—odds are you’ll respond in kind. Thus intimacy increases; thus trust increases.
Professionals need to take more personal risk. This tool can help.
Showing our vulnerability is something most folks are loathe to do…most go in the other direction and build a wall of defensiveness…creating a wall around one’s self which interferes with a closer, real and honest relationship with another…
Most consciously or unconsciously feel there’s a danger in being vulnerable or showing one’s vulnerability, so they become tentative, cautious and reactive…fearing showing the "delicacy " of their true and real self…
the deal in being authentic, real and trusting is to become consciously conscious of our defensiveness, learn how to become real, how to be ourselves…and this can only happen when we come to terms with our vulnerability…going through it….and not around it…vulnerability is the doorway that leads one to their True and Real self…and away from the false self, the ego personality, and the fake and phony self.
the greater the (allowing of our)vulnerablity, the lesser the distance beween one’s self and others, and the more honest the relationshship.
When doing a Name It, I try to find a way to phrase it effectively. In the article, some of the examples you suggest have wording can be taken as detracting, negativity, or nay-saying.
I’ve been phrasing issues as "a leading indicator of our success will be our ability to manage Issue-X". It’s a little weak, but it keeps the discussion about success while putting an issue on the table for discussion.
Just a thought…
Peter those comments about vulnerability make a lot of sense to me. You can’t deal with the vulnerability that makes us close up without acknowledging the vulnerability that’s there to begin with. That vulnerability is, often, the thing that needs to get Named and Claimed.
Carl, I’m all for phrasing things in the positive, as you suggest; but I’m not sure from your example, after having phrased it positively, what is left of the "elephant issue" that is being Named. Is it that everyone’s afraid to speak about managing Issue X? If so, isn’t your solution even more blunt than mine? What is the difficult-to-speak-about issue in your example that your formulation makes it easier to talk about?
My experience is that most consultants that don’t appreciate the value of trust and view exposing vulnerabilities (aka elephants) as a sign of weakness and by doing so will mitigate their chances of success. Those that can do this, do this because they know transparency to these elephants is key to establishing a good working relationship and they do it naturally. Those that try to fake it are seen for what they are and are doomed for mediocrity and false pretense relationships that eventually disolve.
This is a powerful concept that is easy if you believe. It doesn’t require you to know more than the next expert that walks in the room or how many projects you’ve done in the industrial consumables but will get much further down the road any content knowledge ever will.
Charlie, this is clearly a great tool.
At the same time, I would be very concerned that framing the caveats in negative language could have the opposite of the intended effect.
Earlier this year, Robert Cialdini’s colleague Noah Goldstein published an article about research by social psychologist Amani El-Alayli that found negative statements reinforce a negative impression, in just this sort of situation. I can’t find a working web link for the article, but I’ll share some excerpts below, and I’ll send you my archived copy by email.
"According to recently published research conducted by social psychologist Amani El-Alayli and her colleagues (2008), using such disclaimers is at best completely ineffective and at worst can actually be counter-effective. For instance, the researchers found in one study that mentioning this type of qualifier before making a statement with a lot of hubris actually increased the audience’s perception of the speaker as arrogant compared to when the same statement was made without the qualifier. When the actual statement was not particularly arrogant, using the disclaimer didn’t have any effect on the audience’s perception of the speaker as arrogant. Either way, using the disclaimer did lead the audience to like the speaker less than if the speaker had made no disclaimer at all. "
"Alayli and her colleagues found a similar pattern of results with disclaimers and statements that implicated other negative traits, such as laziness and selfishness. For example, they found that when someone preceded a selfish statement with either "I don’t mean to sound selfish, but I think…" or "I know this may sound selfish, but I think…" the speaker was viewed as more selfish than when the selfish statement wasn’t preceded by any qualifiers. "
"The researchers suggest that this maybe the case because people tend to have a confirmation bias when making inferences about others. In other words, people pay particular attention to information that confirms rather than disconfirms what they already believe about someone. Therefore, when people hear from a speaker that what he or she is about to say may sound arrogant, they are predisposed to viewing the statement (and the person) as particularly arrogant. "
"This research clearly demonstrates the dangers of using a qualifier to try to protect yourself from the negative implications of the statements you make to others."
. . .
More on confirmation bias.
. . .
I think the takeaway lesson here is that it is important to keep confirmation bias in mind while doing Name It and Claim it, and make sure that your caveats are framed in a positive way.
So, for example, rather than say "at the risk of sounding like a broken record," one might want to say: "I know this item is very important to everyone here, so I want to reiterate…."
A very good point. I always feel uncomfortable with recommendations for prefacing with a negative; although it may seem self effacing I doubt that it comes across like that. I like your phrasing in the positive, it sounds much more inclusive.
El-Alayli’s original article ‘"I Don’t Mean to Sound Arrogant, but . . ." The Effects of Using Disclaimers on Person Perception’ can be found here:
but it costs to access.
At the risk of perhaps pulling Shaula and Eddie into the appearance of a public disagreement based on my own ignorance, let me nonetheless ask their forbearance in my attempt to clarify.
Name It and Claim It is not about disclaimers, at least not in the sense I think El-Alayli is talking about. "I don’t mean to sound arrogant but…" is a total trigger to expect something arrogant to follow. It’s right up there with "Trust me…" Or, "Your performance this year has overall been very strong…"
Disclaimers, in that sense, are all about the person saying them. They are self-oriented, selfish attempts to curry favor with others in a somewhat devious way. I couldn’t agree more that this form of self-aggrandizement gets negative results.
I think I have done a disservice in not sufficiently distinguishing "disclaimers" from Name It and Claim It. The best NICI statements aren’t about the speaker–they are said in service to the listener and the combination of listener-speaker. They reveal things which both parties tend to be uncomfortable revealing, but which, having been revealed, help both parties to achieve a greater connection because of the revelation.
I have to thank Shaula for helping me articulate this distinction. In an off-line email, she suggested that several of my examples were quite effective (e.g. "Before we go too much further in the conversation, I’d like to make sure neither of us gets embarrassed by it turning out that price is either way above or way below what the other person thought, so—I’m thinking this is a low 7 digit number. Is that wildly in the same ballpark you were thinking?").
By contrast, she pointed out several other examples (e.g. "at the risk of sounding like a broken record, being redundant over and over again, let me remind us all one more time that…").
Shaula says (quite rightly, I think), "The difference would seem to lie in whether the caveats are self-asserting / self-protecting / self-oriented, or if they are self-revealing / other oriented."
And her advice to me (and, I assume this is true for Eddie as well) is that this distinction needs to be made crystal-clear in the language, both verbal and non-verbal, that gets used to express it.
And I think Shaula and Eddie are quite right about this. It’s the difference between:
"I don’t want to say I told you so, but…"
"I do fully realize how upsetting this may be to you, but I nonetheless feel I have to bring up the subject of…"
To Shaula’s reference to the confirmation bias, it seems to me that if someone is predisposed to be suspicious of us, it’s going to take even more caveats–of the "clean" kind–to overcome it (e.g. "I know this isn’t likely to enhance my reputation with you, a lot of you aren’t going to agree with this statement any more than you have in the past, and I’m not ignorant of that effect–but I feel I must say.."
Let me skip the caveats here and just say that I think NICI is a powerful tool, and I know that Shaula totally agrees with that. That said, I do not myself yet totally understand how to phrase it. The examples in this note still don’t feel totally right to me.
So I invite and welcome Shaula and Eddie and Peter and others to keep educating me and all of us on the best way to get to the intent of NICI. You’ve been very thoughtful and articulate already in this regard, and I want to thank you.
A quick comment, Charlie, based on your most recent note, where you said: "… To Shaula’s reference to the confirmation bias, it seems to me that if someone is predisposed to be suspicious of us, it’s going to take even more caveats–of the "clean" kind–to overcome it."
My experience is that if someone is suspicious of me, that I have contributed in some (perhaps unconscious) way, shape or form to their being suspicious (my protestations and denial notwithstanding)
There’s much here but what attracts me is the notion you mention here, Charlie, “The best NICI statements aren’t about the speaker–they are said in service to the listener and the combination of listener-speaker. They reveal things which both parties tend to be uncomfortable revealing, but which, having been revealed, help both parties to achieve a greater connection because of the revelation.”
For me, this is the issue – creating a conscious, healthy, trusting relationship and doing so in a way where both feel they are being honest, sincere and self-responsible. There is a space between two people when they speak, say 18 – 24 inches or so between them. The key here is what fills that space. What fills that space can range from the sacred to ice. In that space, one can be completely engaged with one’s whole being or be caught up in one’s head continually “playing games” and trying to “figure out” the other. Vulnerability describes the former; mental technologies of speaking describe the latter.
For me, this IS all about me and only indirectly about the other…since in my work one can never “fix” the other and trying to do so is more an ego issue than a deeper heart-felt issue.
So, to the examples in your note, I might re-frame them as such:
“Before we go too much further in the conversation, I’d like to share my discomfort around the pricing issue…just to be sure I am in sync with you and see if we are both on the same page. Can you help me with this? (I cannot account for whether the other still gets embarrassed or not –original statement/example – but that’s their issue and I cannot “make” them not be embarrassed. Trying to cover for their embarrassment is an ego issue for me, so I don’t take all the heat, or blame and responsibility for my own feelings and emotions.) This is what I’m thinking…..and I’m curious where you are with this?”
“…"at the risk of sounding like a broken record, being redundant over and over again, let me remind us all one more time that…"
“I’m probably being repetitive and I do this when I’m not sure, or curious, but (forget the remind us all…as that, for me, again seems like I’m trying to dis-own my stuff and perhaps a group reference will mitigate my owning my sensitivities and feelings.), can I say again that I….”
"I do fully realize how upsetting this may be to you, but I nonetheless feel I have to bring up the subject of…"
I’m feeling really uneasy and shaky about this, I don’t know about you, but I wanted to get your sense on this. Would it be OK to speak further about and ask you how you feel? (never mind that it might upset the other….for me, that’s trying to “take care of “ someone that we can’t make feel a way they don’t choose to feel.)
Vulnerability is all about me and no one else. Owning my vulnerability and putting it out there more often than not fills that 18-14 inch space with a sense of softness, OK-ness – even with one’s discomfort, human-ness, and a sense of real and true engagement…one’s heart…not a “mentally figure it out how to say it” response and in so doing supports the space between us to move to a place of mutual support, honesty, trust…without “mentally” trying to take care of the other.
Vulnerability allows for an interaction to grow organically, in the moment, without (mentally) needing any defensive type of maneuver to hopefully make it, or the other, OK. Just be me and say what’s up for me. Often the other, perhaps a bit shaken by the honesty at first, or not, will slowly respond in kind…but remember, relationships have to be cultivated and nurtured.
Simple, not easy.
But, that’s just me.
Another resource or data set to use is our own physical response to whatever is going on in a group/ project. It can be effective, if a person is able to link our visceral experiences to what might be going on in the group, to make our experiences and understandings of the unconscious transparent to others. For example, if a person feels a difficulty in speaking, she may note that and imagine out loud that it is difficult for others to speak to an issue as well; if some strong feeling is located in the stomach, she might consider what is difficult to stomach in this situation– as a way to broach the topic. This invites others’ unconscious to be recognized and worked as useful data for the group. Peace.
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You’re kidding, right?
In my world, admittng that kind of stuff gets you eaten alive. You want validation? Talk to your spouse.
Interesting that you’d feel the need for anonymity–even when advocating a take no risks philosophy. I guess it’s consistent, though; reveal nothing, eh? Who’s got you so scared?