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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.

Mitigating Emotional Risk

Most service professionals share a distinguishing characteristic: they over-rate content mastery and under-rate personal connection. Professionals are less comfortable operating in the purely personal realm than they are in data-based, content-driven interactions. I have observed these patterns consistently throughout my career in professional services.

Nothing is more likely to cause an accountant, lawyer, actuary or consultant to break out sweating than the need to interact improvisationally one on one with a client without a clear agenda, in an area outside their zone of competence, with a potential sale on the line.

It feels, above all else, risky. Personally risky.

If you were to infer that professionals underrate personal skills because they are uncomfortable practicing them, I wouldn’t dissuade you. Here’s more evidence.

My online Trust Quotient self-assessment quiz has over 2500 entries so far. The quiz rates your own assessment of your credibility, reliability, intimacy, and self-orientation—the key components of the Trust Equation.

For professionals so far, the highest scores are for reliability; the lowest are for intimacy.

In other words: an under-rated and critical skill in professional services—the ability to form deep personal relationships—is, by participants’ own self-ratings, their area of greatest weakness.

In the seminar work I do with professionals, this is always evident. “Oh we couldn’t say that, that would be too direct. That might offend them. The client would be embarrassed if I did that. They might feel that’s unprofessional. I wouldn’t want them to think I was too emotional. That just isn’t done. That’s too risky.”

These people are professionals at mitigating risk—financial risk, professional risk, business process risk, sales risk, legal risk. Yet when it comes to mitigating emotional risk, they are often clueless.

There is no trust without risk. But pointing that out just makes professionals burrow even further into the hole of denial, claiming that their clients are robots who don’t really want their professionals to appear human.

What they need is a simple, formulaic tool for dealing with the perceived risk of increasing intimacy with other human beings. Hey, we could all use a little of that, right?

There is precisely such a tool, and I’m going to write about it in the next blog post. It’s called Name It and Claim It. It is a simple grammatical technique. It is a meta-tool, meaning it can be applied to whatever is causing you fear. It is easy to remember, and pretty easy to use.

There is no trust without risk. This tool mitigates emotional risk. Which means you can stop shutting down trust by no longer being excessively risk-averse.

Best of all, it works. Very well. Stay tuned for details, next post.