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Leading Phrases to Avoid If You Don't Want Them to Run

Susan Dunn -- Don't shoot yourself in the foot as soon as you open your mouth.

These are the phrases that try men's souls; and women's, too. They signal something is coming we aren't going to like. Your heart may pound just reading them. Here we go --

1. We need to have a talk.
2. Can I be totally honest with you?
3. Guess what?
4. Can you come into my office for a moment please and shut the door?
5. May I have a word with you please?
6. Introductory one-down epithets such as young lady, young man, honey chile, drama queen, Miss Priss, Mr. Know-it-All, Queen of De-nial, brainy boy, and on to the harder stuff.
7. I want to make one thing perfectly clear.
8. Okay, you asked for this.
9. You aren't going to like this but ...
10. The name and then the set-up, "Alex, as you know ..."

Common sense, emotional intelligence, would dictate that you introduce unpleasantries in another fashion. You don't have to water it down once you get there, but if you lead with an alarm, the horses are just going to leave the stable.

We all have some misdeed or quality we don't want the world to know about, and our imperfect lives are full of human error.

We assume most surprises will be nasty ones. These phrases signal this may be about to happen, and we "fill in the blanks" sometimes with something far worse than you're about to say.

These phrases "shock". Why would you use them?

-- If you have to shock or intimidate someone to make a point, go do some work on your self-esteem.

-- If you enjoy shocking and intimidating people for sport, I hope your sphere of influence is small and never crosses mine.

-- If you're doing this because you don't understand the effect it has, please work on your emotional intelligence skills.

When you raise the adrenalin level of the listener before you've even begun, they'll "flood" and the chances for constructive discourse are slim. They'll engage in FLIGHT, leaving the room symbolically, if they can't physically; or they'll engage in FIGHT, and immediately attack you.

We don't remember the pleasant surprises in our lives, we remember the horrendous ones, and, oh, how we remember them.

When we hear these set-ups, we immediately move to the worst thing we've been fantasizing. Say, "Guess what?" and the other person is thinking, "I'm fired," or "You're married," or "You've found out I'm filing for bankruptcy," or "They announced in the news I was caught wearing white after Labor Day."

We don't like surprises. We don't like confrontations. We don't like criticism. Probably most of all we don't like "the truth" when it promises to be about us. We have our histories, you know. I mean, did anyone ever say, "May I be totally frank with you?" and then say, "You are the most gorgeous woman/excellent manager I've ever known." I think not.

In point of fact, when someone says to me "May I be honest with you?" I reply, "No." One always has that right. I'm not walking into the blade of a fan voluntarily.

We use these phrases to prepare ourselves for what's coming. But when we do, we shoot ourselves in the foot, because nothing more will be heard. It's like saying, "Stop listening." Why lead with something that sets that up?

If you have bad news to deliver, have a heart. Have character. Do it right.

As John Powell put it, "The genius of communication is the ability to be both totally honest and totally kind at the same time."

Do you know two people who can do that? Do you know even one? Could you remember to do it yourself?

Susan Dunn, M.A., is an Emotional Intelligence Coach who trains and certifies EQ coaches. She offers coaching, Internet courses, and ebooks around emotional intelligence for career, relationships, transitions, resilience, personal, and professional development. Contact her at: for her FREE ezine; email her and put "ezine" for the subject line. For more information, visit:

© 2005 Susan Dunn

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