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Bookshelf: Kind Words Can Hurt

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Many management books give tips on how to speak persuasively so that you win over others. But for Dr. David Stiebel, it’s sometimes what you don’t say that counts the most.

In his book, When Talking Makes Things Worse! (Whitehall & Nolton, Dallas, 1997), Stiebel offers creative strategies to handle disagreements. Unlike most communication experts, Stiebel finds that establishing harmonious, mutual understanding isn’t going to help much when core conflicts remain.

Stiebel, a management consultant and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, warns that expressing your true feelings or tactful, honest opinions won’t necessarily help you bond with others. In fact, your stab at clear communication can alienate someone who’s unwilling to consider your views. He identifies reasons people pretend they have “misunderstandings” instead of “disagreements:”

If you don’t admit conflict, maybe you can avoid it. You don’t have to do the dirty work of resolving differences if you never acknowledge that there are any differences.

You may assume that having disagreements hurts your image. No one wants a reputation as a malcontent who’s always bickering with others. But unless you face a dispute head-on and seek a solution, conflicts will fester and cause even more damage.

You won’t make waves if you stick to misunderstandings. Some people think it’s rude to disagree, so they attribute any difference of opinion or outlook to an innocent misunderstanding. But if your politeness leads you to gloss over conflict, you’ll only make it worse.

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