Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm

Hard Talk Fallacies


You have to tell people how it is or you will lose power and authority.  If you swallow what you want to say, you will diminish yourself.  If you avoid hard conversations, you will have less influence.  You need to tell them exactly how you are feeling.  This was the tenor of the advice coming from a communication "guru".  While listening to this, I thought this is absolutely going to fail in Japan, if not every where. 

This guru is appealing to an American audience, so there is the temptation to just dismiss this as typical excess.  There was however an earlier icon of communication skills named Dale Carnegie.  An American from (show me, don’t tell me) Missouri, who started training (brusque and brash) New Yorkers in 1912.  Despite being from the mid-West and teaching in the apocryphal rude capital of the universe, Dale Carnegie concluded that direct hard talk would fail.  Both men appealing to the same audience, but approaching the subject from diametrically opposing stances. 

Dale Carnegie’s human relations principles work well not only in Japan, they work well everywhere.  So rather than trying to ardently assert our rights, telling others how we feel and gaining power through strength of will, let’s try some proven methodologies that actually work.


Don’t criticize, condemn or complain

The guru gave the example of someone keeping you waiting, suggesting you "respectfully" tell them how you feel about that.  Dale Carnegie realised there was no point.  Even if you are polite, people become defensive and are irritated to be reminded that they are less than perfect.  You might think you have politely schooled them, but all you have done is create a barrier.  So much for your power over them! They were late, you can’t get the time back, so you just have to accept others are not as reliable as you are and move on. 


Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person

Rather than "speak the truth" about their selfish tardiness, making yourself feel superior and ruining the relationship in the process, Dale Carnegie suggested we reflect on our own failings first.  Are we perfect?  No, we fail all the time and so do others.  We can talk about our own inadequacies, how we had a problem making an important meeting and how we realized we needed to become better organised. In this way, we can reference the problem, but allow the other person to save face. Calling attention to other’s mistakes indirectly makes sense.  Speaking the truth may sound noble and brave, but it doesn’t help in a world driven by human emotions.  You can get the point across without rubbing it in.


Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view

When we are fixated on what we want, with having power relative to others, we become inwardly focused.  The goal of successful human relations is to be liked and trusted.  Selfishness won’t get you there.  They are massively late, so what?  Are they doing this to annoy us, to punish us, to irritate us?  No, there are bound to be any number of things happening in their world which we don’t know about, so let’s not be too hasty to apply "our rights" to the situation.


Begin with praise and honest appreciation

Rather than launching into the witch hunt of the "crimes’ of the other person, zeroing in on the hard talk topics, build the relationship with praise.  Not fake, apple polishing, sycophantic praise. Rather, genuine reflections on their good points, backed up with concrete evidence or examples.  We build trust and cooperation not barriers this way.


Be a good listener.  Encourage others to talk about themselves

Few people listen today.  Tied up in themselves, in having power or status, they are all about them.  They interrupt others when they are talking, they try to display their cleverness by finishing other people’s sentences, they one-up others to be dominant.  People however want to be acknowledged, to be heard and our job is to get them talking about themselves. In the process we improve our mutual understanding, we discover points of similarity and shared interests – all powerful bonding agents like a type of human relations super glue.


Forget about being powerful through winning at hard talk.  People will willingly cooperate with you, if you apply these principles.  The ideas are easy to understand, but not so easy to apply.  We need a correct kokorogamae (心構え)– true intention – and we need practice.


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