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The Unusual Way We Protect Self-Image
Leaders orient to people in many ways. They can be people pleasers, conflict-avoiders, trash talkers, gossipmongers, straight shooters, and hard-liners.
But they share one thing in common. All people, including leaders, want to be viewed positively by others. No one wants to be seen in a negative light, even if they sometimes unintentionally flip that switch.
Self-identity is a powerful force in conversation and workplace interaction. Leaders want to be viewed consistently with how they see themselves, and no one sees themselves negatively.
To protect against negative interpretations, they often use a twist of language that fights off possible perceptions they would rather not acknowledge. We call these expressions Counterclaims because they offer a contradiction between stated intention and action.
We say things like: “This isn’t an excuse…” and then we offer an excuse. “I don’t want to persuade you…” then we attempt to persuade. “I’m not exaggerating when I say…” then we exaggerate. “I don’t mean to interrupt you…” then we interrupt anyway. “I’m not gossiping but did you hear?...”
Using Counterclaims illustrates how face-sensitive leaders and people can be and how hard we all work to not be viewed negatively. Rarely is anyone mindful that they offer such contradictory statements of intention and action. Instead, we go about the business of conversation without consciously thinking about how we want to be seen or what we say to protect our image.
Now that we have pointed out these common and distinctive examples of double talk, you are likely to hear and see them everywhere. Don’t be alarmed.
People are highly attuned to protecting their identities and resort to all kinds of tactics to do so. Realize, however, that when someone employs a Counterclaim, they are sensitive to being viewed negatively in the moment.
Please don’t call out this incongruity nor make it more difficult for them to project a favorable image. Self-identity is always being projected and protected. Good leaders allow people to see themselves in a positive light whenever they can.