The Novocain of Diplomacy

Dana Telford

On a morning not long ago, while sitting in the dentist’s chair for my first (and please, please, please last) root canal, I was reminded of the importance of communication style.

“Dr. Payne” (or as my kids call him, Dr. Thick Fingers) shot my upper right jaw with Novocain, left me to my own thoughts of nervous anticipation for the appropriate amount of time, and re-appeared, eager to see if my gum was indeed numb.

“You gonna jab it to see?” I asked. He smiled, paused and replied, “We don’t use the term ‘jab’. We prefer to say ‘poke’.  Conjures up a less violent image, wouldn’t you say?” and then proceeded to stab me, which I (happily), could not feel. “Any pain?” he asked. “Nope,” I replied, relieved.   

And out came the screeching, high-speed, demolition drill.

As I shut my eyes against the smoke pouring from my mouth, I was reminded of a previous argument with my wife. I don’t remember what it was about, nor does she. What I remember is how diplomatically she “poked” me in the heat of battle. We were yacking back and forth about who did what and who said what and how much or not it was really meant when she stopped, looked me square in the eye and said, “one of the strengths you don’t have is…”

I put the dot dot dot there because I literally have no recollection of what bit of constructive criticism she then delivered. I do remember being struck by the clever beauty of the statement, which made us both laugh and put a prompt and splendid end to our spat.

In dealing with family members, shareholders and colleagues, may we all remember to poke, not jab or stab, each other by delivering criticisms that are numbed by the Novocain of diplomacy.

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