Emotional Competency

Explore the Logic of Passion

Tone of Communication
Communicating Power as we Speak

We use several distinct styles of spoken communication and each one communicates the power stance of the relationship along with the semantics of the message. In every communication there are two messages, one about the semantics of the discussion, the other about the relationship of the participants. The table below distinguishes between dialogue, discussion, debate, delegation, dogma and other terms we use to describe spoken communications. Peers are equals and they collaborate using dialogue. It is the only symmetrical form of communication. The other forms establish or reinforce asymmetrical, power-based relationships.



Power Stance


Dialogue A conversation between two or more people. An exchange of ideas or opinions. Root: Dia Logus, “Through Words”
Dialogue requires both talk and silence to create an interweaving of ideas.
We are peers, collaborating to solve a problem we are facing together. Let’s work together to discover an understanding. Your views are essential to solving the problem. Completely open to new ideas — Cooperation. Typical of the best scientific inquiry and collaboration.“What is the best design for our new product?”
Discussion Consideration of a subject by a group. Talk or writing in which the pros and cons of a subject are considered. Root: same as Percussion, “ping pong,” back and forth, offense and defense. I am scoring points against your arguments. Your point of view will eventually come around. Somewhat open to new ideas — Consideration. A typical conversation that begins by expressing a point of view or suggesting a solution, rather than stating a problem or need.
“May I bounce my new design off of you?”
Debate To engage in argument by discussing opposing points. Root: from debatre, to fight, contend, to beat down. I am right, you are wrong, your way of thinking is incorrect, the facts you present are incorrect. Your point of view is wrong. You need to submit to my better judgment. Not open to new ideas — Contention. Presidential debates: “I am clearly the best candidate.” “No, I am clearly the best candidate.”
Development: “This is the best design.”
Marketing: “We can't afford to wait so long for you to build it.”
Defend To ward off an attack. Root: from défendere to ward off. Notice if the defense is primarily evidence based or power based. An evidence based defense endorses the facts, a power based one doubts the facts. The earth is estimated to be approximately 4 billion years old based on the following evidence gathered by geologist, paleontologists, and astronomers: . . .
Distraction Diverting attention. Root: Latin distrahere, distract-, to pull away I don't care to respond to you and you don't have the power to make me respond. Bloviation, obfuscation, restating the question, changing the subject . . .
Dismissal To discard or reject. Root: dis- + mittere, to send. You are not worth engaging in any further discussion. — Contempt. How dare you ask.
If you don't even know that, I can't help you.
Delegation To assign work and responsibility to someone else.  Root: from delegatus, to appoint. I have power and you don’t. What I want and need are important, your needs are not. Why don’t you just keep quiet or do it yourself — Control. “I think it would be great if we had a department picnic.”
“Great idea, why don’t you plan it.
”Development: “How do you expect us to meet that deadline?”
Management: That's what I hired you to figure out.”
Disingenuous Not straightforward or candid; insincere or calculating. Not genuine. You are not worth communicating with honestly and genuinely. . . and we both know there is nothing you can do about it. The recorded message that  repeats “Your call is important to us” as you are kept on hold endlessly.
Dialectic Tension and synthesis of opposites. Root: from Latin dialectica, logic, from Greek dialektikē, the art of debate Done best when wise, respectful, and vigorous peers adopt the stance of: my viewpoint and logic is as valid as yours. This can be very useful to stimulate thinking and explore the creative tension of naturally occurring conflicts, such as between speed and accuracy or the aspirations of hope and the stubbornness of evidence.
Decree An authoritative order having the force of law. Root: from dēcernere, to decide. I have chosen to exercise my positional power and make this final decision. Court judgments or executive decisions and pronouncements.
Diatribe a bitter, sharply abusive denunciation, attack, or criticism Root: from Greek diatribē, pastime, lecture, from diatrībein, to consume, wear away I know the Truth and I will lecture you forcefully, self-righteously, and angrily until you understand.
Dogma An authoritative principle, belief, or statement of ideas or opinion, especially one considered to be absolute truth. Root: dogma, that which one thinks true, a decree I have the power, you do not. This is truth. Do this. Do not debate or discuss. Comply or else. There is no other point of view. Completely closed to new ideas — Conformance, submission.

“The earth is the center of the universe.”

“We've always done it this way.”

Many other incomplete forms of communication fail to achieve authentic expression.

In addition to the power stance described above for each mode of communication, our spoken and non-verbal communications often contain many other primal messages.

We can respond with any of these styles:
  • directly, responsively, and with confidence,
  • directly, with hesitancy or doubt,
  • directly, admitting we don't know,
  • Indirectly,A Conversation Between Girls, or Two Girls with Their Black Servant, 1770
  • with sarcasm,
  • seriously, solemnly,
  • with a joke,
  • with an insult,
  • by changing the subject,
  • with an attack,
  • by shaming, blaming, or humiliating the victim,
  • condescendingly,
  • kindly,
  • cruelly,
  • helpful,
  • needy,
  • carefully,
  • thoughtfully,
  • carelessly,
  • truthfully,
  • dishonestly, disingenuously, or insincerely,
  • with a dismissal,
  • patiently,
  • impatiently
  • quickly,
  • slowly
  • with our full attention,
  • distracted,
  • by submitting to a demand,
  • by rebelling from a demand

Each of the following response styles shifts the power stance and other dimensions of the relationship.

Request Forms

Listening Modes

Reply Forms

  • Statement; Provide Information
  • Inquiry; Request Information
  • Request action,
  • Demand action,
  • Exclaim emotion,
  • Attentive or inattentive,
  • Patient or Impatient,
  • Interrupting or not,
  • Believing or disbelieving,
  • Interested or bored,
  • Understanding or baffled
  • Information response,
  • Question for clarification,
  • Question as a statement,
  • Non-responsive, defensive
  • compliance,
  • rebellion, defiance
  • Respectful or disrespectful
  • Sharing a new insight

Poison Phrases

Meryl Runion uses the term “Poison Phrases” to describe how we often antagonize people we communicate with while denying our personal responsibility. Recently she took an (unscientific) poll to identify the ten most offensive poison phrases. They are: 1) Shut up, 2) It’s not my job, 3)  What’s Your problem? 4)  Whatever, 5) Bite me, 6) I’m just a clerk, 7)  If you say so, 8)  I couldn’t care less,  9)  I don’t care, and 10)  I’m done with you. These are transparent attempts to artificially inflate your status at the expense of the person you are offending. They are examples of bullying and humiliation.


  • “We need to use dialogue to focus on the collective problems of living together in communities.” ~ Daniel Yankelovich
  • “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”


Games People Play, by M.D. Eric Berne

How to Use Power Phrases to Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say, & Get What You Want, by Meryl Runion

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