A few years ago a friend of mine stared at me and said, “You sure use a lot of unsolicited denials”. Huh? I’d not heard that term. He said, “Listen to yourself. Listen to how often you pre-qualify what you say by denying it. You’re denying something that’s not even been part of the discussion. It must point toward some truth.”
He’s right. More in a minute. Last week I was in another discussion about a similar topic, and the word “qualifier” came up. I hadn’t used that word for a while, but I thought it was a good way to capture any kind of pre-statement that attempts to deny what is about to be said. I’ve noticed those more and more in others–and sometimes in myself. Unsolicited qualifiers can be denials or something even more subtle.
Let’s take a look at the denials. An unsolicited denial is when a person spontaneously refutes a statement that hasn’t even been made. Like this: “I don’t hate them, I’m just angry about the incident.” (Oh, yeah?) Or, “I’m not name-dropping…”. Or, “It’s not like I’m afraid”. Well, if that’s the case, why did it enter into the conversation? It came from somewhere.
In criminal justice, detectives lick their chops when they hear an unsolicited denial. They’re sniffing down the trail of truth. And in my case, when my friend heard a series of them, he finally called me on it. “What are you trying to protect?” For me, I used unsolicited denials to soften what I was saying to avoid rejection or to avoid having someone think poorly of me. And I found that when I stopped using them I was more honest with myself and with others. It’s a better way to live, and it’s much less exhausting. I spend so much less brain power maneuvering my words around.
Be Honest with Yourself and with Others
How does this apply? I heard another friend (seriously…I have friends!) routinely use unsolicited denials recently, so I asked him, “Are you open to a suggestion?” From there I told him what I had learned, and I said, “You know, you don’t need unsolicited denials. You’re such a good leader that people respect you already and will respect you even more if you’re honest with yourself and with them.” So I challenged him to “test drive” life by extinguishing this pre-qualifier for a month. So far, so good.
And you? Watch what you say. If you are dipping into the unsolicited denial bin too often you might be ready for a test-drive of your own. My guess is that you’ll experience a lot of freedom by not having to qualify what you say.
Coming next Tuesday: more about other unsolicited qualifiers.