066: Five Secrets Training–The Disarming Technique

With Guest Expert, Helen Yeni-Komshian, MD

In this podcast, David, Helen and Fabrice focus on the Disarming Technique, which is the first of the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. The definition of the Disarming Technique is finding truth in what the other person is saying, even if it seems blatantly wrong, or illogical, or exaggerated. And it’s based on David’s Law of Opposites.

David brings the Law of Opposites to life with an example of what was perhaps the most devastating criticism he ever received from a patient. He was angry and defensive, and didn’t want to agree with his patient because he was absolutely convinced she was “wrong.” But on the weekend, while he was jogging, he suddenly saw the truth in her cutting remarks, and when he shared his insight with her the following session, the impact was immediate and dramatic.

The use of the Disarming Technique required the death of David’s ego–and that wasn’t easy, because he felt angry and ashamed. David points out that sometimes our patients (as well as family members or people in general) are trying to lash out at us, and want to hurt us, because they feel so frustrated, alone, and abandoned–and asks if we have the courage to let our egos die for them. Are we willing to listen and to see the world through their eyes? This can be exceedingly challenging, and you may not be able to use this, or the other Five Secrets, effectively unless you have a powerful desire to produce some healing and to get close to the people you’re at odds with.

Helen gives a striking example of the power of the Disarming Technique in a case of family member who was complaining about bad drivers. This annoyed her because she was telling herself, “He shouldn’t complain.  He should keep a pleasant atmosphere in the car and ignore bad drivers!” But acting on this impulse only made the problem worse. She explains how hard it can be to use the Disarming Technique when you’re feeling annoyed, but illustrates the transformative power of a skillful disarming statement.

David says that the Disarming Technique is by far the most important and difficult of the Five Communication techniques, and explains how he worked for thirty minutes a day, for two months, to learn how to do it after he created this technique!

The homework assignment for this week will be to use the Disarming Technique on at least one occasion every day in your interactions with others. You can start out by saying something like “You’re right . . . ” or “I agree with you that . . . .”

He gives an example of how he once did this when riding home from work to on the commuter train when he lived in Philadelphia. He sat next to an exceedingly hostile man who bristling and angry, and complaining bitterly about just about everything.

Fabrice and I hope you enjoy our Podcasts, and also hope you can leave some positive comments for us and some five star ratings if you like what we’re doing!


At least one listener has had problems leaving an iTunes review from his i-phone, so Fabrice has created some simple to follow instructions if you need help.


20 thoughts on “066: Five Secrets Training–The Disarming Technique

  1. Very insightful.I have a team mate who is a complainer.I will try this disarming technic.You are so generous to share this gem with us.

  2. David,

    Helen is right! I say this respectfully, but her husband should not behave that way. I feel she is beating up on herself for having that feeling. There is something beautiful about her desire not to have to listen to someone else’s complaining and negativity.

    I get the point though: The best way to stop the unwanted behavior is not to fight against it, but to disarm and empathize (or take Uber instead 🙂 ).

    The question I will ask myself is how do I get to the outcome I want? Fight or diplomacy/disarming/empathize.

    You’re the G.O.A.T (Greatest of All Time) David!


    • Thanks, Rob, I will bounce this off of Helen when we next record, so she can address it directly! Always appreciate your comments on podcasts! david

  3. First of of all, big fan of your podcasts. Thank you so much :). I have a question about the disarming technique. How can it best be used when a person is being aggressive and insulting you? I guess what I am trying to learn is how to stay calm in such a situation, voice the truth I hear and feel from the person but also try to be assertive about the fact that it is not appropriate for them to say certain things in an angry tone.

    • Thanks, Kat, you are on the right track, but there is likely room for further growth. If you want, send a specific example. First, write down exactly what the other person said, at least as good as you can, from memory. Then write down exactly what you said next. If you email that to me, I can then comment specifically in a podcast, and also get input from Fabrice and others. I have some possible upgrades on your assertiveness, but the specific example will be vastly superior to theorizing here. Thanks for a terrific question, and I’m so eager to go further with this! All the best for the holidays, Kat, David!

  4. ThanksDavid for explaining a wonderful technique called disarming.

    I am a Pakistani diplomat but had graduated in medicine which I left after practicing for three years and after I qualified to become a diplomat about 26 years ago.

    II havean Elder son who is OCD patient and also severely depressed to the extent that he spends most of his time lying in bed and doing nothing.

    I have read your life-changing book feeling good 3 times and I also listen to your podcasts in order to help him.

    One question in my view that was not discussed in this podcast was how to deal with an unreasonable demand that can come as a result of your agreeing with the person in order to disarm them.
    With the best wishes

    • Thank you! Appreciate your note! Disarming means finding truth in what the other person is saying. It has nothing to do with giving in to an unreasonable demand. You can set gentle, firm limits while using the Five Secrets. If you give a specific example (what did the other person say, and what exactly did you say next) I could maybe give a deeper answer! all the best, david

  5. Dear doctor burn
    I am so grateful to you that I am learning so much I wish I had learnt this 30 years ago from your book and your podcast. Doesn’t matter , maybe I have 30 more years to practice and enjoy what you teach.
    I have one question with regard to that Japanese woman who had a troubling elationship with our daughter. what if the daughter had said, “you don’t care about me because you don’t let me use my phone after 10 o’clock in the night” How would the mother agree with her and also not allow her to use phone after 10 p.m.
    I hope you have the time to answer my query.
    Dr. Rizwan
    From Pakistan

    • Thanks, Syed.

      I don’t recall the example, but here’s one suggestion about how to respond, assuming the daughter’s name is Sarah. I will put the name of each technique, using abbreviations, in parentheses after each sentence. The abbreviations refer to the Five Secrets of Effective Communication.

      “You’re right Sarah, sometimes I do get annoyed and I come across as too harsh and maybe even unloving. (DT) I can imagine that hurts you’re feelings, and angers you, for good reason. (FE) I love you so much, and this makes me sad. (ST; IF) You are getting older and you’re growing up and becoming more independent, and I admire you for that. and for who you are (ST; DT) You’re becoming a strong and assertive and independent and beautiful young lady! (ST) I respect you greatly for telling me how you feel, although it is sometimes painful for me. (ST; IF) All that being said, for now your father and I have decided to continue to enforce the 10 PM rule because you need your sleep, but I appreciate your desire to maintain really great relationships with your many friends, which is super! (IF)”

      Let me know what you think, and feel free to edit it to make it better. Maybe a bit too long, but I’ve found if your response contains Stroking and comes across as respectful and caring, it will usually work fairly well.

      All that being said, your daughter may STILL feel annoyed, and may still push your limit, so you may have stay firm and simply accept that there are bumps in the road of adolescence and parent-child exchanges! Let me know what you think!


      • Thank you dear Dr. Burns.
        Your reply wasn’t long at all. Rather for me, longer the better. Your formulation is very carefully worded and it teaches me to say things from differenet angles. Just from one angle may not be enough.
        Thank you very much. Just returned with your ” when Panic attacks “, to help my son who has OCD.
        May we see you working and helping people like us for a very long time, Ameen

  6. Hi David!

    I suffer of shyness and some months ago I got invited by a girl in her house and we were alone. I was extremely anxious because of all the pressure I felt on me in that situation. So I had been quiet most of the time and she eventually said in an ostile way: “Either you say something or you go away of my home!”. This hit me very hard and shortly after this I went out of her house feeling completely humiliated, inadequate, guilty, sad, ashamed and frustrated.

    So today I was thinking what I could say with the five secrets in that moment and I’ve come up with this:
    “It is painful to me to hear that (I feel). You are right to invite me to speak more, I did not disclose myself a lot with you this evening (disarming technique) and this makes me sad. I wouldn’t be surprised if you are disappointed with me and maybe a little bit pissed off (feeling empathy). You are a nice and very interesting girl (stroking) and it would like to know each other more in the future and I don’t want that my difficulties to open up and my shyness will be a problem for us (I feel). Can you tell me more about how you feel and what you think? I think that this conversation can bring us closer. (inquiry)”

    Is it a good response? Your podcasts and Facebook broadcasts bring me a lot of hope of recover from my shyness.

    • Hi Davide,

      To my ear, your response is really beautiful. Well done! Now you can turn your shyness into an asset, rather than a liability. The problem is the shame, and not the shyness. If you are not ashamed, you can freely disclose your shyness and use it as a way of developing greater intimacy! david

  7. Dr. David,

    I am going back and listening through your podcasts, especially those discussing the 5 Secrets of Effective Communication. Your books, podcasts, and all of your work are truly transformative. The principles you describe in Feeling Good Together are both inspiring and spiritual. I have never felt close to religion, but the disarming technique and the death of the ego are such a beautiful phenomena to experience, I just can’t help but proselytize to my friends and family. At this point, I am eager to be criticized, because the feeling of accepting criticism and becoming close to those around you is a joy in and of itself.

    I wanted to say I absolutely agree with Dr. Helen’s statements at the end (32-33 minute mark). Reflecting on my own life, the people who I have felt most instantly bonded to are always quick to begin a response with “You’re totally right” or “I feel the same way.” I don’t think it makes a person a “yes-man” to use the disarming technique. I think it reflects on their strong empathy and their ability to search for truth and meaning in subjective experiences of those around them. And who wouldn’t want a friend or partner like that!

    Thanks again,

    • Hi Derek, Thanks for your thoughtful comment! And to quote you, I would have to say, “You’re totally right!” You have grasped something very deep, something most folks struggle to comprehend, or actually actively resist! david

  8. Hi David!

    You say that in criticisms, there’s always a grain of truth. Not only a grain, but usually a mountain of truth. I can see that in a lot of examples, but in some i think it’s impossible. I’ve reworked a sarcastic statement Sam Harris made about Trump below. If you got into a political conversation and someone said this to you and was genuine about it, what would you say ?

    “You know David, I think you’re completely wrong about our current president. The thing that your not understanding about Trump is that he is so deeply ethical and wise. He is so well informed about the way the world works. And where he’s not well informed, he recognises his ignorance so quickly, he begins to remedy it as fast as possible. He is as mindful of the limits of his knowledge as he is about expertise, and his expertise is vast.”

    For me, I couldn’t really find a grain of truth in any of that statement. Trump isn’t ethical and wise. He isn’t well informed. He doesn’t recognise his ignorance quickly, if at all. He isn’t mindful of the limits of his knowledge. In fact, he appears to have a severe case of The Dunning–Kruger Effect, where he rates his low level of knowledge as extremely high incorrectly. His expertise is not vast, it’s shallow.

    But you say there is always a small grain of truth in what someone says, and that you have to be genuine when finding that small grain of truth. It has to come from the heart.

    The only thing I think i could do is politely disagree and express my opinion using I feel statements or empathise by saying “you know, if i had your viewpoint i’d probably think that about the president as well” but you said that wouldn’t be disarming. It would be a put down. And i still couldn’t agree with the criticism “completely wrong about the president”. Not even if the person said “I think your slightly wrong” instead of “completely wrong”.

    I could use the disarming technique manipulatively by lying and saying “you know, now that you’ve said that to me, I can actually find some examples that confirm what you’re saying about our president”. But again, you said that it cannot be done that way. It has to be truthful and come from the heart. It can’t be a gimmick

    What would you say?

    • If it was something that someone said to you, and not a hypothetical between two other people, I think my response would be vastly more interesting and useful. There is no criticism of you here, so I’m not sure what one is supposed to agree with. Give what you said, you might say something like this, “When you say that I’m completely wrong, I think you’re pointing out how argumentative I’ve been, and you’re right, and I know how annoying that can be. I apologize. And while I don’t see Trump the same way you do, I have to agree that he is a kind of genius i his own way–he has tremendous instincts and street smarts, that for sure! I wonder if you’re annoyed with me, or frustrated? I can be kind of dense sometimes!”

      How’s that? david

  9. Yeah, that was great ! Reading you’re comment, i got an insight. Combining part of what you’ve said, I’d probably reply to the pro Trump person saying

    “When you said I’m completely wrong about Trump, I think you meant i’m not appreciating the positive attributes and abilities that Trump has. He does have tremendous street smarts and instincts, otherwise he wouldn’t have became a billionaire and wouldn’t have ended up in The White House.”

    Thanks David !

    • Thanks, Wells. Nicely done! And if the other person seems annoyed with you, and I recall the statement did sound annoyed, you could disarm that two, as I did in my example, by admitting that you’ve been kind of defensive and arguing and not listening very well. David

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