070: Five Secrets Training — Stroking

David and Fabrice discuss Stroking, the fifth of the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. The definition of Stroking is to express some warmth or admiration for the person you’re in conflict with, as well as people you’re NOT in conflict with! Essentially, you say something positive or complimentary about the other person, even in the heat of battle. It can make a huge difference in how the other person feels, and how the situation gets resolved.

In the last four podcasts we went over the  E = Empathy and the A = Assertiveness of the EAR acronym. In this podcast, we will concentrate on R = Respect. Stroking is the technique for the R = Respect. The term is crude, but I’ve never found an alternative that worked better.

Philosophically, Stroking goes back to the work of Martin Buber, the 20th century philosopher / theologian who talked about the difference between an “I – It” relationship and an “I – thou” relationship. In an “I – It” relationship, you think of the other person as an object to be manipulated, and not as a human being. You may compete with the other person, and try to beat or defeat them, or you may try to punish, exploit, or hurt them. For many examples, you only have to turn on the evening news and see how some of our politicians talk about their “enemies.” In contrast, in an “I – thou” relationship, you treat the other person with respect and dignity, even if you’re at odds, even if you’re feeling angry.

In the last podcast, we discussed “I Feel” Statements–sharing your own feelings openly. If you have negative feelings you need to express, you can include Stroking at the same time. Sometimes, that’s the sugar that makes the medicine go down.

Here’s an example. Let’s imagine you’re ticked off at a friend named Jim, and you’ve been arguing with each other and getting frustrated. I’ll give you example of how you might use Stroking, and i’ll put the name of the technique I used in parentheses after each sentence so you’ll know exactly what I’m doing.

“Jim, I’m feeling really ticked off at you right now, and I’m having fantasies of strangling you! (“I Feel” Statement) At the same time, it bothers me when we argue like this because I’ve always admired you tremendously and felt you were one of my best friends. (Stroking)  I know there’s a lot of truth in what you’re saying. and I’m sure when work this out, we’ll be even closer. (Disarming Technique) With that in mind, you can tell me more about how you’re thinking and feeling? (Inquiry) “

Hopefully, you can see that this type of statement conveys warmth, respect and openness, while at the same time clearly expressing your anger. Of course, this is just an example, and the way you express yourself will be very different.

Expressing your negative feelings with warmth requires discipline, because most of the time we get defensive and want to lash out at the person we’re mad at. And you can do that if you want–I give in to that urge every now and then, too! But if you express yourself with warmth and caring, and if you share your feelings instead of arguing or attacking the other person, or putting him or her down, you’ll usually get a far more positive response.

David describes how he used Stroking (along with the Disarming Technique) to good effect when he was ruthlessly put down by a hostile examiner during his oral medical board examination when he returned home to California with his family in 1995.

David and Fabrice describe errors people make when trying to use Stroking, such as saying something “canned” or formulaic that does not sound genuine or specific. All of the Five Secrets have to come from the heart or they’ll backfire.

David and Fabrice also describe the intense resistance that people often put up when trying to learn the Five Secrets. For example, you may tell yourself that you “shouldn’t have to” say something nice to the other person because you’re so mad, or because you’re labeling the other person as “a loser” or “a jerk” and you see that person in an entirely (and distorted) negative light, thinking (wrongly) that there ISN’T anything good or positive about him or her.

Your homework for this week will be to practice Stroking. Say five positive things to people every day, and you can do this easily in your day-to-day interactions with anyone, even strangers. You can find something you like or admire about the other person, and say that to them. People, for the most part, will like that and respond positively! We understand that this is a simple and superficial assignment. Once you’ve practiced it over and over, it will be far easier to use it effectively in the heat of battle!

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.


4 thoughts on “070: Five Secrets Training — Stroking

  1. Dear Dr. David,
    This is some feedback for yourself…
    This was great and interesting podcast..
    I have had this on my mind recently, very much so, as I go through my own transition and transformation..
    I used to tell people I mentored. Please do not be a ” Stuck Know It All ” as that is a Rut, and a Rut is
    ” A Grave With Two Ends Kicked Out ”
    As you well know..I find the Insecurity and Insincerity that this ever changing world faces, to be at the root of its vengeance, and unhappiness. However successful people in life and in business, embrace change and learning from everyone.
    I also was taught by one of my mentors your Knowledge means nothing at the end of the day without Character….This is Paramount in understsnding how to evolve and change our world. It will takes many evolved and brilliant Leaders to change this world, as you well know..Learning from people is very resisted, however mandatory to become successful.
    Thank you for vulnerability and for putting this out there for people to learn and see what they need to do to make their transformation possible..

  2. Hi Dr. Burns,

    ‘Feeling Good’ was recommended to me about 10 years ago by my GP when I was experiencing mild/moderate anxiety and depression. After spending a year studying and using the exercises in the book, I was able to stop using the medication, and since then I have found my mood very stable.

    I stumbled across your podcasts a month ago and have become quite addicted to them! I just know that the Five Secrets is going to change my world again, as being assertive (sharing my feelings) with others is challenging for me. I have been practicing over the last week and am finding myself having so many beautiful interactions with colleagues I don’t particularly like.

    I noticed you will be in Winnipeg in June and am trying to find a way to come to your presentation. I’m a huge fan of yours! Keep those podcasts coming!

    Jess H

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