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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: January 24, 2006
Latest Update: January 24, 2006

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One night, years ago, I heard while driving home from CSUDH, a National Public Radio NPR) program on Sneaky Strokes. It described a consulting firm on the east coast that helped executives who felt they were not liked respond more effectively to their staffs. Sneaky strokes, as this firm described them, are simple feedback offered to substantiate that one is listening to others and taking their situatedness into account.

Sneaky strokes are remarkably simple. But I've added some clues from theory as to why they work.

  • When you talk to another, take a few seconds to look directly into their eyes. Returning a gaze (Foucault) indicates sincerity and good faith listening.

  • In informal conversation, focus on a couple of tiny details you can remember, and introduce into your next conversation. Like, for example, that a relative has been very ill. Ask in next conversation about that relative. That is feedback that you recall something the other said. You were listening.

  • Offer tiny insignificant gifts frequently. A flower, one of our boxes or cards, a little handmade book. A hard candy. Little things you can pull out of your pocket and offer. This suggests that you recognize and appreciate the other's contributions to everyday transactions.

  • When something you want hasn't been done, instead of whining or fussing, try finding something you can praise that has been done. We all feel better getting compliments than we do when we're criticized. The strokes of transaction analysis.

  • Use the Rabbi handshake. When you take someone's hand, instead of just shaking it perfunctorily, place your other hand over the clasped hands and hold it there for a couple of seconds. Again, this is just a few seconds feedback that you are connecting with the other in good faith; that you are giving your undivided attention for a few moments.

  • At CSUDH, in the Dear Habermas community, we hug a lot. Same thing. You are giving your undivided attention for a few moments.

All these actions constitute little strokes. Susan and I use "good dogs" as little strokes. They're ritual ways of paying compliments without getting all "icky pooh sweet." Most of the executives who went through this program reported that they were much happier afterwards. Where they had once felt isolated and unappreciated and unconnected, they now found that people sought them out. Yeah, it works.

Festinger's Cognitive Dissonance Theory by Greg Kearney, explains how a tiny indication of good faith listening and small thank yous for hard work can cut down on the conflictual feelings about having to work under what are almost always tough conditions at times and seeing the credit go to those who have higher status in the work place. Good management means that we need to be aware of the emotional investment put into "hard work," even when they like their work and you.

I once tried this out when I was Chair on our then Department Secretary, Marion Rosser. I needed something desperately and she hadn't gotten to it yet. So I praised something else that she had gotten to. Marion just looked up and answered: "Trying sneaky strokes, Jeanne? What do you need?"

OK. So I can be transparent. But it still mattered to our relationship that I did care, and that she knew I did.

Read what one of our Department Professors, Alan Ryave, wrote about our tendency not to give compliments.

The firm executives for whom "sneaky strokes" therapy was invented needed this knowledge primarily to improve their relationships with staff. But the same technique works with most relationships. Sneaky strokes are the theoretical foundation for our boxes, cards, little books, all kinds of things that we ask you to share with strangers in the name of illocutionary discourse.

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