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Newsletter for May 2004

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Paschal Baute

Giving negative feedback yet improving relationship

An introduction to a strategy called "Win-Win Finesse," in a wonderful little book by Dr Paschal Baute which has significance for better forgiving and for spirit in the workplace and at home


  • Do you find confrontation difficult? - the unusual balance of power yet love, judgement yet improving relationships
  • The skill of story-telling: creating space - inspiration from Nathan and David to give people room to listen and hear
  • The heart of the 'win-win' strategy - a pattern of meeting which uses a positive form of double-bind theory to value other people 
  • Many other stories, some difficulties - examples from other students, and who probably can't be helped by this strategy
  • What readership is the book aimed at? - usefulness in the workplace, educational and other communities, and family issues - i.e. most human resource development areas


1  Do you find confrontation difficult?

When you've been badly hurt by someone else, yet want to forgive, the early stages of the process will usually be about inner healing, letting go the pain, and so on.  This takes time, and may be as far as many of us go, particularly if we can easily omit seeing them. 

Yet growing into being a forgiving person will ask us to become pro-active towards the person who has wronged us.  If this person is not someone who we can omit seeing again - a work colleague or family member - then as time goes on we will increasingly want to improve the relationship.  This will involve us in confronting them about the hurt, giving good, helpful judgement, naming wrongs and failings in order to then improve both behaviour and relationships.

Unfortunately, we often experience confrontation in forms which damage a relationship, so we develop the tendency to shy away from it ourselves.   (We unwittingly confuse confrontation with conflict.)  A healthy form of confrontation will be able to improve the relationship rather than weaken it.  

Too often we look in the direction a wrongdoer is standing, at that place, and see not a person but the act of wrongdoing, superimposed upon the face.   To be forgiving, we need to meet the real person anew.  To do this we will need some sense of new power to improve the situation; and we will also need a compassionate or caring heart which genuinely values the other person.  This 'bi-focal' vision is a feature of several main articles in ForgivenessNet ... and combining the power and the love isn't always easy! 

2  The skill of story-telling: creating space

In his slim new book, Win-Win Finesse, Paschal Baute has addressed this aspect of improving relationship.  It is a rare experience to discover a book that is easy-to-read, memorable, charming, original, profound and entirely practical. To finesse is to exhibit skill in handling a difficult or highly sensitive situation, and this approach aims to give both parties a win.

Dr Baute is an organizational psychologist in Kentucky who has been a consultant for over 30 years to companies and organizations.  This is a book of practical wisdom about "how to shape negative feedback to ensure a positive response," as the author puts it, adding:

few people have adequate skills in confronting and dealing with their negative feelings.  Still less have mastered the art and skill of constructive confrontation.

Though the book is not overtly religious at all (implicitly it has a subtle, generous spirituality), he begins by referring to a famous example from the Old Testament.  Y_hw_h sent Nathan the prophet to confront King David about his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband to cover up his affair.  One does not easily confront kings with their sins of adultery and murder, without risking one's life.   How was Nathan to do it?  Nathan confronted the king by telling a story.    He told a fable of the abuse of power, a narrative space in which the king could identify, and thereby be helped to recognise himself afresh.

The art of creating space in which we and others can feel and tell their stories without immediately feeling we are on the defensive - such finessing is what this book inspires in its readers.

3  The heart of the 'win-win' strategy

Taking his example from Nathan, Dr Baute tells a fictional first-person story narrated by ‘Susan,’ the team leader in a small office in Lexington, Kentucky providing home security systems.  Susan has some issues with her co-workers and her boss, and also with her ex-spouse and her brother.

Thanks to her daughter Emily's loving words, Susan finds herself embarking on a dream-led inner journey, guided by an old woman - an inner archetype or Gandalf-like figure.  She will discover how not to fear confrontation, how to express her hurts and complaints in a caring and creative way that improves relationships all round, and how to become more open and loving herself.  (We can note that this inner journey is the source of the empowerment which - as I noted above - anyone must receive in some form or other if he or she is to act with the 'power to improve things' which forgiving requires.)

The heart of the strategy is a pattern in flexible form of:

  • confronting the other person with a clear statement of personally valuing the relationship, including eye contact here and if possible a positive meeting-place with food;
  • yet at the same time stating that we having a concern or difficulty which we predict they won't like hearing;
  • inviting permission from the other to choose the best time and place to discuss it;
  • expressing our own hurt or discomfort caused by the other's behaviour.
  • hearing their response to us, and taking time to allow a better behaviour to unfold

The strategy is narrated in a series of encounters with 'difficult people in Susan's life.  I quote one example at length, in which Susan invites her co-worker Peggy to lunch, and after eating begins (pp 21-2):

“Peggy, I really enjoy talking with you and the way we work together, but there is something I need to discuss.  I am hesitant to do so because I don’t want to hurt your feelings.”  I paused and looked at her.
    She looked curious and concerned.  Then I said, “This may not be the best time.”  She said, “What could be a better time than this?”
    I told her that I valued her friendship. I finally blurted out, “Peggy, while I enjoy talking with you, I do not enjoy hearing all the negative things about your husband, children, pets, in-laws, weather, friends or anything.”
    When the initial shock faded, Peggy became very apologetic, (insisting) she did not realize she was doing this.

What is going on here is both simple and complex.  It builds on psychological double-bind theory.  This does have a negative form- (for example Joseph Heller's novel Catch 22.  But it also has a positive form, of which for example the first The Matrix movie made very creative use - the Oracle predicts Neo's negative response in order to subtly lead him - finesse him - the other way (the 'better' way).  Paschal summarises this succinctly (p 44):

You are challenged to respond positively to a negative prediction to prove the one predicting your negative response wrong.  This creates a win-win interaction by finessing any possible negative response.
    The receiver ‘wins’ by accepting the feedback graciously and proving the predictor wrong, and thereby claims more control of the situation … also choosing the time and place for it to be received.
    The one giving the feedback (also ‘wins’ by) skilfully arranging for the prediction to turn out wrong, and delivering the message of feedback in a caring and diplomatic way that ensures good working together in the future.  The goal is to maintain good relationships. (my italics)

He also wisely observes how using the strategy gradually transforms the instigator.  We become less prone to 'worse-case scenarios' and anticipating upset, more open and capable of new things.

4  Many other stories, some difficulties

Consistent with Paschal's premise that telling a story is the best way to confront,  the second half of the book is a sequence of real-life case studies told by evening course pupils in a Business Communication course.   Examples include work issues such as a boss’ inconvenient parking, taking personal calls during work time, gossip, committee members going off at tangents all the time, and telling someone why they’re not being promoted; and then include personal and family issues such as a spouse’s hesitant parenting, needing space in a romantic relationship, not smoking, sharing in household chores. 

Helpfully for the reader, not all are entirely successful.  Paschal says an 80% success rate is normal.  In the first half of the book, the author makes it clear that not everyone can use the strategy (pp 14-15).  He lists four types of person or relationship:

  • someone who is fearful or suspicious of us (here it’s best to build a common bond first);
  • teenagers, who have to find their own paths (though some parents give successful examples);
  • decisive, no-nonsense types who pride themselves on getting to the point;
  • and a few who can’t handle any confrontation: (“they believe since they are sincere they cannot be wrong”).

I found it salutary here to reflect on the larger area of forgiving.  Some of the people who have wronged us aren't ready to acknowledge the wrongs.  Sometimes, as Paschal observes, people can be unaware of their effects on others, and may be genuinely unaware of the damage they cause us.  But I find that many who are suspicious or fearful of us - Paschal's first group - feel so because they know or sense they have hurt us and would deny it if confronted.  So we have to seek to build a common bond.  With teenagers, on the other hand - well, I can't be the only parent who has had to learn the hard way to stop trying to build common bonds and just let them go!

5  What readership is the book aimed at?

Ruth and I both read this slim volume some months ago, when Dr Baute sent it to us.  We liked it enormously, and could immediately see its range of application - Ruth to her work as a large charity's administration manager, I to relationships in personal spirituality, and both of us to family members and friendships.   The book exhibits a very subtle spirituality ('finessed') which derives from Dr Baute's work with the Spiritual Growth Network of Kentucky, applying Wisdom insights and approaches from a number of traditions.

It's always helpful, I think, to try to see what kind of readership would most benefit from a new book.  (Indeed Paschal includes a well-designed short quiz, "Are you ready for the Win-Win Finesse?" at the front of the book!)  The book begins with a garland of praise from Paschal's colleagues in Kentucky, and I was struck by how each applied it to his or her area of expertise - personnel trainers and managers to the workplace environment, conflict management, and performance reviews; teachers to assessing pupils' work; clergy to personal and family issues, and so on.

The only slight niggle I had with the book was that its first half narrative- viewed as story-telling - didn't always make it easy to follow the relationship dynamics of the story – particular Susan's relationship with her brother.  Literary critics might be distracted!  However, the educational narrative is crystal-clear.  Win-Win Finesse is a really valuable, easy-to-read yet profound piece of work for anyone involved in human resources, organisational management and leadership, and equally for improving family and personal relationships.  Paschal has also produced a Guidebook for Discussion Leaders for groups using the book, which also includes new material on conflict management and communication.

As yet self-published, Win-Win Finesse deserves a much wider circulation.  Copies can be ordered from: Baute Publications, 4080 Lofgren Court, Lexington, KY 40509-9520, USA.  Or you can visit the websites at and

Andrew Knock

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