For More Influence, Be Gracefully Assertive

Do you use tension productively?

Not all tension is bad! In this short video, Jock Murray highlights how graceful assertiveness can help you use tension productively to build influence and become more powerful and persuasive when you present ideas. In this portion of a longer presentation Jock gave on presentation and influence, Jock shows the powerful productive forces of balanced, productive tension.


We think about tension as a bad thing. I want you to instead think of tension as a force that accomplishes something. For instance, tension in the sails of this sailboat are what make this a great day on the water. That’s the right amount of tension in those sails.

Interestingly enough, if there’s no wind, there’s no tension. This is still a great place to sit in the sun and drink a couple of cold beers, but you’re not going sailing. And the reason for that is, the force that produces great sailing, which is wind, there’s no tension in the sails. And, therefore, we’re not going to get to go sailing that day.

On the other hand, to much tension in the sails is catastrophic and is going to produce a dangerous outcome.

Tension is a force that accomplishes something.

So tension in and of itself is neither good nor bad. It’s a force that can produce change. Your job is really to understand tension and understand how it can impact tension and how to keep it at the right level.

Here’s the way to look at tension and productivity. On this graph, we’ve got “productivity” on one axis and we have “tension” on the other axis.


We often think about tension as fighting and arguing—And clearly that’s at the far end of the tension curve. When there’s low tension, it’s usually caused by the fact that we’re not talking about the things that really need to be talked about. And when that’s the case—eg, with you as managers. There’s something you need to talk to an employee about, but you don’t really want to talk to him about it. You know it’s not going to go well, so you don’t. You sort of ignore it. You hope it will go away. Tension is lower than having that conversation, but productivity is low because it doesn’t get any better.

On the other end, when tension is very very high and we’re arguing and I’m getting defensive and being very careful about what I say—not really telling everything, in order protect myself. Tension is very high and productivity is low.


But what it shows us is that there’s the sweet spot in the middle called “productive tension.” That’s where you need to be in your presentations. That’s where the relationship gets strengthened. It’s working through difficult issues together and really learning about each other and becoming a team. Most of you live on one side of that tension curve or the other. And what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to learn to move towards the middle wherever you are there. I call that “graceful assertiveness.”

If you learn to be gracefully assertive, then you’ve got the most likelihood of helping the other people in the room begin to discuss and feel comfortable focusing on the issue and not on the people. So, in that board room, in that conference room, with that other person across the desk—you can’t change them.

But if you get really good at graceful assertiveness—If you’re on the high tension side and you learn to speak the truth but you learn to speak it with compassion. You learn to say it in ways that the other side doesn’t feel attacked. Maybe you don’t say it in the meeting. You say it one-to-one to them in the office. You think about the timing of when to say these things. If you learn to speak the truth with compassion, often times the other person will move towards the productive tension.

If you’re a low tension person—If you learn to have the courage to speak up and to say things and to take a chance—you’re going to say it gracefully because that’s who you are. That’s not an issue with you. It’s having the courage to speak up. And if you learn to speak the truth and say the things that need to be said, you’ll often bring the other people to the middle.

So, you have more impact than you think you do as you begin to develop your ability to be gracefully assertive.


ZEHREN♦FRIEDMAN skills training can help you and your people influence better.

Read more here: