17 Feb 21 / Blog

The hostage negotiators 5-step guide to difficult conversations

If you could take the emotion out of difficult conversations, what would that do for your wellbeing and resilience right now?

Wow, that’s a whole lot easier said than done. So who better to help you to prepare for difficult conversations than a former FBI hostage negotiator? So I use the work of the wonderful Chris Voss to negotiate all of my challenging conversations.

And in the last year, not one of my top five difficult conversations has been about work.  When I ask my clients, more than 65% agree. Because those hard personal conversations can be the ones that live in your head as you put them off for days, weeks even. 

But with the right mindset, you’ll be far more likely to come away feeling relieved that you had the conversation.  A difficult conversation negotiated with empathy opens up the possibility of stronger, more meaningful relationships.

Your 5-step guide to difficult conversations

Learning from Chris and his hostage negotiation experience, here are the five steps that you can follow for better conversations:

  1. Set goals. What are you there to achieve? If you don’t know what the destination looks like, how do you know you’ve arrived?
  2. Get perspective. What could they possibly throw at you to put you on the defensive? This is where your support network comes in.  When emotion is involved, it can be hard to be objective and see the world through someone else’s eyes.  Who do you trust that will take you in all your vulnerability and give you the tough love you need to see this conversation clearly?
  3. Get clear. Now use this perspective to get the conversation off on the right foot. Summarise the issue and lay it on the table – with empathy – so that you’re both clear what you’re talking about.
  4. Get them talking. Who doesn’t love to talk about themselves? In the words of journalist, Sarah Travers, ‘pin back the ears’, and really listen.
  5. What’s the package? Get creative for a different outcome.

Being right doesn’t matter. But having the right mindset does. Could you use these steps to shift your mindset for a successful outcome to your next difficult conversation?