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The First Step to Defuse an Emotionally Charged Conversation


“When the pressure is on, you don’t rise to the occasion —

you fall to your highest level of preparation.”

- Chris Voss

I recently spent time with Chris Voss and a few of his Black Swan NYPD and FBI hostage negotiators in New York City. It was slightly terrifying (I’m half joking), but the quote above sums up why most emotionally charged conversations escalate and ultimately fail to be productive. 

Lack of preparation.

This is the first part of a live SOLD OUT masterclass series presented to the @theWITNetwork and the topic for an upcoming live event for @Coco Brown's amazing @the-athena-alliance, so I hope you find it helpful as well!

Most of us catastrophize about a potentially emotionally charged conversation which is understandable. Who wants to have an uncomfortable conversation? But, if the conversation is potentially emotional, it's likely an important one.

The first step to defuse an emotionally charged conversation is to make sure you are prepared for potential outcomes, so you are not triggered and can remain calm. Think them through in a way that is neutral and without judgment or emotion. You’re merely observing what could be, and visualizing your best response.

Some would argue not to think about what could go wrong. Based on the research, we love novelty (surprises) when they are positive, but not so much when they are negative or we are caught off guard. To be clear, I’d remain optimistic but be prepared for any outcome.

I call this 360 preparation the ABC Prep which is part of my Limitless Leader digital course. You can have a look at the worksheet (Download now).

Think through and visualize the following, and you’ll have taken the first step to being prepared to defuse a potentially emotionally charged conversation:

  1. How would you like the conversation to turn out, and how would you like the both of you (or all of you) to feel?
  2. Plan A: Buy-In

If you gain buy-in when you’re expecting push-back, know how to make your counterpart feel confident with his/her decision or concession. For example, I have a client who was presenting a DEI initiative to her CEO and requesting budget. She expected pushback, but he was ready to pilot a small program first. She was ready with all the facts of how this pilot could positively impact him and the company's growth. In potentially emotionally charged conversations, it’s important to be ready to be surprised with good news.

  1. Plan B: On the Fence

If you receive partial buy-in or if there are split decisions in the room, how will you respond? For example, in a board meeting, you have buy-in from some and pushback from others or if your boss acknowledges your perspective but does not commit to a decision. 

  1. Plan C: Push Back

If you get a hard ‘no’ such as ‘no budget for your initiative’ or ‘no to another headcount’. How will you prepare to either move the conversation forward or decide when it’s better to revisit another day or take a brief recess?

Stay tuned for more strategies on HOW to build these responses in a calm, compassionate, and confident way!

Cheering you on always,


P.s. If you’d like to gain clarity on ‘what’s next’ and get a plan in place, build confidence and emotional agility to see it through, or become more influential in gaining buy-in, I’d love to help! Schedule your get acquainted call, here.


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