Episode 2: Chip Massey: High-Stakes Conversation Tips from a Hostage Negotiator (Part I)

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This episode explores a very important topic for anyone in the business world who has a customer-service oriented role: navigating high-stakes conversations. Host Jim Karrh speaks with former FBI hostage and crisis negotiator Chip Massey about the keys to de-escalating tough situations, building rapport, and establishing trust. While these strategies may at first seem disconnected from the business world, it becomes clear that they apply to everyday situations on and off the job. A special agent in the FBI for more than 20 years, Chip has extensive experience in hostage negotiations and working through high-pressure situations where people’s lives were literally on the line. And as a former pastor Chip also has additional experience in counseling and helping people identify the root causes of their issues and concerns while showing empathy.

When facing high-stress and high-stake situations, it can be difficult to know where to begin the process. But drawing on his years of field experience, Chip offers some helpful guidelines which he himself utilized which also translate well into the business world. As he shares with Jim, it was always necessary for him to go through a process of “mental checklisting” whereby he would begin to know as much about the person as possible, aim to build rapport quickly, identify pertinent information to help him create a solution, develop a cohesive game plan and see it through to completion. And while all of these steps are critically important to find resolution, Chip admits that one of the keys he found to the whole process was to use personal or intimate language (e.g. you, me and I), rather than general language (we, they and them), as this communicates intimacy and creates instant relatability, even in the most difficult circumstances. While this can be challenging when you seem to be at odds with others, he urges that the goal is to connect with this person as you would a close friend.

Toward the end of the episode, Jim and Chip discuss common scenarios when a professional has to deal with difficult or unstable people. Drawing parallels to his negotiation experience, Chip offers some suggestions on how to bridge this gap into the business world. As he notes, when it comes to business, the advantage is that often you already have an existing relationship with the person you are dealing with (although many of the tactics used will still be the same). While there may not be a need to create credibility but rather build off of it, there is still the need to de-escalate the situation. To do this Chip offers some very simple suggestions. Using language like “I’m sorry” and saying it like you mean it can go a long way in conflict resolution. Help them know you are aiming to figure out how to make the situation right while employing empathy with them. But the challenge Jim and Chip discuss is knowing what empathy really is. Empathy does not mean you necessarily agree, but rather that you understand the other person’s position so that you can identify the problem as they see it. As Chip notes, the real challenge in these situations is that when people are in crisis mode they can’t have logical thoughts. The key then is to de-escalate, get out of crisis mode, and allow the other person to see things more logically and work together on the solution. By doing this you will not only win back trust but be enabled to best navigate your high-stakes conversation.



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