Episode 3: Chip Massey: High-Stakes Conversation Tips from a Hostage Negotiator (Part II)

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In this episode of The Manage Your Message Podcast, host Jim Karrh continues his conversation about a very important topic for anyone with important customer or client relationships: navigating high-stakes conversations. This is a continuation of Jim’s discussion with former FBI hostage and crisis negotiator Chip Massey who speaks about the keys to de-escalating tough situations, building rapport, and working to establish trust. The first half of the discussion between Jim and Chip focused on the idea of “mental checklisting” as the process needed to prepare for high-stakes conversations as well as touched on the need for using empathy in your conversation to de-escalate a situation and bring all parties out of crisis mode (that is common when our emotions run high), into a place of logical thinking.

In this episode Chip continues to offer his expertise, particularly as it relates to more practical steps of implementing these ideas in the business world. Having transitioned out of law enforcement and into the private sector, Chip has now taken his years of expertise and brought them to teams to help them identify how to best work on strategic negotiations, accelerate sales processes and deal with difficult people in business, with the end-goal of leveraging these situations to develop clients for life. By sharing some personal examples, Chip offers general steps to de-escalate a situation in the heat of the moment. He reviews with Jim how we often forget that when we are stressed, tunnel vision and ego get in the way of our thinking, so the first step in this process is to separate people from the situation either physically or verbally through conversation. He also stresses the need for allowing time to be on your side since the more time you have with someone, the greater the chance they’ll become an ally. He also identifies what he calls the cardinal rule of negotiation, mainly never telling others what or how to feel, rather apologizing for the situation and creating distance from it. As Chip notes, the overall goal here is to connect with others by listening, not telling them; help them feel understood and don’t be an agitator. The reality is that even the most talented communicators can still make mistakes. Knowing this Jim and Chip review the fact that experts still make mistakes and you can salvage even hard or blown situations.

And while de-escalation is a necessary tactic to implement in challenging situations, there has to be more to get the results we are looking for. With this in mind the two also discuss what it looks like to build credibility and rapport with others through these types of hard situations. And how is this done? Well as Chip recommends, it simply comes down to remembering that every party involved is a person, a human, even if they are people in a crisis. Knowing this, we have to remember that all people have problems, no matter who they are. The goal then is not to find out if there is a problem, but rather identify what that problem is. Chip’s encouragement is that once you identify the problem, ask the other person about it as it helps relieve the overall tension. Drawing on his experience as a minister Chip also identifies the two main sources of tension in people’s lives as either fear and guilt. As he notes, when we fear, we make ourselves smaller people, instead of thinking bigger. When people are consumed by fear, they narrow their vision and lose hope. The key then in navigating hard situations is always instilling hope in others. By doing this you will not only win back trust but be enabled to best navigate your high-stakes conversations to have the end-goal you are looking for.


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