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  • Writer's pictureTrish Guise

Pay attention to the elephant in the room!

Updated: Jan 29, 2023

Our brains have been designed to steer us towards pleasure and away from pain. Most of us do whatever possible to avoid any type of conflict or criticism. Consequently, when we are about to deliver bad news or have a difficult discussion, most of us will start the conversation beating around the bush, trying to smooth the other party over and trying to make what you are about to say a little less painful.

We are deathly afraid of drawing any more attention to the negative than necessary. This is exactly the opposite of what Chris Voss, author of Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It© says to do. Through his years of working as an FBI hostage negotiator Mr. Voss has learned calling attention to the ‘elephant in the room’ holds far less risk than ignoring and hoping no one notices.

Drawing your ex's attention to all the potential negatives of your proposal can be a scary prospect. You are probably thinking "why should I do their dirty work for them and squash my proposal right out of the gate?" Feeling this way is understandable but research has shown that addressing negative emotions are the best way to eradicate them.

Wanting to stick our heads in the sand and not deal with negative emotions is a natural human reaction. Not only do we do this when dealing with other people's negative emotions but we do it with our own emotions as well. Speak to any psychologist and they will tell you to sit with your emotions instead of trying to rationalize them away or push

them down. Negative emotions are like weeds, the more you try and ignore them, the stronger they get.

Negative emotions are there to tell us something and if you don’t attend to them, they will do whatever it takes to make sure they are heard. A systematic method you can use to address your ex’s negative emotions is something Chris Voss calls an accusation audit. In an accusation audit, you conjure up all the possible negative thoughts your ex may have when they hear what you are proposing. It is the process of planning for everything negative your ex will feel and say.


Benefits of Conducting an Accusation Audit

on Your Ex:

1) Allow you to speak freely and without apprehension.

  • You may less fearful of your ex's volatile reactions and no longer feel like you are walking on eggshells.

  • Your ex won’t be able to surprise you with their reaction because you'll have beaten them to the punch.

2) Demonstrate your respect for your ex’s feelings and show recognition of their differing viewpoint.

  • This may reduce your ex’s defensiveness and may regulate their emotional reaction.

  • May also build trust between you and your ex.

3) Undermine any preconceived notions your ex may have.

  • It won’t be as much fun for your ex to sling a negative reaction your way when you have already addressed it.

  • Immediately calling out your ex’s counterpoints before they do, will dissolve their ability to attach attack your position.


How to Conduct an Accusation Audit:

1) Prior to speaking with your ex, brainstorm every negative emotion or point of resistance they may have.

  • It doesn’t matter if the point is true or not, what matters is if your ex will be thinking it.

  • If you need ideas review any nasty messages you’ve received from you ex. You may find a few ideas there.

  • Address anything that you want to deny

2) Start sentences with:

"you may"…

"you might"…

"you probably"…

3) Pause after your statement for 4 seconds.

  • It will feel more like 4 hours.

  • You will feel very uncomfortable with the silence but just remember that your ex will be even more uncomfortable with the dead airtime.

  • Don’t be tempted to fill the silence by explaining yourself or justifying what you are saying.

  • Let human nature take its course and allow the uncomfortable silence to compel your ex to ask you to continue.

  • Don’t be alarmed if your ex takes this opportunity to start presenting their side. Welcome this because it is another chance for you to gain insight into what is driving their behavior and their decisions.

4) Make your accusation audit statement as dramatic as possible.


Examples of Accusation Audit Statements

to Say to Your Ex:

“You may think I'm trying to start a fight again”

“You’re going to think I’m criticizing you again”

“You may think I’m being too emotional”

“You’re probably going to think I’m trying to control you”

“You’re going to think I’m being overprotective”

“You’re probably going to hate what I’m about to tell you”

“You might think I’m being overly critical”

“You’re going to think I’m too emotional…too assertive”

"I have a lousy proposal for you”


When is the Best Time to Do an Accusation Audit?

1) Before asking your ex for a favor for you or the kids.

2) Before presenting a new idea or a proposal to your ex.

3) When you are going to have a tough conversation with your ex.

4) When you will be discussing a sensitive topic.

5) When the topic has caused your ex to be defensive in the past.

6) Before giving your ex bad news of any kind.


The next time you have a difficult or sensitive discussion

with your ex,


Expect and prepare for your ex's negative protests.

Address these negative emotions up front.

Not only will this undermine any preconceived notions your ex may have,

but you will feel free to speak without fear.

Disclaimer: This article is, in no way, associated with Black Swan Group nor Chris Voss nor is it endorsed by nor commissioned by the Black Swan Group nor Chris Voss. The article is based solely on my experience and knowledge of the principles the Black Swan Group and Chris Voss espouse and how I choose to apply them to my practice.

The content is this publication is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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