Communication Skills: How to Use a Cold Read and Accusation Audit


In September 2016, I attended a meeting where I was the lone hostage negotiator in a room full of SWAT guys. The meeting is held quarterly for SWAT guys by SWAT guys. I was an interloper in hostile territory. The purpose for my attendance was to request a piece of their pie. The SWAT group had a training operations cache of about $78,000. Since they had spent none of the money over several years, I was requesting about $9,000 annually for the training of negotiators. Here's how I used two communication skills, a cold read and accusation audit, to walk away successfully.
 communication skills

Reading The Room

Historically, the relationship between SWAT and negotiators has been tenuous at best. Some in my profession view them as knuckle-dragging, Neanderthals who have a penchant for destroying things. Some in their profession view us as touchy-feely, mouth-Marines who want to talk all problems away. It is through this prism that I saw the group. As I walked in the room, I noticed several leaning to their right or left to whisper to the guy sitting next to them. Some just stared. Others looked my way with an air of ambivalence. I suspected that most of them probably winced and grumbled when they saw my name on the agenda. Bottom line… they either did not care or were not thrilled I was there. Having not spoken to anyone but the chairman of the group, this was my Cold Read.
A Cold Read is where you assess the environment, history, present circumstances and people before driving for your “yes.” 

Making The Ask

When my turn to speak came, I explained to the group that what I was about to ask was probably going to be a difficult pill to swallow because it would involve them ceding some of their territory. In addition, I told them that many in the group might question my audacity in asking for the handout. This was my Accusation Audit; a technique used to identify and label the negative sentiments likely harbored by your counterpart. I then gave them my reasons for requesting the funding and gently outlined the consequences if they did not acquiesce.

Accusation Audit -  a technique used to identify and label the negative sentiments likely harbored by your counterpart. 

The Cold Read + The Accusation Audit = Success

After my presentation, there was much discussion about the pros and cons of the request. Some clearly felt threatened. Others recognized that if they did not “play ball” they risked losing their present autonomy as it pertained to the training funds. After the discussion, I felt pretty good about my chances, but no decision was made at that point.

A few days later I was contacted by the chairman of the SWAT committee. The vote was unanimous. We were getting the money. Assessing these two communication skills prior to my presentation defused the negative emotions and led to success.

As you prepare for your next driving-for-a-yes conversation, review the situation as you know it to that point. Your experience and knowledge of how the land lays will enhance your discerning observations. Next, consider the predictable positive and negative sentiment your counterpart is likely to bring to the table. Prepare 3-5 labels in advance to preemptively mitigate negative sentiments and reveal what may be driving their aversion. Once at the table, assess the mood, atmosphere, and environment. Cold reading just before engagement will allow you to make adjustments to your labels as necessary.

To Sum Up:

When entering a driving-for-a-yes conversation:

  • Consider the predictable positive and negative feelings and thoughts your counterpart will have.
  • Prepare 3-5 labels
    • Labels to diffuse the negatives and labels that will enhance the postives, if they exist
  • Once you're at the table, do a cold read of the mood. Use this to fine-tune your labels for success!

The cold read added on top of your accusation audit is the formula for success. 

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About The Author

Derek Gaunt is lecturer, author of Ego, Authority, Failure, and trainer with 29 years of law enforcement experience, 20 of which as a team member, leader and then commander of hostage negotiations teams in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. As a member of the Black Swan Group, he is a negotiation trainer and personal coach. His training has helped leaders and their organizations increase their performance by changing the way they think about communicating one person to another.