Conversation psychology

You can see a conversation as a house. You will stay on the ground floor most of the time. The ground floor is where you talk about facts, details, prices, specifications, wishes, expectations, etc. Basically, everything that is rational and factual. Occasionally a trip to an empathetic comment, but it is. In most conversations, you never get higher than the ground floor and you can often do good business together there.

1st floor

Sometimes however, a conversation doesn't run smoothly and doesn't go as expected. Body language and/or actual words are not positive or not congruent. You've already pressed the brake, have stopped talking and have asked questions, but it doesn't work out well and is not enough.
When that happens, you move on to the first floor of the conversation, and this is where you talk about the procedural aspects of your communication. You talk about when,¬†about what, how, with whom and where you talk (about).


  • "Shall we just leave that topic on the table and first talk about what's important for your customers?"
  • "Maybe we should not discuss this here, but put it on the agenda for next week's meeting."
  • "Shall we first have lunch and then continue talking?"
  • "Maybe we should leave this up to our managers and not argue about that now."
  • "If you agree, I first would like to discuss the delivery conditions, before getting into a price discussion."

2nd floor

Sometimes a conversation goes completely wrong. Pedaling on the brake has no effect, the other is angry or even furious and asking a question does not help, the other may not even want to give an answer. The first floor didn't help either, so you go one floor higher to the 2nd floor. That is the 'emotion level'.

This is where you talk about your own- or the other person's emotions. It is essential that you make yourself vulnerable and possibly even ask the customer for help.

Examples are:

  • I see that this makes you very angry, I feel very bad about this.
  • I have a very bad feeling about this. I am afraid that I messed up completely.
  • I honestly don't know what to say now. I'm really upset about it. What are you proposing now?

You will notice that moving to the second floor and talk about emotions, in many cases 'opens up' the other person. You make yourself vulnerable and this will calm down your customer. If you are standing there, unarmed and with a white flag, the chances are that he will not rip you apart.

Going up and down to the floors

Moving up or down to the right floor is an art. You shouldn't immediately go down again when you are successful in regaining control of the conversation, because then the customer feels as if he is manipulated. You shouldn't move down to the ratio again when you have been on the second floor, but only do this when you are on speaking terms again and the customer is willing to listen to you. You'd better go from the 2nd floor to the 1st floor and then down to the ground floor.


You (2nd floor):

"I can see that you are very irritated about this and I feel sorry for that."

Customer (2nd floor):

"Yes, I am very disappointed is it any wonder??"

You (2nd floor):

"I fully understand that. I don't feel comfortable myself with the whole situation. I think I have made a big, big mistake here, I feel like an amateur."

Customer (2nd floor):

"Well, indeed, this has been a model of how not to tackle this state of affairs. But we haven't handled it perfectly ourselves either. We should have done things differently ourselves as well."

You (1st floor):

"Yes, maybe this has been a valuable learning journey for both of us. Maybe we first discuss how we could do things better in a future project and then document clearly how we can prevent these kinds of things to happen again. Would that be a good idea?"

Customer (ground floor):

"Yes let's do that. But then I would first like to talk about quality control because I think that what we should do is...."

If you master this well you will find that you can bring the most difficult conversations to a successful conclusion!

In our "Body language and conversation psychology" module, we elaborate on these techniques.

Paul Smulders
CEO Train 'n Gain BV