Inoculation: The pathway to powerful conversations

jennifer-mediumHow would you like a foolproof method for telling the truth to someone while maintaining their dignity and yours? A simple technique that will:

  • change the nature of your difficult conversations and improve broken relationships
  • keep relationships “clean”
  • glue relationships together and keep them moving forward?

I’m fortunate to have as a current client, Jennifer Elliott, CEO of the leadership and executive coaching organisation, Integrity and Values.

Jennifer, a former Telstra Business Woman of the Year, is one powerful human being. She works with CEOs and senior executives to dramatically raise performance and results in their businesses and personal lives.

Jennifer has developed a great tool for having powerful conversations which she calls the inoculation technique.

What is it?


The inoculation technique is about telling the truth with compassion. It is about being hard, diamond-hard, on the issue, and soft, like a cloud, on the person.

It is about creating a conversation in which the other person has room to actually hear what we are saying.

What it is not

It is not about dumping on someone, blaming, venting or taking revenge. At all times, the focus is on maintaining the other person’s dignity, and thereby maintaining our own.

How do you do it?

Before any “difficult” conversation, simply add an introductory statement, an “inoculation”. These are some examples Jennifer has used over the years:

“I’m going to be tough with you right now.”

“Fair chance you are not going to like what I have to say.”

“There is something I need to say to you that may upset you.”

“I’m really worried about the conversation I am about to have with you.”

“You won’t like this.”

“Is it OK for me to not pull my punches?”

“Do you want it straight or do you want me to be fluffy and vague?”

The BIG inoculation

Jennifer uses the BIG inoculation when she is the one with the concern. It goes something like this:

“Sarah, I want to have a serious conversation with you and I’m concerned that what I am about to say will upset you or offend you. I want you to know that that is not my intention. I want to move our relationship forward, so I am going to say what I have to say and if I offend or upset you I am apologising in advance. Is that OK?”

Jennifer’s request

Whenever Jennifer teaches this technique, she makes two requests of the recipient.

  1. Use the technique with three people in your life, ie, have three powerful conversations
  2. Teach the technique to three people in your life.

On behalf of Jennifer, I’m asking you to do the same.


For more information about Jennifer and her organisation, Integrity and Values, go to:



4 thoughts on “Inoculation: The pathway to powerful conversations

  1. I wonder what percentage of people “shut down” (either go inside themselves to protect themselves from what they fear is bad news or put up barriers to listening to defend themselves) when they hear these phrases.

    I understand the importance of not ambushing someone. You need to be compassionate; but they need to be open. Do people remain open when they are told “You’re not going to like what I;’m about to say…”? Just asking…


    • I wondered the same thing. The phrases all seem to have “you” in them and doesn’t that keep the level of discussion focused on the “soft person” and give them every opportunity to become defensive? I was expecting innoculation phrases to focus more on things like, “There’s an elephant in the room and we need to cut a big enough door so it can get out.”


      • Yeh, we’ve all heard a lot of simplistic stuff about having “difficult” conversations including the one about not using “you”. Jennifer would say it’s beside the point. The real issue is our fear (the initiator’s), and what we do in the name of that fear.

        Anyways, only one way you’re going to find out ;) Try it!


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