3 De-escalation Techniques Gayle King Used In the Emotional R. Kelly Interview


Gayle King, CBS This Morning co-host, sat down with an emotional R. Kelly to talk about his allegations of sexual abuse. In the interview, King maintained a calm and steady focus using three key de-escalation tactics, techniques that also work very well in intense interactions with customers. 

In the interview, the singer cries, rants at the camera, beats his chest, and stands, towering over Gayle King with warlike body language. The CBS This Morning crew stopped the interview to give R. Kelly the chance to compose himself. (Back on camera, he’d failed to cool down.)

R. Kelly’s emotional eruption was astonishing, but the stunner for me was Gayle King’s calm presence, and focus while the singer platformed over her. I played the video three times to take in Gayle’s unflappable countenance. She was as calm as the moon.

After R. Kelley’s theatrical performance aired on CBS This Morning, co-host Norah O’Donnell awed, “You remained both tough and calm throughout that.” And to that observation, Gayle rationalized, “It wouldn’t do any good if we both got hysterical, or if we both got very emotional.”

This point right here is why R. Kelly and Gayle King are on my blog today – “It wouldn’t do any good if we both got hysterical, or if we both got very emotional.”

Customers will rant, verbally attack, and maybe even be intimidating. It’s unfair, but it happens. Your best response to an unreasonable and emotional customer is to remain unflappable, just as Gayle King did in this now viral interview.

Here’s a close look at three techniques King used tactically to help her remain calm and focused throughout the dramatic sit-down, three techniques that will help you stand unflappable with demanding and unreasonable customers. I’ve also included a video of portions of the interview for you to study Gayle’s de-escalation techniques. 

1. Label Without Judgment

At the crest of Kelly’s outburst, Gayle King observed, without judgment, “It sounds like you’re playing the victim here.” Whilst a customer rants, listen and then label the emotion you’re seeing. You might observe and label like this:

“It sounds like you’re upset.”
“It seems like you disagree, though the terms of your warranty are clear.”

Labeling is a way to respond without charging the customer’s emotions further. Labeling shows you are fully present, confident, and in control, and it tends to start the anger defusion process in your customer.

2. Limit Responses to Simple Reassurances

While Kelly justifies his past actions, Gayle listens without interrupting or disputing, and instead, she responds, “Hmmm” and “Um hmmm.” When a customer is venting, pleading with you to understand their side of things, one of the responses you can give is a simple reassurance just like in King’s interview, “Hmmm” and “Um hmmm.” This approach makes the customer feel respected and heard. It keeps you from making the customer feel cut off, which is something you must avoid during initial venting.

3. Echo Back the Person’s Words

When you have an enraged customer on the phone or in front of you, nothing threads the needle like mirroring the customer’s words. Copying the customer’s angry expressions makes the customer feel heard and understood. When the unreasonable customer feels like you’re listening is when they go from a boil to a simmer.

Gayle King used this technique with Kelly. R. Kelly denies all allegations and claims every accuser is lying on him, justifying himself, “Nobody’s allowed to be scorned and lie on me?”

Gayle echoed R. Kelly’s words, boomeranging them as a question, “So they’re lying on you?”

Repeating back the customer’s last one to three most crucial words encourages the customer to continue on, giving you more detail, and making them feel heard and understood as they explain.

There are only three things you have to remember to do with echoing.

  1. Copy the last three words the customer mouths
  2. Pause for a beat
  3. Repeat

Try Gayle King’s three techniques and you, too, will stand unflappable. Never meet force with force with unreasonable customers, and you’ll end up shining like Gayle King, and you won’t be pulled into drama that you’re aren’t paid enough to deal with anyway.

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