How Emotionally Intelligent People Use the “Emergency Exit Rule” to Win Almost Every Argument

This is an article on emotional intelligence. It’s a good thing if I say this myself, but I also understand that you may not be able to read everything right away.

  • Maybe you are just too busy right now.
  • You may be skeptical of its usefulness.
  • Maybe you saved this article to your phone and wanted to go back; but you never have.

These are understandable reasons, so don’t worry about them. Instead, let’s move on. Ironically, in doing this we will illustrate the whole point of this article.

Here’s the key to remember: People with high emotional intelligence understand that if you want to be more persuasive and even win most arguments, it’s important to do two things:

  • Avoid embarrassing emotional mini-controversies.
  • Give people easy ways to overcome emotional objections, and more easily follow the path you want them to take.

I call this the whole concept the “emergency exit rule”. It’s about planting the seeds that allow people to save face and maintain their pride, while ultimately agreeing with you.

Let’s illustrate with some quick, high-stakes examples.

Imagine that a police detective arrests a suspect. During the interrogation, he uses a common but controversial strategy called the Reid technique. It is about questioning executives that can be summarized by example, like this:

  • “We know you walked out of the store with the jewelry, but you don’t seem like a bad person. Maybe you didn’t realize how expensive it really is? “
  • “It is clear that you were drunk when the police arrested you. Am I correct in thinking that you had probably only had a few drinks and didn’t realize that maybe you were over the limit? “
  • “They say you took this money from your employer’s account. You seem to me like the kind of person who would only have done this if you thought you could pay it back before anyone noticed. That’s what happened ? “

See what’s going on here? In each case, the detective gives the suspect a rhetorical exit ramp – an emotional emergency exit – to explain what happened from a moral or self-esteem perspective.

But at the same time, the explanations don’t really matter. Accept any of these statements, and the suspect has done what the detective wants him to do: admit at least some of the elements of a crime.

This is why most criminal defense lawyers will tell you to never answer police questions without a lawyer. But, the same kind of technique works in all kinds of other circumstances.

Another example. A few weeks ago, CEOs of two of the largest airlines testified before Congress, questioning federal government rules requiring airline passengers to wear masks.

Shortly after, Dr. Jerome Adams, who was President Trump’s surgeon general, took to the airwaves to criticize their comments. Here is what he had to say:

I have to tell you that there is no other way to express my feelings about this than, it was irresponsible. It was irresponsible. It was reckless.

I want people to understand how it happened. I have testified before Congress a lot, and there is a lot of theater. They are trying to trick you …

I was disgusted when I heard this, but I understood how they were organized, how they led to making these comments. And, they have to be more careful next time.

Summary: I hated what they had to say, but I see how they could have made these comments without really focusing on what they were saying.

Lo and behold, the two airline CEOs quickly realized what Adams wanted -; suggesting that their comments had been rushed and taken out of context, and that they hadn’t really intended to advocate for the end of the mask’s tenure.

I hope people won’t question whether or not they agree with the mask warrants on airplanes. The point is, a rhetorical device like this allows people to minimize their disagreement.

Importantly, in many cases people don’t want conflict. They gravitate towards courtesy. In fact, if we focus specifically on acute disagreements, there are really four possible configurations:

  1. You are eager to fight, but the other person is not.
  2. You are not eager to fight, but the other person is.
  3. You don’t feel like fighting, and neither does your opponent.
  4. You and your opponent are both eager to fight.

So in half of the possible scenarios, even when you’ve articulated a challenge or argument, your opponent actually wants to avoid the fight. The emergency exit rule is to give them the easiest and most attractive way possible to step back and accept your position.

It also works when the stakes are lower, in a wide variety of situations:

  • At the grocery store: “I’m sorry; you shouldn’t have realized that there was a line of people waiting, otherwise you wouldn’t have walked to the cash register before everyone else.”
  • Dealing with non-paying customers: “We understand that things can get busy and it’s easy to forget. But you are now 60 days behind on this account. “
  • When you were in elementary school: “I think you might have forgotten that you’re in first grade now, and first graders don’t scream without raising their hands first. “
  • Dealing with Potential Retail Scammers: “Sorry, we were unable to remove the inventory control feature from your purchase. Someone will assist you momentarily.
  • Dealing with bright but difficult people: “You are so good at the engineering part of your job, that we are going to create a new position and allow you to focus on that, without worrying about having to lead other people or dealing with management. “

(This last example comes from Dale Carnegie’s 1936 book, How to win friends and influence people, describing how General Electric managed to remove its essential engineer, Charles Steinmentz, from his leadership positions while saving him face and even turning it all into a promotion.)

In the end, it’s really a simple rule of thumb, but it’s striking how often people ignore it, or maybe never learn it. It is also really the core of emotional intelligence.

As I describe in my free ebook, 9 intelligent habits of people with very high emotional intelligence, emotional intelligence isn’t just about developing empathy or being nice to people.

Instead, it boils down to a simple and practical definition: the practical awareness of how emotions affect your communications and efforts, coupled with strategies for leveraging emotions (yours and those of others) for you. help achieve your goals.

The opinions expressed here by the columnists of are theirs and not those of

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