The Helicopter Technique Metaphor: 10 Useful Options For Navigating Difficult Conversations

Helicopter Technique

6. Flying backward

During the conversation, you might want to take a step back. Explore what has already been said or reported. For example, you ask the person to repeat what was just said. Or you see something non-verbal you want to address.

If the person rolls their eyes when asked a question, without revealing what you saw you ask, “How do you feel about what I just asked?” As rolling of the eyes is often associated with disregard or contempt. As with flying a helicopter, you have the freedom to “back it up” and revisit a topic of interest.

7. Getting out of the helicopter

As with a helicopter, some offices are too noisy or there are too many distractions. So, you land, get out and go for a walk or go to a different setting. You are in control and if it requires a private space, a quiet place, you figuratively land and find that perfect place to conduct your interview.

A bad location can be as adverse for an interview as bad weather is for flying.

8. Flying away

You are the pilot in this conversation, and you have a choice. You don’t have to have a difficult conversation there and then. You can take a break. You can leave the setting. You might choose to stop the conversation because of rising and intense emotions. You might feel you are not focused enough, or you might want to take the time to think about possible solutions.

You can always ask to meet up at a different time and place. You can even grab a cup of coffee for a few minutes. Sometimes it is better to fly away and do the interview another day.

9. Limiting baggage

Sometimes it is helpful to remember what happened in the past. What’s dragging down this difficult conversation? How much emotional baggage or cargo do the parties involve bring to this conversation? How long have they been intransigent or even feuding—hours, days, months?

Heavy cargo keeps a helicopter from flying, so too from solving problems. Resolve to unload the emotional baggage first.

10. Chart the course

After the conversation, you still have the responsibility to orchestrate your next steps. You consider what has been said, what else needs to be done, and how you desire to accomplish that. Perhaps it is more interviews or more facts that are needed or merely the opportunity to take action.

As with any flight, you prepare in advance for what is next, and that helicopter image reminds you that planning is key.

Related: The Eight Levels of Disclosure That Will Help You Extend A Conversation


For most of us, we can get by without having to resort to formality, even with difficult conversations. But if you ever get stuck, think of that image, that helicopter and what it can do, and remind yourself, “I got this, I actually have a lot of options available to me”—there is a way through.

Anne-Maartje Oud is the founder and director of The Behaviour Company, a worldwide consultancy on best practices and human behavior. Anne-Maartje Oud may be reached directly at or on Twitter @BehaviourC. Find out more about live training events in 2020 here.

Joe Navarro, M.A. is a 25-year veteran of the FBI and is the author of What Every BODY is Saying, as well as Louder Than Words and Dangerous Personalities. 

Copyright © 2020 Anne-Maartje Oud and Joe Navarro.

Written By Joe Navarro
Originally Appeared In Psychology Today
Copyrights Owned By Joe Navarro

The helicopter technique can help you tremendously in having confident conversations with people, and will also help you take charge. The moment you feel lost or under pressure, take a moment and use the helicopter technique to gain control of the conversation. With time, you will see that even the most tricky conversations become easy to navigate with this effective helicopter technique.

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The Helicopter Technique Metaphor: 10 Useful Options For Navigating Difficult Conversations
Helicopter Technique Pin
The Helicopter Technique Metaphor: 10 Useful Options For Navigating Difficult Conversations
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Joe Navarro M.A.

Joe Navarro spent 25 years at the FBI, working both as an agent and supervisor in the areas of counterintelligence and counterterrorism. Through his work, he was able to study, refine, and apply the science of nonverbal communications. Retiring from the FBI in 2003, and meeting overwhelming demand for his notable insights into human behavior, Joe Navarro has dedicated himself to speaking and consulting with major corporations worldwide. Today he is recognized as one of the world’s foremost authorities on reading nonverbal communications and he has interviewed on programs such as NBC’s Today Show, Fox News, ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’ Early Show, BBC News, and for publications such as The Washington Post, South China Morning Post and Psychology Today.View Author posts