Part 3: Your first 7 words! They Make or Break

Make sure you don’t get eaten; calm things down but make sure that the crocodile is paying attention.

For the crocodile, survival is the most important issue. Losing territory (food) and safety is the main trigger for a fight, flight or freeze response.

First of all, you must make sure that the crocodile doesn’t eat you. Sometimes when the crocodile attacks it is necessary to show it that you are stronger and the dominant animal. You can do this by remaining calm and highlighting the boundaries of your territory, i.e. what (behaviour) is acceptable and what is not. You have to do this with force and authority.

Calm the crocodile


But, if you want to calm the crocodile in order to remove its disturbing influence on the emotional and rational brains, it is worthwhile being aware of the concept of loss aversion espoused by O’Keeffe (2011) which argues that the aversion to loss is an even bigger driver than the motivation to gain something. When faced with the prospect of change, people’s immediate reaction is to believe that they will lose something. Once this seed is planted (which it is instantly) the imagination will take over inspired by the crocodile’s fears. One sound piece of advice is to immediately get in touch with people’s worries and beliefs about loss and to undermine them by delivering key facts and figures within a dialogue.

This may seem contradictory as dialogue is typically an intervention on the rational level, but I am convinced that dialogue is the only way to effectively deal with the crocodile brain. People have to express themselves. If you only present facts and figures the rational brain will perhaps say yes, but the crocodile will resist. You must deal actively with this resistance (e.g. listen, ask about worries and fears, look for solutions together) or it will grow. Also, one of the most significant effects of dialogue is that by asking people to verbalize their feelings you force them to move from the crocodile brain to the rational brain. This brain takes over as it is the only one that understands language (Rock, 2009).

Attract the crocodrile

Equally important is the need to capture the crocodile’s and the monkey’s attention in a positive way (yes, I think there is some overlap here between the crocodile and the monkey brains). This will make the crocodile (and monkey) curious and keen to use its energy to investigate the issue being presented. As a result, the first seven words of every presentation or meeting are crucial. A single moment will determine whether the crocodile and the monkey are engaged. O’Keeffe (2011) states that the first seven words of a presentation or meeting must:

  • Be specific
  • Be true
  • Refer to one concept/basic idea
  • Trigger emotion
  • Consist of simple language, no technical jargon
  • Be short and story-like

For example, you could start a presentation by saying: “We throw a Mercedes away every week!” Then, stop talking and let the crocodile and the monkey take action to investigate: let them react, be surprised and explore by inviting them to ask questions.

In the next part, I will explain what it means to talk to the emotional brain, the monkey.


  • Coaching with the Brain in Mind – David Rock and Linda J. Page, Wiley 2009.
  • Change Your Brain, Change Your Life – The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety , Depression, Obsessiveness, Anger, and Impulsiveness. Daniel G. Amen, Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony, 1999.
  • The Brain and Emotional Intelligence – New Insights. Daniel Goleman, More than sound LLC, 2011.
  • Mindsight – The New Science of Personal Transformation. Daniel J. Siegel, Bantam, 2009.
  • Hardwired Humans – Andrew O’Keeffe, Round table press, 2011.
  • The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – Daniel Pink, Riverhead Hardcover , 2009.
  • Interpersonal diagnosis of personality – Timothy Leary, 1957.