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Poisonous Snakes & Navigating Tough Conversations: Insights from a Communication Coach

My wife came in from taking the garbage out and said, “I need to tell you something and I need you to not freak out.”

“What is it?” I asked, curious why her eyes were wide with fear when I was the one being told not to freak out.

“There is a snake in the corner of our garage.”

What ensued was a blur of Googling “What to do when you find a snake in your garage” and “Poisonous snakes in North Carolina” while frantically calling numbers from a Yelp search for “snake removal.” After about 30 minutes, a man named Tony was on his way, and I stood in the garage, keeping an eye on the snake, who seemed equally wary of me.

When Tony arrived, what followed is best summarized by the text I later sent to my family:

“Tony the snake guy told me baby copperhead bites are ‘worse’ because they don’t have control over when to let go, so their bites deliver more venom. Also, it was not a baby… it was a 3.5 ft adult copperhead!

Also, it is still here. Tony caught it about halfway down the body and was unsuccessful in his attempt to get it in the bag due to the snake moving its head so much. Tony let him go (thinking he had him cornered on the back wall) except the snake disappeared!! What we found when he moved the cinder blocks is a hole leading under the foundation. Apparently, the marks on the wall indicate this has been its home for a while. He plugged the hole for tonight, and they’ll be back at 9 am with a glue board to catch the snake after which they’ll properly seal the hole. Tony informed me there will be no charge for them coming out tonight and apologized several times. If Tony hadn’t let him go we wouldn’t have found the hole so long term this is good!”

Why take your time to relay this tale of a copperhead in my garage? Well, because what I experienced parallels what many people experience when it comes to tough conversations.

Immediate Reaction: My first thought upon realizing we had a poisonous snake in our garage was protective—concern for my young children’s safety dominated. This instinctive reaction is similar to how we might initially respond to tough conversations—with a fight or flight response, especially when feeling threatened.

Expert Guidance: When Tony, the snake removal expert, arrived, he provided calm and informed perspectives, similar to how a skilled communication coach guides clients through tough conversations. Tony corrected my misconceptions, explaining the real risks and managing my expectations—a critical role that communication coaches play.

Misunderstandings and Clarity: Tony’s explanations about copperhead behavior taught me about misunderstandings and the importance of clear communication. In tough conversations, like in handling wildlife, understanding the full context transforms reactions into responses.

Engagement and Withdrawal: The snake’s escape and Tony’s strategic response mirror how tough conversations can sometimes go. People might initially engage and then pull back when things get intense. A communication coach helps navigate these dynamics, ensuring that both parties find a way to re-engage productively.

Long-term Solutions: Discovering the hole in the garage provided a long-term solution to a recurring problem. Similarly, tough conversations, when handled well, can lead to lasting resolutions that address the root causes of conflicts.

Navigating tough conversations requires skills that many might not naturally possess but can develop through guidance and practice. As a communication coach, I am committed to helping individuals and organizations master these skills, turning challenging interactions into opportunities for growth and understanding.

Thanks for reading, and be well!

With gratitude,


Meet Betsy Butterick

Betsy Butterick is a coach and communication specialist working with individuals ready to improve and teams of all kinds – from the locker room to the boardroom.

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