Inoculation Conversations

Inoculation – the pathway to powerful conversations

Do Elvis’ words of wisdom sum up office politics for you?  Do you need to confront difficult issues with your colleagues but struggle with expressing truths that need to be told.  The ability to provide effective feedback is a crucial part of any successful leader’s skill set. However imparting fair and necessary criticism is fraught with pitfalls. It is at best awkward. At worst it hampers productivity.

Over the course of our 25 years in the leadership coaching arena, Integrity and Values have developed a highly effective toolbox for handling with these tough conversations.

What is an inoculation conversation?

An “inoculation” is a technique pioneered by Integrity and Values which helps prepare the other person for news they may not want to hear. It makes the environment safe for difficult dialogues to proceed.  For example when confronting a staff member about a performance problem we recommend that you open the discussion like this.

Michael, I am going to be tough with you right now.


Michael, there’s a fair chance you won’t like what I have to say.

This prepares the recipient for bad news and lowers their resistance to the truth of what is being said. The more serious the situation, the more considered the inoculation would be. A big issue requires a big inoculation like the one below.

Colin, I want to have a serious conversation with you and I’m concerned that what I am about to say will upset or offend you. I want you to know that this is not my intention. I want to move our relationship forward, so I am going to say what I have to say and if I offend or upset you, I am apologising in advance. Is that Ok?

In this way we ready the other person for unsavoury news and obtain their permission to deliver it.


Background to the inoculation technique

The inoculation concept became apparent to our CEO and Founder Jennifer Elliott in the early days of the business.  When frustrated by with a certain staff member who consistently over promised and under delivered, Jennifer decided to tackle things head on.  She took the employee aside and said “I need to have a conversation with you and you are not going to like it”. Jennifer proceeded to make her concerns known.  The employee responded with a relieved “Is that all?,  apologised for the behaviour and corrected her ways.

On discovering how well the technique worked Jennifer and the Integrity and Values team continued to refine it. Our team’s overwhelming experience is that it is the most effective way of smoothing the path to difficult conversations. We have found that more often than not, the other person will accept negative feedback graciously after a well considered inoculation. In some cases, if the inoculation is not well matched to the context of the discussion, we’ve found that people may “push back” with denial and defensiveness.  The Integrity and Values’ Effective Communications Course deals with how best to handle such situations. 

What our clients say

Katrina Small, HR Manager at Coleman Brands tells us that the “inoculation technique” has been formally integrated into the business. Coleman Brands uses the principle of inoculation  across a variety of platforms including verbal conversations, email and even group presentations. Katrina says it is has enabled more challenging and confronting conversations to take place.



“In one instance, a manager was giving a presentation where he had to impart some disheartening business news. He prepared the team by writing on one of his slides “insert inoculation here”. By using the technique in a humorous way he prepared his audience for the negative message to come.”
According to Katrina, the team laughed and were receptive to the challenging facts the manager went on to deliver.

 Discover more

Lift your leadership and communication skills  Integrity and Values offer The Effective Communications Course – a series of 17 online lessons designed to build your communications skills. You will learn to, 1) deliver clear and concise messages, 2) identify barriers to communication and 3) avoid misunderstandings.

To find out more contact us now on 1300 364 588 or

Something to share

Take a few moments to watch this hilarious Bob Newhart video. Can you spot the psychologist’s inoculation messages?

Back at HQ

Integrity and Values is excited to introduce a new member to our team of associates. Wayne Stickel is a dedicated performance coach with over 18 years sales and business development experience in the IT industry. He is passionate about drawing from his corporate background to help bring about positive changes to organisational leadership.  To “be of service” is his purpose.



Last but not least, our founder and CEO Jennifer Elliott is completely over the moon with the arrival of her first grandchild. Isaac was born on the 15th March. Jennifer is a completely besotted with this healthy and happy little man.

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