Lance Burdett's long career in the police force saw him become something of an expert in the art of awkward conversation.
Over 13 years as a crisis negotiator, he faced situations involving hostage-takers, parents barricaded in their homes and those looking to end it all.
Thankfully, most of us won't find ourselves in a situation like this but the workplace can throw up a few conversations that no one wants to have – particularly when it comes to the subject of money.
So what can a hostage negotiator's techniques teach us about heading, hat in hand, to the boss' office and asking for a raise?
Regardless of the situation, Burdett's approach is always the same when it comes to easing the awkwardness.
"All we do is try to engage them in conversation," says Burdett, who now runs the consultancy and professional coaching business Warn International.
"Hostage negotiation is about understanding human behaviour, not manipulating it.
"The most common situation hostage negotiators encounter is a barricaded person, who might be intoxicated with a gun in a house and won't come out… When you're in this situation, the most difficult thing is to get them to start talking. And the only way to get somebody to talk is to talk first and to reassure them. You have to make the person feel comfortable."
He says a good way to do this is by being polite, respectful and preparing for the discussion.
"I always make a couple of notes in my notebook before I'm about to start talking with somebody just on what I think they might want to talk about," he says.
The preparation helps to avoid weighing the conversation with rambling responses that lean on platitudes rather than concrete details.
This applies whether you're in a hostage situation or an uncomfortable meeting with your boss.
"It's not about having a script. Remember, you're not in a movie. It's just having a few bullet points that you can quickly look over before you go in."
It's also important to keep the discussion objective-oriented, remembering that you're ultimately in the room to ask for an increase in payment for your services. Simply asking for more money isn't going to cut it. You need to offer a clear rationale as to why it makes sense to your boss to dig into his pockets a little deeper.
"The way you prepare for a pay rise discussion is asking: what have you done to deserve it? And it's never good enough to say you've been there for a long time.
"What have you done that's different? What have you done that's helped the organisation? You have to find the positives. Perhaps, you've managed to gain clients. Or maybe the client that you gained five years ago is still with you and has now become one of the biggest clients. You need two or three examples of what you've done already."
The mistake many employees make is that they stop at this point and don't elaborate on what else they could potentially achieve, says Burdett.
"The other thing you want to do is identify benefits in the organisation giving you a pay rise. This is one that a lot of people don't think about. Here you can point out how it's going to incentivise you to do a better job."
Burdett ties this point back to his role as a negotiator, explaining you need to really home in on what you can do for the other person rather than just focusing on what you're currently doing.
Getting the boss to talk openly about plans for the business at this point will enable you to express your interest in taking on new roles that might not currently fall within your remit. This, argues Burdett, can become a powerful negotiating tool in that it can be used as a justification for the additional salary.
LEAVE BLUFFS AT THE POKER TABLE
Much of Burdett's advice focuses on proactive steps you can take to make the conversation tolerable, but he also points to some cardinal rules that should never be broken.
"Don't ever bluff," he says, almost desperately.
"Don't use threats. Don't say: 'Give me a raise, otherwise, I'll leave.' They'll just shut you down and you won't get a pay rise. They'll always call your bluff and then you've got nowhere to go.
"This is a really important rule in crisis negotiations. If we bluff or tell a lie and we get found out, you'll never be able to talk with that person again because they'll always remember the negative."
This rule also applies to negotiating the figure attached to the pay rise.
"What I often hear people say is: 'Go high and you can always settle in the middle.' It's rubbish. Bluffing doesn't work. You need to keep it realistic."
A better approach, he says, is to ask for a reasonable amount and then justify why you think that's fair.
"The chances are that if you go in like that, they'll probably agree that it is fair."
A fundamental technique hostage negotiators learn is controlling their voices and not letting anger or nervousness leak into their speech.
While Hollywood's exaggerated representations would have you believe negotiators sound something akin to a cliche psychiatrist, Burdett says it's really about keeping your tone level and your emotions in check.
Burdett knows a thing or two about putting this into practice, having learned from the best at FBI training sessions in Quantico.
He says a good first step toward controlling your voice is just to sit up straight when you're in an interview situation.
"If you're slouching, your voice is going to come out strained and that doesn't sound or look good."
He also advises checking your volume to ensure it doesn't lift with your emotional state.
"When you're in a heightened state, you speak louder and faster. You've got adrenaline in your system, so you raise your voice slightly. You go from about a hundred words a minute to 130 words a minute, and you speak in longer sentences.
"That's not what you want. You want to have a controlled voice, but you don't want to drop it so low and slow to the point of sounding facetious. It's about being as normal as possible."
Eye contact is also incredibly important, but Burdett warns that you want to avoid staring into the person's soul.
"People misread what eye contact is about. You should look at the person, but try not to look directly into their eyes for long periods of time. Otherwise, you'll just end up looking like some kind of weirdo. Make sure you do look at their face, but not always."
The final piece of body language advice the negotiator offers is to try not to show any overt signs of disappointment if the meeting doesn't go according to plan. He says it's better to listen to the feedback, take it on board and then use some time to think about what you want to do.
Heightened emotions simply aren't conducive to making good, logical decisions.
This is not to say that you should hide your feelings indefinitely. On the contrary, repression could actually work to your detriment.
Long interested in mental health in the workplace, Burdett says workers who feel under-appreciated can often develop feelings of resentment and dissatisfaction.
"The resentment comes and goes and depends on the mood of the day. It helps to use the 80-20 rule here. Around 80 per cent of the time we might be doing our best, but the other 20 per cent we spend feeling undervalued."
In a message directed more at bosses than employees, Burdett explains that the root of this resentment doesn't always come down to the figure on the payslip.
"It's not always about money," he says.
"Some people just want to have their work appreciated. That's all they need. For some people, it does come down to money, but the underlying thing is that they just want to feel valued."
The onus here is on bosses to ensure that their workers feel appreciated, but workers also need to make their voices heard. And while such conversations can be painfully awkward, silence can ultimately prove more harmful in the long run.