Chris Voss: Five Negotiation Tips You Can Learn from an FBI Hostage Negotiator

Chris Voss

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Negotiating is a critical skill in the business world, and effective negotiation tactics can mean the difference between closing a business deal or missing out on an opportunity. But where do you turn to learn effective negotiation techniques? 

Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, offers valuable insights in his book “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended on It.” The book provides practical tips and strategies that can help you become a more effective negotiator at the bargaining table. 

Whether you’re looking to close a business deal or navigate a tricky negotiation process with another party, Voss’s techniques can help you find common ground and reach mutually beneficial agreements. 

In this blog post, we will explore five key negotiation tips from Voss’s book and how they can be applied in a business setting.

Business negotiations can be cutthroat, but there are things you can do to gain the advantage every time… And these tips work across industries and encounters of all kinds.

Chris Voss didn’t start out like your average businessman. His success comes courtesy of his former life as a FBI negotiator – with a lot of experience in high-stakes situations. Chris was an essential agent and a lead negotiator in international kidnapping cases.

Once retired from government work, he applied his masterful tactics and brought value to the business world. More than 20 years in the Bureau helped him understand the subtleties of keeping cool under pressure, and taught him the art of negotiating with all sorts of people, including potential customers.

After resolving many successful hostage negotiations and continuously honing his skills, Chris Voss came to the conclusion that you have to negotiate like your life depends on it – a motto that inspired the title of his book, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended on It.

Chris Voss understands the art of the deal better than anyone, and you probably know by now how difficult it is to prepare for negotiations. No negotiation is the same as the one before, yet mastering the art is essential if you want your business to thrive. These negotiation tips from a foremost expert should help you succeed

Setting suitable objectives and identifying strategies or opportunities are vital to growing a business. Nevertheless, you must turn your ideas into actions to achieve your end goals. Read about tactical planning in this related piece.

Let’s jump right into the business negotiation tips that help create a win win situation. These skills and negotiation strategies apply whether you’re looking at a first offer from a new job, working on an agreement as a small business owner, or seeking an ideal outcome for an 8-figure business. Develop these abilities, and find greater success in each negotiated agreement.

Tip #1 – Use Selective Word Mirroring

Successful negotiations are about more than controlling the situation. It’s also about rapport… And the fastest way to build rapport is using selective word mirroring. This is a simple technique that involves repeating specific words.

In future negotiations, try repeating one to three of the last words the other side uses. Do this often in the beginning, even during initial small talk. It shows that you’re willing to establish a connection, and it makes the other person feel safer and more comfortable.

Be careful with your tone of voice too. Voss likes to use a specific type of voice he calls “late night FM DJ voice.” Understand that it’s not about agreeing with the other side, even if it sounds like that. When you repeat their words, do so with an upward inflection, as you would pose a question.

This can slow down the pace of the conversation in your favor and give you time to think things over.

According to Chris Voss: “Mirrors work magic. Repeat the last three words (or the critical one to three words) of what someone has just said. We fear what’s different and are drawn to what’s similar. Mirroring is the art of insinuating similarity, which facilitates bonding. Use mirrors to encourage the other side to empathize and bond with you, keep people talking, buy your side time to regroup, and encourage your counterparts to reveal their strategy.”

Tip #2 – EQ is More Important Than IQ

The emotional quotient (or emotional intelligence) you bring to bear in a situation often outweighs logic. You can’t always cut feelings out of the equation. Most neurological research also indicates the same. So, your EQ needs to be high when entering business negotiations.

People often let their emotions influence their decisions, especially negative emotions. If you have a high EQ, you have a better chance of knowing how to address any situation in your next negotiation. Understand that those negotiating from a position of weakness may be more emotional.

If you recognize the emotional thinking of the person negotiating opposite you, you can capitalize on that moment. At the same time, it may help you build trust through a concept called tactical empathy, meaning you appeal to their emotions to build rapport without making unnecessary concessions.

“The beauty of empathy is that it doesn’t demand that you agree with the other person’s ideas, it simply asks that you understand and acknowledge them,” says Chris Voss. Empathy is a vital skill for any business professional, as it allows you to build relationships, anticipate the needs of the other party and ultimately close more successful deals.

Tip #3 – Leverage Calibrated Questions

One of Voss’s favorite questions is, “What’s the biggest challenge you face?”

If you think about it, this question is applicable in many different situations, across a variety of services, and almost any buyer or customer. 

But why this question?

It’s what’s known as an “interrogative-led question” or a “calibrated question.” This method gets the opposing negotiator to think. Thinking harder produces better answers for you and helps your decision-making.

You can also throw the other person off their game, and the golden rule when asking questions is to follow up with silence and let the question sink in. To fully leverage any great question, remain silent and keep your cool. A calm posture helps you maintain the upper hand too, especially when your counterpart fears silence. Don’t worry – you’ll get your answer eventually.

“Prepare, prepare, prepare,” advises Chris Voss. “When the pressure is on, you don’t rise to the occasion; you fall to your highest level of preparation.” So design an ambitious but legitimate goal and then focus on the labels, calibrated questions, and responses you’ll use to get there. “That way,” he explains, “once you’re at the bargaining table, you won’t have to wing it.” 

Tip #4 – Magnify Positive Emotions

Maintaining a positive frame of mind is essential. This not only makes people smarter, but also easier to negotiate with. You can only build trust with your negotiating partner through comfort and positive emotions.

Use your EQ to identify the other person’s feelings and motivations. By doing so, you can better understand their reasoning and goals. This will make it easier to find shared best interests and reach a mutually beneficial deal (or successful deal for you that doesn’t ignore the other party’s needs).

It’s vital to catch and amplify positive emotions. After all, many negotiations are between people with very different goals. That’s why it’s worth creating a comfortable environment for discussion.

“Research shows that the best way to deal with negativity is to observe it, without reaction and without judgment,” says Chris Voss. “Then consciously label each negative feeling and replace it with positive, compassionate, and solution-based thoughts.”

Tip #5 – Fair is the F-Bomb of Negotiations

Voss writes a lot about how to navigate delicate situations. He points out that negotiators who bring up unfairness argue from a place of weakness: they don’t have better arguments to make their point.

To many, this may seem like a perfect moment to pounce, but Voss argues differently. Using the word “fair” in a conversation shows vulnerability. At the same time, it signals a dangerous situation for all parties in a business negotiation.

Aggressive negotiation at such a time can kill the deal altogether. Instead, be aware of emotions and shift your approach and use more empathy. Of course, this is also an excellent tactic to use when you want to throw someone off their game. You can mimic weakness to try and gain more from the other negotiator.

Being able to disagree without being disagreeable is a valuable skill in business negotiation. It requires emotional intelligence, effective communication, and a positive attitude. By mastering this skill, you can maintain a respectful and productive atmosphere and ultimately reach mutually beneficial agreements.

Practical Applications of Negotiation Techniques in Business

Skillful negotiation is the key to successfully closing deals and reaching mutually beneficial agreements.

Whether it’s a job offer, salary, or closing real estate transactions, having strong business negotiation strategies can give you an edge and create a better outcome.

One of the most important skills in negotiation is empathy, the ability to understand and share the other party’s feelings.

By putting yourself in the other person’s shoes while negotiating, you can build trust and find common ground, essential for reaching an agreement and avoiding a bad deal.

Another important skill is active listening; by listening carefully to others, you can understand their needs and concerns, tailoring business negotiation strategies to meet them. When you truly listen, you can use wants and needs as a reference point for creating a win win situation.

Effective communication is also essential for a good negotiator. You can avoid creating tension and maintain a respectful dialogue by using “I” statements and expressing your thoughts and feelings in a clear and non-confrontational manner.

This can also help to establish ground rules and create a more positive and productive atmosphere during the negotiation process.

Another key aspect of a successful negotiation is understanding your own bargaining power and how to use it. Knowing your limits and what you are willing to accept in a deal can help you negotiate a good deal for both parties.

These skills are particularly useful in job offer negotiation, salary negotiation, and real estate transactions. By mastering these skills, you can achieve greater success in your business dealings, reaching mutually beneficial agreements and closing good deals.

“Negotiate in their world,” says Chris Voss. “Persuasion is not about how bright or smooth or forceful you are. It’s about the other party convincing themselves that the solution you want is their own idea. So don’t beat them with logic or brute force. Ask them questions that open paths to your goals. It’s not about you.”


Negotiation from any position can be a difficult task, especially if you don’t have a good grasp of the principles of the art… And who better to explain these than a former FBI negotiator like Chris Voss? Nowadays, he’s the founder of a very successful team of negotiators who apply their knowledge to the business world.

The tips in this article should serve as good starting points for you to build from, but there’s more to learn about mastering the art of negotiating.

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