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

Chris Voss

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Business negotiation 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 negotiation tactics to the business world. More than 20 years in the Bureau helped him understand the subtleties of keeping cool under pressure, and taught him how to talk to all sorts of people.

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.

Negotiation Tip #1 – Use Selective Word Mirroring

Negotiation is 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.

The next time you have to negotiate, try repeating one to three of the last words the other side uses. Do this often in the beginning. 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 negotiation in your favor and give you time to think things over.

Negotiation 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 a negotiation.

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 a situation. Understand that those negotiating from a position of weakness may be more emotional.

If you recognize the emotional thinking of the person 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.

Negotiation 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. 

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, especially when your counterpart fears silence. Don’t worry – you’ll get your answer eventually.

Negotiation 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 based on 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 common ground and reach a conclusion that favors you.

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.

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

Voss writes a lot about how to navigate delicate situations. He points out that people who bring up unfairness argue from a position 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 the negotiation.

Moving too aggressively at such a time can kill the deal altogether. Instead, 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 a position of weakness to try and gain more from the other negotiator.

Conclusion

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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