Your entire day is spent negotiating for something. Every single one of your relationships and interactions is underpinned by concessions, compromises, and a bit of quid pro quo.
If you feel like you’re a person who’s consistently giving more than you’re taking, celebrated FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss has some seriously simple strategies to help you unlock the grandmaster level of negotiating. His field-tested techniques – often with life or death stakes – have successfully led to the freedom of hostages, the foiling of terrorist plots, and ruthless bank robbers throwing in the towel.
Since retiring from public service he’s been rectifying all of the ways the everyday joe has been negotiating wrong. Here are some of Chris Voss’ key principles of negotiation you can apply to everyday life.
1. Negotiation starts with empathy, not an argument
The fundamental key to negotiating is empathy. Your opponent is not your rival, they are your collaborator. They want to be seen, heard, and understood in the exact same way that you do. A good negotiator isn’t the guy who comes in gun blazing, but rather the guy who starts with a smile and offers a ‘win-win’ solution from the get-go. Aggressive negotiators will simply burn all their relationships over time.
If you’re facing a boss, repeat client, or even the missus – you have to put your relationship first. Empathy will save both parties from wasting time and repeated negotiations.
2. Keep calm & use your DJ voice
Negotiation of any kind can invoke our amygdala’s fight or flight response. You want to suppress the nervous, anxiety-inducing feeling of both parties involved, including yourself. Nobody wants to feel attacked, and the resulting stress, fear, or anger can completely shut down the productivity of your entire operation.
Voss advises that as soon as the situation gets testy, immediately pause for a moment before invoking a composed, smooth, and even tone of voice – AKA the late-night DJ voice. It will trigger both of you to calm down, involuntarily, because the neurons in our brains automatically respond positively at the detection of a smile with a confident tone.
Going all Barry White on your roommate, client, or partner will likely solicit far more laughter than calm, so practice with strangers first. Voss suggests taking it for a test run on the phone with telephone companies or banks.
3. Listen, seriously
It is so important to Voss that your negotiating partner feels you are really listening to them, that he offers up multiple prongs of attack to make them feel valued.
Repeat the last few words of someone’s sentence directly back to them. Using their own words helps them connect their thoughts in their head. They will feel involuntarily drawn to respond, often giving up more information to you by rephrasing their answer. If they reveal something shocking, mirroring can buy you time to come up with a response, and slow the pace of the conversation.
Voss shares that a bank robber once inadvertently revealed an accomplice, unknown to Voss and the NYPD. He mirrored the detail back, to conceal his shock and buy him time. The slip up gave the NYPD enough information to track the getaway driver in real-time.
A ‘label’ helps your partner clarify their thoughts while positioning themselves as the central focus. Drop out the following phrases:
“It sounds like / looks like / feels like / seems like, you …”
Never use the word “I” – you must remain a partial observer to their concern, e.g. “It sounds like you’re not quite sure of the best approach here…”
Prepare in advance any counterattacks you think might come your way, and strategically drop them into the chat before they do. It gives the impression you have considered their position and are really listening to them.
Voss says if they feel understood they will confirm it with “that’s right” – if they say, “you’re right,” you have to stop, rinse and repeat. They haven’t sensed enough empathy.
4. Aim for a “no” not a “yes”
When you give people the opportunity to say “no” they feel safe, secure, and in control. But when provoked to answer “yes” we feel cornered, skeptical, and smell a trap.
Voss attributes this to being so culturally burned by multilevel marketing schemes that lure us in with a series of small wins before we get hooked into the final sale.
The counterintuitive trick is to rephrase questions to no-oriented questions, such as:
- “Have you given up on… “
- “Is it ridiculous for you to… “
- “Would it be horrible if… “
- “Is now a bad time to…”
It looks like an out, but we actually respond better when we feel we have the autonomy to say yes, rather than be provoked to do so.
5. Create the illusion of control
You must give your opponent the illusion they are in control of the outcome. Voss’ favourite question when negotiating terms is to ask, “how am I supposed to do that?”
It encourages them to step into your shoes and consider your feelings and concerns. This will make them doubt the feasibility of their own demands.
Look out for what Voss notes are “the four most emotional words in negotiating” – leverage, price, value, and fair.
They are so loaded with emotion they can derail everything. If your opponent drops “it isn’t fair” on you, they are feeling vulnerable and close to walking away. Voss warns it is not the time to double down, but rather ramp up the empathy ASAP.
6. End on a high
Voss advocates “the last impression is the lasting impression,” and it’s a tip he picked up from the producer of the Oprah Winfrey show. You need your counterpart to walk away feeling positive, valued, and respected because the end is not the end. If they commit to a deal and are seemingly unhappy about it, they can continue to get back at you by failing to cooperate every step of the way. This is a big one, especially when dealing with a romantic partner. We’ve all been there.
No matter how high or low the stakes might be, the Chris Voss negotiation tactics can be an art form, and when done well, these techniques should be utterly invisible.
If you want to get stuck into more than just a primer, pick up Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It? Or tune in to his wildly popular Masterclass.