Negotiate Like A Top FBI Hostage Agent

“Who has control in a conversation, the guy listening or the guy talking?

The listener, of course.

That’s because the talker is revealing information while the listener, if he’s trained well, is directing the conversation toward his own goals. He’s harnessing the talker’s energy for his own ends.”

That’s what Chis Voss, formerly the FBI’s lead international hostage negotiator, writes in his excellent “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as If Your Life Depended on It”. His insights shatter the idea that good negotiators engage in a battle of wills against their counterpart. If there is a guiding principle in the FBI’s elite negotiating team it’s that you have to remove yourself from the equation.

So, it is less “I want this..”, bull-dozing your counterpart into saying “yes” or thinking of your next line of attack while listening. And it is more mirroring the words your counterpart is using to build empathy, encouraging your counterpart to say “no” to make them feel safe and quieting the voice in your head so you can focus on what your counterpart is saying.

As for mechanics of a negotiation, Voss suggests the following approach:

Build rapport

Don’t feel pain, label it

Beware of “yes”, master “no”.

Get to the emotions

Discover the black swans

Transform conflict into collaboration

Bargain hard on price

Guarantee execution

These are the highlights from the book, and it’s well worth a read. There are a lot more insights that I didn’t have space for. The important thing to remember is not to get stuck into a mechanistic formula, but rather get the foundations right, which is to make the negotiations less about how smart you are and more about the other person.



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