Trouble closing In Negotiations? Learn From The Best Hostage Negotiator

Whether you are negotiating a new salary, attempting to negotiate a hostage’s release, or simply want to close a new client; being a skilled negotiator is essential in life. This is especially true in the world of business and startups. The art of negotiating is also the art of convincing. And who better to learn from than the world’s foremost hostage negotiator?

Chris Voss was an FBI negotiator for 24 years and its chief international hostage and kidnapping negotiator for four years. In the book “Never Split the Difference”, he lays down his knowledge for us. His experience and expertise makes this invaluable.

Amazon link for the book

Key Ideas

  • People want to be understood and accepted.
  • They want to feel in control.
  • Listening to the other person is the key to opening up a negotiation.

In order to “win” a negotiation, Voss maintains arguing with logic will get you nowhere. You must understand your counterpart’s emotions and use this to guide them towards your goal.

Begin with your Tone: Nonverbal communication is essential, and your tone will be the biggest indicator of this. There are two tones Voss recommends:

  • Late-night DJ voice: Use selectively to make a point. Inflect voice downward. Calm and slow. Creates aura of trustworthiness without triggering defensiveness
  • Positive & playful: Default voice. Voice of easygoing & good natured person. Relax & smile while talking

In order to get closer to your counterpart, use what is know as mirrors. This consists in repeating the last three words someone else said. Subconsciously, this will give them a feeling of similarity with you which will make the negotiation easier.

The most powerful tool in a negotiation.

The most powerful tool that negotiators are often reluctant to use is Labeling.

A label is the act of validating someone’s emotion by acknowledging it. Not only does this let you understand your counterpart’s position and confirm the current state of the negotiation, it also lets the other side know you are listening and draws you closer. Labeling often starts with the following:

  • It seems like…
  • It sounds like
  • It looks like…

Always pause after a label to let the other party expand.

The next tip is to neutralize the negatives and anticipate criticism. In order to do this, find out what barriers are standing in the way of a deal and acknowledge them. Ask questions starting with How and What in order to let your counterpart find the solution themselves. (Calibrated questions). This will give the other party the impression they are in control while they are actually looking for a solution which will benefit you. By anticipating criticism, you leave only positive things unsaid, which will make obtaining a favorable deal easier.

Never Split the Difference: Imagine you wanted to wear brown shoes to a wedding and your partner wanted you to wear black shoes. Splitting the difference would end up with you wearing one of each, which is effectively worse than any of the other options

Use Anchors: Set an extremely low or high price to make real number more reasonable.

The Ackermann system:

This is a simple system which is incredibly effective in negotiations:

1. Set target price

2. Plan your offers

  • Buyer: 65% → 85% → 95% → 100%
  • Seller: 135% → 115% → 105% → 100%.

3. At final offer add non-monetary item to show that I’m at my limit

Use an Accusations Audit to pre-empt the first offer to take the edge off

  • You’re going to think I haven’t done my homework
  • You’re going to feel insulted by my offer
  • I’m embarrassed to tell you my offer
  • Use lots of empathy and ways of saying No in between to get other to counter before I increase my offer
  • Use precise, non-round, odd numbers

For more information from Never Split the Difference, download our free cheat sheet!

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