5 Negotiation Strategies from an FBI Negotiator

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Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

Happy Resource Friday! Last year, I listened to an interview with a former FBI hostage negotiator. I heard who the interview was with and my attention was immediately piqued. It proved to be one of those holy-crap-I-forgot-I-was-driving types of interviews. I was completely engrossed and got his book.

The book is Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if your life depended on it by Chris Voss (you can get it from Thriftbooks or even listen to it on the app called Libby as I did!).

First, I’m going to say this was an utterly fascinating read! I highly recommend it, not just for the practical advice in the area of negotiation but also for the sheer entertainment of it. Voss’s book is riddled with story after story of saving hostages from fanatic criminals.

Having said that, here are five unbelievably simple and practical negotiation strategies I took from this book. Take them into your next job interview or vehicle purchase!

1. Mirror, mirror, and mirror again

man and woman negotiate a deal
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This is a technique used by negotiators to get the opponent to keep talking. Negotiators love this because the more their opponent talks, the more information they can glean from their opponent’s circumstances. Basically, it works like this: When your opponent says something, counter by repeating their last few words in the form of a question.

This causes the other individual to unconsciously continue to speak because it feels like there’s more that needs to be said, even when there isn’t. As Voss says on page 47, “Negotiation is not an act of battle; it’s a process of discovery. The goal is to uncover as much information as possible.”

Mirroring is what this stage is about—discovering information in a way that doesn’t feel threatening. It allows you to move forward in the negotiation knowing more about the motivation of the other individual.

Mirroring, then, when practiced consciously, is the art of insinuating similarity. “Trust me,” a mirror signals to another’s unconscious, “You and I—we’re alike.”

Never Split the Difference (p. 36)

2. Use empathy to label emotions

woman talks emotionally to another woman while drinking coffee
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People want to be understood and when they do, that opens up a certain connection in relationships. Labeling emotions does just that. Voss says this on page 56,

Labels can be phrased as statements or questions. The only difference is whether you end the sentence with a downward or upward inflection. But no matter how they end, labels almost always begin with roughly the same words:

It seems like…

It sounds like…

It looks like…

He continues by telling a story about one of his students who worked as a fundraiser for the Girl Scouts. With one woman, she had a particularly difficult time landing a donation.

Sensing the potential donor’s growing frustration, and wanting to end on a positive note so they might be able to meet again, my student used another label. “It seems that you are really passionate about this gift and want to find the right project reflecting the opportunities and life-changing experiences the Girl Scouts gave you.”

And with that, this “difficult” woman signed a check without even picking a specific project. “You understand me,” she said as she got up to leave. “I trust you’ll find the right project.”

Never Split the Difference (p. 63)

3. Give them the feeling of control

man in control as he negotiates a deal
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This is done in a couple of very specific ways.

  • Crafting questions so that they answer “No.”

People need to feel in control. When you preserve a person’s autonomy by clearly giving them the permission to say “No” to your ideas, the emotions calm, the effectiveness of the decisions go up, and the other party can really look at your proposal.

Never Split the Difference (p. 78-79)
  • Getting them to say “That’s right.”

Voss encourages his readers, when negotiating, to reiterate what their opponent says out loud. This helps their opponent understand that they are listened to. The goal of this is to get the opponent to say “That’s right.” This saying has similar effects on the brain as saying “No.”

Essentially, it makes the opponent feel that they are in control of the situation. Voss makes note that when someone says “You’re right” instead of “That’s right,” they are far more likely attempting to shut down the conversation quickly. Questions that bring this answer should be avoided at all cost.

4. Let them solve your problems for you

man stressed about a problem he's facing
Photo by Bruce Mars from Pexels

Voss firmly suggests that calibrated questions will make negotiations for you much easier because they shift your problems onto your opponent to solve themselves.

For example, Voss tells several stories about hostage situations where the hostile demands large sums of money in exchange for the hostage’s life. The author used calibrated questions to place all the work back on the hostile to solve the problem the hostile created. Questions like “How am I supposed to know you haven’t killed her?” or “We don’t have that kind of money. How do you expect me to pay that to you?” Frequently, this caused the hostile to slip up, give information not known before, or as was the case in countless situations, the hostile accepted far less money than they demanded in the first place. All because they didn’t know how to respond.

5. Set an extreme anchor

two people determine a contract to sign
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Set an extreme anchor by going first in a negotiation and making an extreme offer.

This psychologically changes how your opponent will continue in the negotiation. When negotiating the price of a new car, for instance, setting an extreme anchor on the low side will give you the flexibility to work your negotiation to the price for which you are actually shooting. On page 206, Voss suggests starting at 65% of the price you are hoping to achieve. Then, move to 85%, 95% and 100% of the price you would like as the salesman continues to negotiate.

Then, to signify your final offer, make your offer a seemingly weird number.

When calculating the final amount, use precise, nonround numbers like, say, $37,893 rather than $38,000. It gives the number credibility and weight.

Never Split the Difference (p. 206)

The most important thing to remember when negotiating

The part of the book that rings out most clearly in my memory is when the author states that the goal of learning to become a good negotiator is not to be a manipulator.

As Voss puts it, your reputation precedes you.

If someone believes you have manipulated them or they are bitter of a negotiation they made with you, they will never work with you again and they will tell their friends about it. Yes, some of this sounds manipulative, I’ll admit. However, you must remember that the goal is not to manipulate because that is not good practice in areas of business, relationships, etc. Being a jerk won’t get you very far.

Read this book this year!

I highly recommend this book because of how practical the advice is. The stories that the author portrays really helps solidify the strategies he has used to literally save peoples’ lives! The thing is, his stories aren’t just about negotiating for hostages—he has stories that prove his strategies work in business as well. I could barely stop reading it (I call that an excellent book) and have read it twice to help the material soak in more fully. It’s that good!

What have you negotiated for and how did it go?

I want to hear from you in the comments! And as always, if you found value in this post, give it a like and give me a follow!


Thanks to rawpixel.com from Pexels for the main image!

The Culture Code (Book Review)

Last August, my boss gave me a performance review where we went over professional goals for the coming year. One of my goals was to read two books on company culture and make four suggestions to my boss for ways we could improve our own company culture.

Based on a reading list from Entreleadership, this book, The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle, was added to my list. Here is a review of it!

Coyle begins by highlighting the foundation of “culture.” He says

We focus on what we can see — individual skills. But individual skills are not what matters. What matters is the interaction.

He then moves on to examples of company cultures and how those interactions make a difference on overall productivity.

The author lays it out into three skills that determine a company’s ability to develop a strong culture: build safety, share vulnerability, and establish purpose.

Build Safety

Coyle talks about how companies have good culture based on the fact that interactions are safe. This is not to say that people cannot give opinions. On the contrary, merely that feedback is actually welcomed by bosses and that opinions won’t be criticized in a demeaning way.

This is accomplished by members giving cues of belonging which can be split into three different qualities (p. 10 and 11).

1. Energy: They invest in the exchange that is occurring.

2. Individualization: They treat the person as unique and valued.

3. Future orientation: They signal the relationship will continue.

Coyle uses an example from a research study in which an individual was placed in a team to see how a toxic attitude would affect the culture of the team. Jonathan, the leader of the group (and unaware of the study) managed to maintain his team’s positive culture while engaging the individual doing the research. This made his team many times more effective in its projects compared to all other teams in the study.

Jonathan’s group succeeds not because its members are smarter but because they are safer. (p. 5).

Ensuring everyone has a voice is another way safety is developed in a company or a team. If a boss is known for forcing employees to do whatever he or she thinks is best without discussion, no employees will feel that it is an environment conducive to making suggestions. Which brings us to our second point of a strong culture.

Share Vulnerability

Anyone who is comfortable sharing vulnerability will increase the effectiveness of their culture. It means showing team members your lack of perfection. It means opening yourself to suggestions from your team.

In one example, Coyle talks about David Cooper, a man who helped develop the intricate and intensive training of Navy SEALs.

When Cooper gave his opinion, he was careful to attach phrases that provided a platform for someone to question him, like “Now let’s see if someone can poke holes in this” or Tell me what’s wrong with this idea.” He steered away from giving orders and instead asked a lot of questions. (p. 138)

The way Cooper shared his vulnerability was by letting his men know that his suggestions weren’t always right. And by doing that, he was building safety.

Establish Purpose

This is a constant reminder of what the shared goal is. People want to know what they are fighting for! Establishing purpose over and over is what keeps employees motivated to work with others to accomplish the end goal.

This is the way high-purpose environments work. They are about sending not so much one big signal as a handful of steady, ultra-clear signals that are aligned with a shared goal. They are less about being inspiring than about being consistent. They are found not within big speeches so much as within everyday moments when people can sense the message: This is why we work; this is what we are aiming for. (p.198)

Recommended for anyone who works with others

This is an excellent book for anyone to read who is involved in a team of any kind. You don’t have to be a leader in order to help build a productive culture!

And you can pick it up at Thriftbooks which is where I like to get all of my physical books. It’s a great way to get used books for a very reasonable price. Click the photo below to check it out!

The Culture Code