3 Negotiation Strategies You Can Learn From The FBI

by | May 29, 2018

No matter who you are, you spend your days navigating complex discussions by using negotiation to achieve you desired result. But hopefully, nobody’s ever demanded you give them a million dollars in return for the life of your son. This is exactly the situation Chris Voss was confronted with one fateful afternoon.

Luckily, this demand was presented as a test by a panel of Harvard Law School negotiation professors, not a team of trained killers. Unlike most people, Voss was no stranger to this dilemma. He had been faced with dozens of “money for lives” deals in his years as the lead international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI.

So begins Chris Voss’ book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It. Sure, discussing a move across the country with your partner or attempting to garner a raise from your boss might be much lower stakes than a hostage negotiation. But as Voss will tell you, the basic principles of negotiation remain the same regardless of the situation. Here are 3 of the most powerful negotiation strategies from his book to transform how you get what you want.

Use Tactical Empathy


According to Voss, the best way to come to an agreement with an opposing — or hostile — party isn’t to manipulate them with arcane tricks and techniques. Your best bet is to genuinely understand where they’re coming from. This “tactical empathy,” as Voss and his FBI cohorts call it, enables you to access the desires, needs, and struggles of your counterpart. Plus, it provides the framework to find a solution.

Voss cites Harvard professor Robert Mnookin. He quotes Mnookin, saying that empathy “does not require people to have sympathy for another’s plight — to ‘feel their pain.’ Nor is empathy about being nice.” Instead, it’s “the process of demonstrating an accurate, nonjudgmental understanding of the other side’s needs, issues, and perspective.”

So in the beginning of any negotiation, gather as much information you can about the other party in their own words. Once you’ve reached an understanding of their position, articulate it back to them. This will show that you’re actively listening to them, have respect for their ideas, and are eager to move forward.

Start With No

Saying No

Countless sales books have taught us that the key to negotiation is getting the other party to say yes as much as possible. The goal is that they’ll eventually start saying yes to anything you propose. This may have worked in the old-school days of advertising, prior to this age of constant advertising and media consumption. But today, this “yes” tactic mostly just feels manipulative and sneaky.

So before you try that method, phrase your questions so that the other party will answer by saying no. According to Voss, “‘No’ is protection,” whereas “‘Yes’ is commitment.” This is due to the same reason you feel reluctant to volunteer when someone asks for some unknown favor. People hesitate to commit to anything by saying yes. Saying no, on the other hand, makes people feel protected, causing them to relax and open up.

Don’t Dominate — Collaborate!


Today, the business world is packed with macho individuals who are interested in little more than jockeying for a position. But contemporary work environments are a lot less accommodating to these Type-A personalities. And Voss argues that such strategies are much less effective anyways.

As soon as you can, Voss advises, establish the negotiation as a collaborative effort. Let them feel that they’re steering the ship as often as possible. Ask open-ended questions. People love to explain themselves and feel like they’re the expert in the situation. Even if the other party is trying to outmuscle you, they’re simply leaving themselves open to manipulation.

For more tips on negotiation and making better deals, we highly recommend checking out Voss’ book. Under just 300 pages, he guides readers through the often-counterintuitive negotiation strategies that will aid pretty much anyone in any back-and-forth debate. Whether you’re a grocer at your local Trader Joe’s or the CEO of a financial firm, it’s vital you sharpen your negotiation strategies to a fine edge for both personal and professional bargaining. Never Split the Difference is the perfect tool to do just that.

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