1: Getting better at getting better is what RiseWithDrew is all about.

Monday through Thursday, we explore ideas from authors, thought leaders, and exemplary organizations. On Friday, I share something about myself or what we are working on at PCI.

One of my goals for the year is to be intentional about building trust to deepen my relationships with the people I love and care about. My wife. Our six kids. My good friends. And my trusted colleagues whom I work with every day.

This week we’ve been looking at the ideas and best practices from hostage negotiator Chris Voss in his book Never Split the Difference.

So, what can the FBI’s lead hostage negotiator teach us about building trust and enriching our relationships?

As it turns out. . . A lot!

The strategies and tools the FBI uses to negotiate with terrorists and bank robbers, perhaps surprisingly, are also applicable if our goal is to build stronger relationships.

Because the FBI’s approach to negotiation is based on psychology, counseling, and crisis intervention. These strategies help calm people down, establish rapport, and build trust.  

Chris writes: “We became experts in empathy.”

2: One useful practice we looked at this week is what the FBI calls “labeling.”

Labeling is naming the emotion the other person is feeling. Doing so shows we identify and understand how they feel.

“We don’t just put ourselves in the fugitives’ shoes. We spot their feelings, turn them into words, and then very calmly and respectfully repeat their emotions back to them,” Chris writes.

Here’s how the brain science works: When researchers showed people photos of faces expressing strong emotion, the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that generates fear, lit up.  

Then, when the people were asked to label the emotion they were feeling, brain activity moved to the areas that drive rational thinking.  

“In other words, labeling an emotion—applying rational words to a fear—disrupts its raw intensity,” Chris writes.

3: To label effectively, we begin by detecting the other person’s emotion. Then, we label it using one of three statements: “It seems like…” Or “It sounds like…” Or “It looks like…”

Then, we are quiet. We listen. Silence is the key.  

The other person will then respond, either agreeing or disagreeing. And if they disagree with the label, that’s okay. Doing so allows them to clarify what they are actually feeling.

This practice is especially powerful when negative emotions are in play. When people get angry, stress hormones and neurochemicals are released that disrupt our ability to evaluate and respond appropriately.  

However, we don’t want to ignore negative emotions. Instead, they need to be “teased out,” Chris suggests. Labeling helps the other person acknowledge their feelings rather than continuing to act out.

These practices apply not only apply in high-stakes negotiations, but also when our goal is to connect with someone on a deeper level.

More next week!


Action: Experiment with detecting and labeling the emotion in a conversation today.

Reflection: What did I learn after taking the action?  Is there anything I’ll do differently next time?

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