1: Chris Voss was in a bind.
After serving as the FBI’s chief hostage negotiator, he had decided to go into business for himself.
The good news?
For his first consulting project, he received the honor of training the national hostage negotiation team from the United Arab Emirates.
The bad news?
Chris was serving as a subcontractor. “The prestige of the assignment was tempered during the project by problems with the general contractor,” he writes in his book Never Split the Difference.
“The problems became so bad,” he writes, “that I was going to have to go back to the contractors I’d signed up, who normally got $2,000 a day, and tell them that for several months, I could only offer $500.”
“I knew exactly what they would do if I just told them straight out: they’d laugh me out of town,” he recollects.
2: Instead, he knew his best option was to re-frame the situation. He would begin by acknowledging all of their fears. Next, he would anchor their emotions in preparation for a loss.
“I got a lousy proposition for you,” Chris said to his contractors. Then, he paused until each asked him to continue.
“By the time we get off the phone, you’re going to think I’m a lousy businessman. You’re going to think I can’t budget or plan. You’re going to think Chris Voss is a big talker. His first big project ever out of the FBI, he screws it up completely. He doesn’t know how to run an operation. And he might even have lied to me.”
He had effectively created a “minefield of low expectations.”
Next, he played to the human tendency to prioritize loss aversion.
“Still, I wanted to bring this opportunity to you before I took it to someone else,” I said.
The phone call was now not about the rate being cut from $2,000 to $500. But about how not to lose $500 to someone else.
3: What happened as a result?
Each contractor accepted the deal.
“No counteroffers, no complaints,” Chris writes. “If I’d just called and said, ‘I can give $500 per day. What do you think?’ they’d have taken it as an insult and slammed down the phone.”
Reflection: Consider an upcoming negotiation or conversation. Can I learn any lessons from Chris’s approach to a difficult situation?
Action: Journal about my answers to the questions above before the upcoming conversation.