That is an understandable question, writes FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss in Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It.

The answer? Everything.  

Because “life is negotiation,” he writes. “The majority of the interactions we have at work and at home are negotiations that boil down to the expression of a simple, animalistic urge: I want.

“I want to free the hostages,” may be relevant only for law enforcement officers.  

But the same approach applies to: “I want you to accept that $1 million contract.”

Or, “I want to pay $20,000 for that car.”

Or, “I want you to give me a 10 percent raise.”

Or, “I want you to go to sleep at 9 p.m.”

Negotiation is “nothing more than communication with results,” writes Chris. “Getting what we want out of life is all about getting what we want from—and with—other people.  

“Conflict between two parties is inevitable in all relationships. So it’s useful—crucial, even—to know how to engage in that conflict to get what you want without inflicting damage.”

Yesterday, we looked at two approaches to negotiation: “Negotiation as learned at the country’s top school (Harvard) continued down the established road of rational problem solving,” Chris writes.

A second approach favored by the FBI embraces emotions and emotional intelligence, which should be “central to effective negotiation, not things to overcome,” Chris writes.

“Ironically, we meatheads at the FBI began to train our agents in an unproven system based on psychology, counseling, and crisis intervention,” he observes. “While the Ivy League taught math and economics, we became experts in empathy.”

The really good news? “Our way worked,” he notes.

“Remember, a hostage negotiator plays a unique role: He has to win,” Chris writes. “Can he say to a bank robber, ‘Okay, you’ve taken four hostages. Let’s split the difference—give me two, and we’ll call it a day?’

Of course not.

“A successful hostage negotiator has to get everything they ask for, without giving anything back of substance, and do so in a way that leaves the adversaries feeling as if they have a great relationship,” he writes. Their work is “emotional intelligence on steroids.”

Which is why the FBI embarked on a path to learn “simple psychological tactics and strategies that worked in the field to calm people down, establish rapport, gain trust, elicit the verbalization of needs, and persuade the other guy of our empathy,” Chris writes.

Turns out these are valuable tools for living everyday life.

Not only that, but the approach needed to be “something easy to teach, easy to learn, and easy to execute,” he notes. “These were cops and agents, after all and they weren’t interested in becoming academics or therapists. What they wanted was to change the behavior of the hostage-taker, whoever they were and whatever they wanted, to shift the emotional environment of the crisis just enough so that we could secure the safety of everyone involved.”

So, the FBI tried out “both new and old therapeutic techniques developed by the counseling profession,” he writes. “These counseling skills were aimed at developing positive relationships with people by demonstrating an understanding of what they’re going through and how they feel about it.”

It starts with the understanding that people want to be understood and accepted. How do we bring that about? By listening.

“Listening is the cheapest, yet most effective concession we can make to get there,” Chris observes. “By listening intensely, a negotiator demonstrates empathy and shows a sincere desire to better understand what the other side is experiencing . . .Contrary to popular opinion, listening is not a passive activity. It is the most active thing you can do.”

Chris calls this strategy “Tactical Empathy.” Which is “listening as a martial art, balancing the subtle behaviors of emotional intelligence and the assertive skills of influence, to gain access to the mind of another person.”

And it’s more than just that, Chris believes.  

“Most important to me is that we understand how urgent, essential, and even beautiful negotiation can be. When we embrace negotiating’s transformative possibilities, we learn how to get what we want and how to move others to a better place,” he writes.  

“Negotiation is the heart of collaboration. It is what makes conflict potentially meaningful and productive for all parties. It can change our lives, as it has changed mine.”

More tomorrow!


Reflection: How do I feel about negotiation? Do I embrace it or try to avoid it? How skilled am I at calming people down, establishing rapport, and gaining trust? What can I learn from Chris’s approach to negotiation?

Action: Journal my answers to the questions above.

What did you think of this post?

Write A Comment