1: August 2000. The Philippines. The militant Islamic group Abu Sayyaf announces it has captured a CIA agent.

“The truth was not as newsworthy or as valuable to the rebels,” writes Chris Voss in Never Split the Difference. The Muslim rebels had actually apprehended Jeffrey Schilling, a twenty-four-year-old California native traveling near their base in Jolo Island.

The rebel leader Abu Sabaya announced the ransom amount.

$10 million.

Abu “was a veteran of the rebel movement with a violent past. He was straight out of the movies, a terrorist-sociopath-killer,” Chris writes. “He had a history of rape, murder, and beheadings. He liked to record his bloody deeds on video and send them to the Philippine media.”

Abu “loved, loved, loved the media. He had the Philippine reporters on speed dial,” Chris notes. “They’d call him and ask him questions in Tagalog, his native tongue. He would answer in English because he wanted the world to hear his voice on CNN.”

“They should make a movie about me,” he would tell reporters.

Chris was assigned to be the FBI’s lead negotiator on the case. At the time, he was a Supervisory Special Agent attached to the FBI’s elite Crisis Negotiation Unit (CNU).

“The CNU is the equivalent of the special forces of negotiations, he notes. “The best of the best.”

His goal: Free the hostage and bring the criminal to justice.

2: Chris’s first negotiation, however, would be with Benjie, a Filipino military officer, who would negotiate directly with Abu.

“Benjie was a true Filipino patriot and hero. He was the leader of the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force and had been in his share of firefights,” Chris writes. “On many occasions, Benjie and his men had been sent on rescue missions to save hostages, and they had a sterling record. His men were feared, for good reason. They rarely took handcuffs.”

The FBI wanted to engage with Abu using a five-stage behavioral change model: Active listening, empathy, rapport, influence, and behavioral change.

Not Benjie. He wanted to take a hard line. Speak to the terrorist in direct, no-nonsense terms.

Benjie believed establishing rapport with an adversary was distasteful.

3: One Saturday night, Chris and Benjie sat in the library of the American ambassador’s summer residence discussing the negotiating strategy.

“I could see a snarl coming over his face,” Chris recalls, “as I was explaining to Benjie the value of establishing a rapport-based, working relationship, even with an adversary as dangerous as Sabaya.”

So Chris used one of his negotiating tactics and labeled Benjie’s emotion.

“You hate Sabaya, don’t you?” he said.

“I tell you, I do! He has murdered and raped,” Benjie screamed, unloading on Chris. “I heard his voice come on our radio one day and celebrate that he was standing over the body of one of my men.”

Chris watched Benjie get control of his anger and calm down.

“Though he had been very good up to that point, from that moment forward Benjie became a superstar,” Chris writes. “He blossomed into a truly talented negotiator.”

Before we can convince someone to see what we are trying to accomplish, we must say the things necessary so they know they’ve been heard.

More tomorrow!


Action: In an upcoming conversation, be intentional about describing the other person’s perspective.

Reflection: Pay attention to how the other person responds. Do they feel heard?

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