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Negotiating is hard, and it’s even harder when there is something you really want. The stakes are higher, and you may not know how to get the upper hand. Negotiating takes skill, it’s something that a person needs to hone over time through practice, so they can carefully judge when to swoop in for a win and when to hold back. It’s a delicate, instinctual art. But it can definitely be learned.
Chris Voss is the Founder and CEO of the Black Swan Group Ltd. He has used his many years of experience in international crisis and high stakes negotiations to develop a unique program and team that applies these globally proven techniques to the business world. Prior to 2008, Chris was the was the lead international kidnapping negotiator for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as the FBI’s hostage negotiation representative for the National Security Council’s Hostage Working Group. During his government career he also represented the U.S. Government at two (2) international conferences sponsored by the G-8 as an expert in kidnapping. Prior to becoming the FBI lead international kidnapping negotiator, Christopher served as the lead Crisis Negotiator for the New York City Division of the FBI. Christopher was a member of the New York City Joint Terrorist Task Force for 14 years. He was the case agent on such cases as TERRSTOP (the Blind Sheikh Case – Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman), the TWA Flight 800 catastrophe and negotiated the surrender of the first hostage taker to give up in the Chase Manhattan bank robbery hostage taking.
During Chris’s 24 year tenure in the Bureau, he was trained in the art of negotiation by not only the FBI, but Scotland Yard and Harvard Law School. He is also a recipient of the Attorney General’s Award for Excellence in Law Enforcement and the FBI Agents Association Award for Distinguished and Exemplary Service. Chris currently teaches business negotiation in the MBA program as an adjunct professor at University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business and at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. He has taught business negotiation at Harvard University, guest lectured at The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, The IMD Business School in Lausanne, Switzerland and The Goethe School of Business in Frankfurt, Germany. Since 2009 Christopher has also worked with Insite Security as their Managing Director of the Kidnapping Resolution Practice.
Chris Voss: The secret to gaining the upper hand in negotiations is giving the other side the illusion of control. And the illusion of control is typically best given with either questions that begin with the words what or how. Well what and how should be the form of nearly any question where you’re trying to gather information. And it’s actually one of the ways we say no. The first and best way to say no to anyone is how am I supposed to do that? Now the other side actually has no idea as to the number of things you’ve done with them at the same time. You conveyed to them you have a problem. It’s something that we also referred to as forced empathy because one of the reasons why we exercise tactical empathy is because we want the other side to see us fairly. We want them to see our position; we want them to see the issues we have; we want them to see the constraints that we have.
And when you say to somebody, “How am I supposed to do that?” You make them take a look at your situation before they respond. And they think about it in a number of different ways. And a number of different people I’ve coached through negotiations who have felt completely helpless, they felt completely taken hostage, in the one instance where a woman thought she was taken hostage to the future and she just wasn’t getting paid. They called her up to give her more work and we taught her to say, trained her, counseled her to say, “How in my supposed to do that?” They thought about it for a while and they said, “You’re right you can’t.”
I’ve noticed that response is not word for word directly responsive to her question, what they responded to was they felt like she said to them, I can’t do this any more. I’ve reached my limit. And it’s a way to establish a limit in a way that doesn’t back the other side into a corner. You really want to be able to let out no a little bit at a time. And the first way to start letting …
For the full transcript, check out https://bigthink.com/videos/chris-voss-on-how-to-gain-the-upper-hand-in-negotiations