Effective negotiation with Chris Voss

Thoughts about this conversation..

Voss’ conversation with Kevin Rose is insightful and provides a wealth of actionable tips that are as transferrable to business as to life itself. 

One of the keen points Voss emphasizes is that nobody wants to make a deal they feel they’ve lost. With that in mind, it’s your job to ensure both yourself and the other party feel like winners. 

His impressive array of tactics and commensurate examples in this podcast are extremely valuable to any keen entrepreneur and negotiator.


Full Episode
Never Split the Difference, master negotiation with Ex-FBI, Chris Voss – The Kevin Rose Show

Ex-FBI negotiator, Chris Voss, speaks candidly with Kevin Rose about his tactics for effective negotiation ⁠— both in business and life in general. Using a whirlwind of relatable analogies and real-life personal stories, Voss divulges his pearls of wisdom on building rapport in negotiations through active listening. 

Voss gives hints and tips on how to tailor body language and linguistic cues to work with the three types of negotiators, ensuring all parties feel like they’ve won. Applicable to all areas of business, from sealing deals to influencing target audiences, Voss’s invaluable advice is wrapped in insightful questions and delivered as a stimulating and engaging guide to stronger negotiations.

“Ignore human nature at your peril”

Chris Voss

A Little Bit of Background…

CEO of The Black Swan Group and former FBI negotiator, Chris Voss, is a prominent educator, entrepreneur, and author. A Harvard graduate, Voss spent his early career in the New York City Joint Terrorist Task Force, before spending 24 years in the FBI Crisis Negotiation Unit. In his time with the FBI, Voss spent 4 years as the FBI’s chief international hostage and kidnapping negotiator.

Having worked over 150 cases for the FBI, Voss pivoted into private consultation and training, founding The Black Swan Group. He now offers keynotes worldwide, along with personal coaching and business training in negotiation ⁠— also co-authoring Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It. In recent years, Voss has been a lecturer at the Marshall School of Business (University of South Carolina) and an adjunct professor at McDonough School of Business (Georgetown University).

7 Key Lessons to negotiation:

#1 Begin With Passions

Early on, Chris Voss discloses a touching story of volunteering for the suicide hotline, describing his time as a ‘masterclass in emotional intelligence’ – an opportunity to learn through real emotional reactions.

Voss indicates that real emotional reactions demonstrate passion, and passion illustrates a person’s values.

Voss suggests inciting a comparable emotional reaction in business negotiation scenarios by asking about the person’s passions. Once you have a handle on somebody’s values, you know how to collaborate. According to Voss, negotiation hinges on great collaboration, not brute force.

#2 Build Rapport Through Active Listening

While many techniques encourage a person to reveal information, nothing works as well as actually listening to the person. Voss claims that engaged listening is widely accepted as an ‘advanced skill’ as people are so used to not being listened to. 

While everyone asks questions, not many listen to the answers – however, when we find someone who actively listens, we’re more inclined to tell them more.

#3 Encourage Talking with Verbal Observations

Voss explains that as humans, we’re conditioned to keep quiet when we’re unsure of the answer or potential response to your answer. To combat this, it’s possible to coax valuable information from the other party by making verbal, subjective observations. 

Examples would be:

  • It sounds like that agitates you
  • Its seems you’re passionate about the topic
  • It looks like you’re glad about that
  • It appears that you’re under pressure

In these examples, you provide an observation based on their speech and body language, which they can either confirm or deny. Interestingly, Voss points out, people love to correct you, so if your observation is slightly incorrect, you’ll find people will readily divulge very truthful information while countering the observation.

The theory behind this, according to Voss, is that verbal observations seem to bypass the prefrontal cortex, which would usually decide whether we want to answer or not. Instead, the observation triggers immediate thinking, often causing people to think out loud. 

#4 Beware of ‘Yes’

Chris Voss suggests that in our cynical world that’s been hounded with advertising and quick deals, we’re wary of saying ‘yes’ as we see it as a trap. When we say ‘yes’ to something, we feel that we’re committing ourselves, tying ourselves down.

When we say no, we feel safe and protected, as we’ve put a barrier between ourselves and our potential commitment. This grounds us and enables us to evaluate our options. According to Voss, leveraging ‘no’ could be easier than getting a ‘yes’.

If you’re having trouble with commitment with a potential client, for example, try phrasings such as: ‘Are you against paying half upfront today’ or similar. This uses their ‘no’ as a confirmation of forward-moving action. If they really can’t move forward, you’ll find them to be more constructive with explaining their obstacles ⁠— this gives you a clear course of action.

Eventually, when you’re aiming for completion, try to push clients towards ‘That’s right’ rather than ‘yes’. As Voss notes, ‘That’s right’ confirms that someone is all in and that they feel heard – which provides a more solid commitment.

#5 Fair is the ‘F Word’

When people hear the word ‘fair’ in a negotiation, they instantly start to doubt the fairness of the interaction, according to Voss. The word ‘fair’ triggers a negative emotional response that leads to irrational thinking. Throat-cutting negotiators like to use this as a tactic to catch you off balance.

Voss suggests getting ahead of the F-Bomb by inviting your participant at the beginning of the negotiation to vocally express any feelings of unfairness they feel as they occur. 

If they do claim something is unfair, counter with “seems like you can support that”.

In the instance that people are genuinely feeling unfairly treated, they’ll give you the reasons why they feel it’s unfair. If someone is out to cheat you with no interest in building a relationship, they’ll stop short.

#6 Know Your 3 Type of Negotiators

In Voss’ experience, there are 3 types of negotiators

  • Friend-makers – These people are relationship-oriented and are willing to negotiate to build toward that connection.
  • Fighters – These people are interested in ensuring their listener knows where they’re coming from to give a good accounting of themselves.
  • Flighters – These are analytical people who consider conflict as a waste of time. While often appearing aloof and distant, these people are data-driven and aren’t bothered about being misread.

#7 Only Hagglers Haggle – Don’t Move From Your Number

When you offer a price, that should be the price you intend to settle on. In Voss’ eyes, extreme anchors to start negotiations – such as suggesting a very low figure – only serve to drive the other side away when you should have made a deal.

Instead, Voss advises sticking to your original figure by trying these 3 techniques:

Technique 1: Articulate their Arguments 

If you give a negotiator reasons why you can’t meet their figure, they’ll give you reasons you can. Instead, articulate their own arguments to them, rounded off with an honest emotion-triggering question that declines the offer.

“Thanks for the offer, it’s really great. It’s worth every penny. It’s only got a few thousand miles. There’s not a scratch on it. I really want it. But how could I stretch to that?”

This silences the negotiator, leaving them with only one move – offer a lower figure if they want the deal. You’ll know when they’re done, as Voss says because they’ll say ‘If you want the deal, that’s what you’ll do’.

Technique 2: Use Odd Numbers

Voss notes that odd number offers in negotiations give the impression that the figure has been calculated from real data and considerable thought. On the other hand, round numbers seem temporary and throwaway. Voss even suggests pulling out a pen and paper for theatrical purposes when factoring an odd number plucked from the air!

Technique 3:  Tack on Something Humorously Useless

Voss notes that one of the ways to show negotiators that you’re really at the rock bottom of where you can negotiate, offer something funny, which they’re unlikely to take.

“OK, 10 grand and I’ll throw in a puppy!”

This both lightens the atmosphere and clarifies that you have nothing more financial to offer.

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