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3 Tips on Negotiations, with FBI Negotiator Chris Voss

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Chris Voss was the head of international hostage negotiation for the FBI. His convincing tips on bargaining can help you get what you want.

If you've ever spent time with human beings, you probably know that it's impossible to change their minds. So what if someone's life is on the line?

Then you call in somebody like Chris Voss, who was once the FBI's chief international kidnapping negotiator, working on about 150 cases worldwide over his 24-year career—and who is now a part of the Black Swan Group, his business consultancy.

"The idea of a durable agreement is the same in kidnapping as [it is] in business," he told Forbes, "only it’s a life-and-death issue."

But even if we're not working with mortally high stakes, having an understanding of how to talk a maniac out of a kidnapping can help us talk our bosses out of making less mortal, but perhaps equally maniacal, decisions.


Most people skip straight to that fourth step, where you think you're solving the problem together, but really you're just bossing them around.
And if you're going to negotiate well, you need to understand just how these human beings function—which is to say that if you're going to have a fruitful negotiation, it won't be by having the most subtle argument—it comes from emotional awareness.

"Instead of pretending emotions don't exist in negotiations," Voss tells Eric Barker of Barking Up The Wrong Tree, "hostage negotiators have actually designed an approach that takes emotions fully into account and uses them to influence situations, which is the reality of the way all negotiations go."


They call it the Behavioral Change Stairway Model, which comes in the form of the following five steps:

Listen actively: Listen to them—and make sure they know you're listening.
Empathize: Understand where they're coming from.
Establish rapport: When they return the feeling of empathy—and trust—your way.
Influence: With trust established, you can work on solving the problem together.
Change behavior: They act—positively.


Mirroring is a phenomenon frequently observed between two people in conversation. When a person is mirroring who they talk to, mimicking their body language and enthusiasm, it is a signal that the two people are at ease with each other and have taken a similar point of view.

Mirroring starts in infancy as babies learn about the world by imitating the behavior of those around them. This imitative behavior continues through life, from adolescence into adulthood, and if used consciously, mirroring may subconsciously influence others: many artists who claim to be hypnotists or psychics, such as Long Island Medium Theresa Caputo, use mirroring.

Chris Voss, a former FBI Negotiator and current CEO of the Black Swan Group, is an expert on mirroring. If your goal is to better position yourself in a negotiation, mirroring is a technique you can use to choose your language carefully. By repeating the other person’s last few words, just one to three of them, you can indicate that you are listening. Not only that, but it pushes the conversation forward as the person feels free to delve in deeper.


A hostage situation is a law-enforcement worst-case scenario, because it places innocent civilians directly in harm's way. Armed intervention becomes very risky, since the hostages themselves can be harmed either by stray bullets or by the hostage-takers. That makes the negotiation the most important aspect of any hostage crisis. A skilled negotiator must find out what the hostage-taker wants, who he or she is and what it will take to achieve a peaceful outcome, all while ensuring the safety of the hostages and other bystanders.



Edited by titanic1

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