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Chris Voss: Close deals like an FBI negotiator

 Negotiating is often a white-knuckle affair, but the stakes are rarely higher than when the FBI is trying to come to terms with a kidnapper. Chris Voss, now CEO of Black Swan Group, has been in this position. If anyone knows how to handle a delicate negotiation, it’s Voss, and in his Big Think+ expert class, Make Deals Like an FBI Negotiator, he shares real-world-tested strategies and ploys for achieving the best possible outcome in even the most difficult negotiations. Did we say “difficult?” Got children? Consider what Voss has to say in “Make Deals Like an FBI Negotiator: Leverage Language and Linguistic Cues.”

Tone of voice

One of Voss’ master tips is to remember that by speaking in a positive tone, you can predispose your counterpart toward a positive outcome. In the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) of our brains are “mirror neurons” that scientists believe cause us to emotionally reflect back to others what we receive from them. As Voss puts it, if “I automatically smile at you and you can hear that I like you, I will actually be able to reach into your brain, [and] flip the positive switch.”
In addition to setting a negotiation off onto a positive path, research indicates that our brains function 31% more effectively when we feel good. So the net result of your “smiling” tone is that your counterpart is happier, likes you more, and — super-bonus — will even be smarter in helping you both arrive at an amenable solution.
Another vocal tip Voss cites is the strategic use of inflection:

  • A downward inflection conveys that a statement is non-negotiable. It’s a way to stand your ground without verbally confronting your counterpart and risking the triggering of their defenses.
  • An upward inflection signals a question or suggestion. Often delivered with a smile, it’s a way to suggest a new direction in a positive way without weakening your own stance.

Verbal mirroring

Another form of mirroring that keeps a negotiation on track is verbal, and easy to do: Just parrot back to them the last one to three words that they’ve said, word for word. This simple trick helps you crystallize in your own mind what they’ve just said at the same time as it gives your counterpart a feeling of comfort. Just as importantly, it gets you a few beats to think before you need to respond because, Voss asserts, “There will almost never be a time when you mirrored the last three words of what someone said when they want to go on and explain and reword and expand.”

The F-word in negotiations is “fair”

Voss considers “fair” to be the negotiator’s F-bomb. When your counterpart claims that they just want what’s fair, it’s a bad sign. Either they’re trying to bully you or you’ve bullied them.
On the one hand, it may be a forceful tactic a tough negotiator has deliberately deployed to set you off balance by triggering your own defenses as you reassess your position.
On the other, it may indicate you’ve truly been too forceful, and your counterpart is feeling mistreated and resentful. If this is so, it’s a harsh reality check of the way things currently stand: They’re either going to walk away or they’re going to make your life miserable by delivering on negotiated terms as painfully for you as possible. You can expect them to meet only its barest minimum requirements as an expression of their dissatisfaction with the deal they feel you’ve forced upon them. Not all negotiations end well.

The Make Deals Like an FBI Negotiator videos

Voss offers a great deal of guidance for becoming a master negotiator in this expert class:

  • Make Deals Like an FBI Negotiator: Identify Your Negotiation Style – and Your Counterpart’s
  • Make Deals Like an FBI Negotiator: Get the Reasons You Won’t Make a Deal Out of the Way
  • Make Deals Like an FBI Negotiator: Get Your Counterpart to Reveal Her Cards
  • Make Deals Like an FBI Negotiator: Leverage Language and Linguistic Cues
  • Make Deals Like an FBI Negotiator: Gain the Upper Hand
  • Make Deals Like an FBI Negotiator: Take the Long View
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