Chris Voss is a former FBI lead negotiator for international kidnapping cases, founder and CEO of The Black Swan Group, a firm that provides negotiation services to law enforcement, businesses and governments and author of Never Split the Difference (with Tahl Raz, 2016). When you are faced with a very important negotiation that you’ve decided is a must-win, Voss offers these field-tested tactics:
- Mirror words selectively
Validate your negotiating counterpart’s perspective by repeating back four or five of his/her words when s/he expresses something that is apparently important to him/her. Do this and without realizing it, your counterpart will become more trusting and candid because you will have shown that at least somewhat, you hear and understand his/her viewpoint.
Furthermore, it will be to your advantage to slow down the pace of the conversation, to give yourself more time to think and ideally, gain more control over the process. While negotiating, speak in a calm and comforting tone of voice and a measured pace. Chris Voss suggests that you take on the vocal tone and pace of a late night radio disc jockey.
2. Practice tactical empathy
Show strategic empathy for your negotiating counterpart by helping him/her to own and label fears or reservations. “It sounds as if you’re afraid that…” and “You seem to be concerned about…” will be phrases that you’ll employ. Everyone wants their feelings to be recognized and understood. Communicate empathy to neutralize distrust and emotionally disarm your counterpart.
3. Get to “no”
Being pushed to say yes can make some people feel trapped and they’re liable to become defensive. Make your counterpart feel in control by creating opportunities for him/her to say no. We feel safer when in control and the ability to refuse a request will support that. The smart negotiator will selectively present questions that will likely cause your counterpart to say “no.”
Start by confirming the negotiation meeting, once you’re both in the room: “Is this a bad time to talk?” S/he is likely to say “No, this is a good time to talk,” since the meeting date and time were mutually agreed upon. If the negotiation becomes tense, ask “Have you given up on reaching an agreement?” Again, the reply will likely be “no.” Your counterpart sees benefits in reaching an agreement because if s/he didn’t, there would be nothing to discuss and no meeting.
4. “That’s right”
The beginning of a negotiation breakthrough is signaled when your counterpart feels that you respect his/her position, priorities, concerns, fears, or feelings. Lead your counterpart to say “that’s right” by confirming his/her feelings and must-haves, remembering to underscore your appreciation of his/her point of view by repeating back four or five of his/her words.
5. Resist compromise
Prepare exceptionally well for the negotiation by researching and anticipating the expected motivations, priorities, strengths, weaknesses, biases and company culture of your negotiation counterpart. Develop a list of your competitive advantages and use them to prevail.
Pay attention to your counterparts facial expressions, tone of voice and body language and use that feedback to assess whether or not s/he is telling the truth. Use a deal-making deadline to create a sense of urgency that will encourage your counterpart to accept your terms and get what seems to be the most s/he can get out of you by reaching an agreement. Make your counterpart feel that if s/he declines to accept your offer, it will feel like a loss to him/her. Play to win.
6. Create the illusion of your adversary’s control
Use what Chris Voss calls “calibrated questions” that are designed to allow your counterpart to bring his/her must-haves, concerns and goals and perhaps also biases or world view, out into the open and make him/her feel good about having the opportunity. Voss suggests that you pose questions that start with “what” or “how,” which will open the door to a candid conversation and not be perceived as demanding. The answers to these questions typically reveal lots of valuable information that you can use to your advantage later in the negotiation.
“What’s the biggest challenge you face?”; “What are you up against here?”; “What are we trying to accomplish?”; and “How is that worthwhile?” are phrases to remember. Should your counterpart throw you a curve ball question, throw one back with “How am I supposed to answer that?” Then shut up and listen to the answer, which will probably be some incoherent sputtering, or blurted information that gives you an unexpected advantage.
When your counterpart pushes back on something that you’ve proposed, ask “What about that doesn’t work for you?” or “What would you need to make this work?” When you need to throw off a refusal of your terms but still continue to move the ball down the court, rebound with “Let’s put price aside for now and talk about what would make this become a good deal?”
Finally, let your counterpart make the first offer, because that will reinforce his/her feeling of control and it might possibly exceed your expectations.
7. Confirm the agreement
Validate that your counterpart’s “yes” is real by leading him/her to reconfirm what’s been agreed to at least three times. To reveal behind-the-scenes deal killers, ask “How does this affect the rest of your team?” Get your negotiated agreement in writing ASAP.
Thanks for reading,
Photograph: The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel by David Rabe, presented in New York City (l-r) Tisa Chang, Al Pacino, Anne Miyamato and Don Blakely (1976) © Afro Newspaper/Gado