“You make your decisions, each and every one of them, based on what you care about. Which makes every decision an emotional process.” – Chris Voss
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Chris Voss is the founder of the Black Swan Group which provides negotiation training for everyone from businesses to law enforcement. Chris has had a long career in law enforcement including the FBI. He worked in the US and internationally as a hostage negotiator. He has also taught negotiation in MBA programs at Georgetown and USC Marshall. In addition, he is the author of the book “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It.” Today, he and Mark talk about Chris’ long career as a negotiator and how to negotiate for business and other situations.
- Three types of negotiator personalities: Fight, flight or friendly. The successful negotiator must be all three types at different times.
- In Chris’ opinion, “yes” is a useless word. “No” opens up the possibility for learning something.
- Language is very nuanced and subtle in negotiation.
Listen to this episode to hear about the seemingly small changes you can make in your negotiating style that will make all the difference.
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Mark: Hey folks. This is Mark Divine. Welcome back to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks so much for joining us today. Super-stoked to have you here. Lots of things you could be doing with your time right now, but the fact you’re listening is huge to me. So, whoo-yah.
We’ve made the podcast available everywhere. So, if you want to try it out on a different platform it’s available on Google Play, Stitcher, SoundCloud, iTunes. Also, at our website at unbeatablemind.com.
So, today’s guest is Chris Voss. Now Chris is a really, really interesting guy. We’re gonna let him tell us most of his background in his own words. But he’s a lead international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI. He’s got a best-selling book called “never split the difference: negotiating as if your life depended on it.” he currently runs and founded a group called the black swan group – what a great name. And this group helps companies solve business communication problems – especially with regards to hostage negotiation. And he teaches negotiation tactics to students at small places like Harvard or Georgetown. You know, places you’ve never heard of.
At any rate, this is going to be a super, super interesting conversation. Chris thanks so, much for joining me. Whoo-yah. Appreciate you being here.
Chris: Yeah man. It’s absolutely my pleasure. And I gotta say, we said that we help people solve problems. I get… You know what? If you just want to raise the level of your game in negotiation. You don’t have to necessarily feel like you got a problem. We’ll take you to the next level up. I mean this is quantum negotiations.
Mark: There you go, yeah. Well, I can imagine the training that the FBI has is probably fairly vanilla. Most of the experience comes from OJT, doesn’t it? I mean you just got to get out there and do this. And get in front of people. And learn how their minds are working. And what’s going to motivate them to make a deal, right?
Chris: Yeah and also the big thing in the negotiation training of the bureau – the real thing – if you want to study something, we put a lot of emphasis on teaching it. So, I think one of our advantages as a company is we’ve always been teachers. There’s some people are really good at stuff, but they’re not good at teaching it.
Chris: Magic Johnson was one of greatest basketball players that ever walked the face of the earth. And he couldn’t coach.
Mark: Right. Interesting.
Chris: Because his whole professional career is focused on performance, not so, much on coaching. So, we coach and teach an awful lot too.
Mark: Yeah. Well that makes sense, because you know I imagine… Well we’ll get into… There’s so, much we got to talk about, but I imagine when you’re working with a top CEO of a fortune 500 company and you’re talking about this stuff… About, you know, avoiding kidnappings… I mean you’re really teaching them self-awareness, and basically situational self-awareness. You got to teach them those fundamental skills, so, that you don’t have to help them in case they keep kidnapped right?
Chris: But we don’t do that anymore though. I mean, we teach hostage negotiation skills for business negotiation. I’ll keep him from getting taken hostage in his business negotiations.
Mark: So, you’re saying the skills of hostage negotiation are now equally relevant for just any kind of negotiation? And why is it? Help us reframe why that is.
Chris: Is that a crazy-ass idea? Is that the craziest idea you ever heard?
Mark: Well, it’s different, you know? I never would have associated the two.
But it makes some sort of sense. You’re talking about negotiation and if a life is involved, then that negotiation has got to be spot-on, and intense. And it’s got to work. Or else someone dies.
So, if you brought those tactics to a CEO, perhaps they’ll be better at asking for the close, or asking for the deal. Or not getting their ass handed to them.
Chris: Yeah, and how many business negotiations do people treat like that they’re the end of the world if they don’t get the deal?
Mark: Yeah. Probably none.
Chris: Yeah, we get wrapped up in this stuff. We get emotional. You know what you don’t even you don’t even have to be under a lot of stress, to be under stress. I mean, you feel concern, you feel anxiety – you’ve been taken hostage on some level.
Well, before we get into like tactics, let’s back up a little bit. Tell us about Chris. Where are you from? What were your formative years like? How did you get into the FBI? You know, that kind of stuff. We’re really interested in that.
Mark: Small town guy from Iowa, man. Midwestern guy. Blue-collar family. Dad was an entrepreneur.
Town of 7,000 people. We had six traffic lights in my hometown.
Mark: You beat us by six.
Chris: All right. Very good.
Mark: From a little town in upstate New York with 300 people. So, got that going for me.
Chris: Well you know what? You learned to adapt early on in those small environments. I mean, you got to learn a lot of different stuff.
Midwest culture – if you will – is a pitch in culture. Pitch in get it done. Figure it out. Really work as a team. Didn’t really realize that as much in my younger days. A lot of focus on contributing, but working with other people…
So, small-town guy from Iowa. Cop in Kansas City. FBI agent in Pittsburgh, then New York City. SWAT team Pittsburgh.
Decided to switch over to negotiations, because I continued to wreck my knee. And then before it was completely destroyed, I decided to make this switch over.
Because I figured negotiations would be easy, right? All you got t do is talk to people. I could do that. I talk all day long, right?
Mark: Yeah, you’re not gonna hurt your knee talking usually.
Chris: Theoretically, you did not. Yeah. That’s the whole idea, right?
Mark: Let’s get back to the FBI. Why FBI? I guess… I know a lot of cops or law-enforcement, obviously, are attracted to the FBI, cause it’s kind of like the granddaddy. It’s the Navy SEALs of that profession.
So, tell us about your path, and what was the training like? And how long did you spend in the FBI? That kind of stuff.
Chris: Yeah. Well I got outta college – deal with my father, with all his kids, he would pay for you to go to school for four years. And it was up to you to get a degree in four years.
And it was a finite amount of money also. We were always within a budget. You overspent it, that’s too bad, but you’re done in four years.
So, anyway I got my four-year degree in four years, and I went got a job that only required a high school diploma. Which was a local police officer. Honorable profession – they definitely want college graduates.
But, you know, my dad paid for a four-year degree and I didn’t really go out use it. So, he was a little disappointed. Wanted his son to shoot higher. So, he got me interested federal law enforcement. And he introduced me to a guy, buddy of his who was a Secret Service agent. And I talked to that guy and I remember he said “you know, I traveled all over the world for the Secret Service.” and I went “really?”
Because you know in those days… I mean I’d seen Canada from a distance. That was the extent of my international travel. It wasn’t like in Alaska when Sarah Palin said “you know, I see Russia from my front porch.” I mean we couldn’t see… I was landlocked, Midwestern guy.
So, the idea of somebody paying me to go all over the world, that was just beyond cool.
As fate would have it Secret Service was not hiring in that timeframe. And as fate would have it, the FBI was putting on a big hiring push. So, I didn’t know one alphabet federal agency from the other. I put it in with the bureau and it just ended up being the most awesome job I could ever have wanted.
Mark: How many years did you do?
Chris: 24 years total. Couple years in Pittsburgh, 14 in New York, 7 and change at headquarters, DC, Quantico and that’s when I was doing the International kidnap stuff full-time.
Kidnapping as a Business
Mark: So, let’s talk about some of the most interesting things that you got involved with. Stuff that people would be like “holy shit. That’s really cool.”
Chris: Yeah, well I mean the whole range of stuff – I mean, as a negotiator you’re going to the third world somewhere, cause they’re not kidnapping Americans in Paris.
Chris: So, and we used to always…when we were teaching negotiators… Because there’re kind of like two levels of hostage negotiation. You go through the basic course where people start talking about the guys… At the time we called them the CENT team – critical incident negotiation team – these guys are flying all over the globe, working kidnappings. And one of my colleagues Vince… When people get excited about traveling all over the world, Vince would say “you know, there’s some beautiful places in the world. And we fly right over them to get to the lousy places.”
Mark: (laughing) we used to say that in the SEALs. Same thing, right? Been to 45 countries and the biggest shitholes in every one of them. Never been to the beautiful places.
Chris: Yeah, developing world’s a tough place.
Mark: Right. How prevalent is hostage-taking of westerners or Americans? I don’t think most people are aware.
Chris: Exactly. At any given point in time, there’s anywhere from 1 to 6 Americans being held someplace.
Chris: Most places…. And it’s an industry… That was the beginning of my transition from hostage negotiation to business negotiations was when I came to learn that kidnapping was a commodities business for kidnappers. I mean, literally a business it’s a job, commodity… Happens to be human beings, but every other thing about it is just like any other business.
Mark: No kidding.
Chris: So, a lot of places, they ultimately come… Most of the Americans tend to be dual-nationals. And a lot of times the bad guys don’t know they’re grabbing an American. They think they’re grabbing a prosperous local person. So, not only kidnapping by criminals are the Gringo looking American.
But they’re still an American. Entitled to all the rights and privileges that come with being an American citizen.
Mark: Right. And so, you’re saying most of these… If not all of these are profit motive kidnappings?
Chris: Yeah. And even if the kidnapping gang in some fashion starts out political in nature in their kidnappings – al-Qaeda, Isis… You know, pick any terrorist group. People start throwing money at the hostages to save them so, fast. Most governments other than the US, Canada, Great Britain… The governments do not put money into hostage takings. But every other Western European government does. So, the bad guys they go all of a sudden “woo! This is profitable. We’re gonna switch over.”
Mark: Right. For fairly easy money.
Chris: This is easy money. And kidnapping as a business tends to be such quick and easy money that you know there’re actually parts of the world… There’re Mexican drug gangs that have switched over to kidnapping exclusively. Because it’s fast and easy money and it’s not as dangerous.
Mark: Wow. Interesting. So, you’re saying even a terrorist group like al-Qaeda…? Are you saying the groups are kidnapping? Or individuals who perform kidnappings for Isis go off and do it on their own? Or both?
Chris: You know, all the above. Like, right after the second Iraq war – I’ve studied kidnapping history, so, I can say this – this is the only time in the history of mankind that a massive multi-million dollar… Hundreds of millions of dollars kidnap industry sprung up overnight. Rivaling the problem that has consistently been an issue in Mexico. And that never happened before in the history of kidnapping. And we used to joke that anybody with an ak-47 and a Toyota was in the kidnapping business in Baghdad.
Mark: (laughing) right.
Chris: And then so, kidnapping works like any other commodities exchange. If there’s a great call for the commodity – if it’s highly valued – then entrepreneurs are gonna get into business. They’re gonna grab people. And they were grabbing people and giving them to al-Qaeda at the time. So, al-Qaeda was doing their own kidnappings or, you know, they were subcontracting them.
Mark: Wait, so, someone would grab someone would they…? Was there like a standard rate to get turn over to al-Qaeda? And then al-Qaeda would negotiate for a much bigger payout?
Chris: It’s all negotiable. It’s all negotiable. But you grab somebody, and they got very organized in Iraq very quickly. Principally because one of the dumbest moves in the history of mankind… Whether or not it was a stupid move to go into Iraq or not it, and in hindsight I believe that it was…
It wasn’t the de-Baathification of Iraq was even dumber. Yeah, who’s… Was it Paul Bremer we could lay at the feet of that?
Mark: Yeah, it’s funny I’ve actually mentioned that before. Not a lot of people remember this, but Garner was the army general who had the project before Bush took him out and put Bremer in. And Garner actually was working on a plan that I think would have worked. He wanted to keep the bath organization alive, but just chop off the leadership’s heads… Not literally, but you know I mean… Take them out of their roles. And he wanted to have an oil sharing agreement between the Kurds, the Shiites and the Sunnis. And a power sharing agreement that shifted every like five years or something crazy like that it. It was like “duh.” that that actually is sensible.
And then Bremer comes in and dissolves the entire infrastructure of the country. And tries to set up an American style or western-style democracy. Which was I guess per an agreement.
It was a complete disaster to begin with. Just the idea.
Chris: And what ends up happening – exactly what happened when the Soviet Union fell with the KGB. Because you got a bunch of KGB, you got a bunch of guys – they’re organized, they have a hierarchy, they have a structure. They have an infrastructure. They immediately go into the crime business.
They don’t have to invent any of it. What happens in Iraq? All the secret police – who used to make people disappear for a living, who had guns, organizational hierarchy, and safe houses. They go into the kidnap business. They got an immediate structure and they got buyers, because al-Qaeda starts chopping people’s heads off.
Which, you know, is a forerunner of what happened with Isis just a couple years ago. If you’re a Westerner, you get grabbed in Baghdad, your people are gonna show up literally with suitcases of money to buy somebody out, before you get a handed over to al-Qaeda to get your head chopped off.
And then the other thing that was really frustrating about the whole situation – we get in there and we’re like “how come we can’t track these guys on the cell phones? Oh, I know how come. Because since they’re the former secret police, they know where the towers are, and they know where the dead spots are.
Chris: So, it immediately created this market, which then morphed into kidnapping for murder, which ultimately led…
You know, we could get off a whole lot of political discussions of how Isis got started because of how badly we screwed up Iraq. That’s a whole ‘nother rant isn’t it?
Mark: Yeah, it sure is. But you could just say Isis got started because we screwed up Iraq. I think that’s an accurate statement.
Chris: Yeah, it’d be tough to argue with that one.
Mark: For sure.
Get Off The X
Mark: Okay, so, how many kidnappings lead to the death of the kidnappee?
Chris: You know, very few actually. Because when you’re in the kidnap business, interestingly enough… That’s another thing why it’s a business… Commodities exchange. How long are you gonna stay in business if people give you money for your commodity and you don’t deliver? They got to stay in business.
And, you know, what the saying used to be in a kidnapping business in South America when it was principally focused on Columbian or don’t break the China. If you don’t deliver the commodity, nobody’s gonna expect you to in the first place. So, vast majority of kidnappings – even in the most dangerous places – the victims have to be bought out or the people are not gonna stay in business.
Mark: Mm-hmm. What happens if someone nabs an American by mistake. I mean everyone must know – don’t grab the Americans because they’re not going to negotiate… Government is not going to help at all.
Chris: That’s not the real reason they don’t like grabbing Americans. The real reason they don’t like grabbing Gringo looking Americans is because Uncle Sam now wants to stick his nose in your business. And if you have a kidnapping business in a country – the law enforcement infrastructure is weak. Well the prison system is weak, or the judicial system is weak, or all three are weak.
For example, Brazil’s got a tremendously robust law-enforcement infrastructure. They get extremely well-equipped people. They’re not trained, but they’re extremely well-equipped.
Now their prison system is the worst. They have jail breaks all the time.
and you don’t do serious time for anything. So, in the unlikely event you’re convicted of anything anyway… And I can remember being told when I was in Brazil the longest you could do for any particular crime is 30 years. Doesn’t matter what it is.
You’re gonna be put in a Cell for 10 people and there’s gonna be 70 people in it and there’s gonna be one guard. And that guard is gonna be underpaid. And eventually the 70 people are gonna make a break on the door, and that one underplayed guard is not gonna stand in your way.
Chris: So, you’re in until the next prison break which might be three weeks.
Chris: It’s crazy.
Mark: That is crazy. So, they can round them up, but they can’t keep them in jail.
Chris: Yeah, the cops are serious. I mean the cops in Brazil, they’re serious about eradicating the problems of bad guys. They do not like bad guys.
But they also know that bad guys aren’t gonna do any jail time. And consequently, you got a kidnapping problem in Brazil.
I have seen videos of children that were kidnapped, that were begging their parents for money. We were doing a training in Brazil… Negotiation training a few years ago. And they started playing videos from children who had been kidnapped. Begging their parents to get them out.
And it was so, heart-wrenching that our translators – who are trying to do the translations simultaneously – they start sobbing, breaking down.
So, if you’re a cop and in that area you’re gonna be kind of hard on kidnappers when you catch them.
Mark: What is… For an American who’s listening to this, who loves to travel – what would be the best advice you can give them just to avoid ending up on the wrong end of a kidnapping attempt?
Chris: You know it’s pretty simple really. Be unpredictable – to start with. The more predictable you are, the easier you are to grab. And then actually – interestingly enough – a couple years ago I was given a hostage survival talk when I went back to school – did Rodney Dangerfield thing – I went back to school. And I’m at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in a special program for old people with lots of experience.
So, getting to talk about hostage survival and I say “you know, the only time you can ever get away with fighting is when they get ready to take you. Because they expect you to fight. So, they won’t they won’t kill you over that. But they will at other places.”
And one of my fellow students – you might know Matt Masdam?
Mark: Yeah, I know him.
Chris: Yeah. He comes up to me cause he’s one of your brother SEALs and was involved in a lot of SEAL training.
Chris: And he looked at me he said “why don’t you just tell people to get off the X.” and I blinked at him a couple times and just repeated what he said. He goes “yeah. Tell them to run, man.” he said “you know, I was a kidnapper. As Navy SEALs we did renditions – we went out and we kidnapped criminals to bring them to justice. We were professional kidnappers. And we didn’t chase people. And we’re gonna take you on the X or we’re gonna get you another day.” he said “so, tell people to get off the X.”
And I remember that had been staring me in the face for so, long and I hadn’t seen it. What am I driving at here? You think you’re in under any sort of surveillance or you’re in any danger internationally, get yourself out of there.
Chris: Don’t be afraid to be afraid. Pretend like you’re on the X and get out of there. If it’s a real kidnapping, they’re not gonna chase you. They’re gonna hope to get you the next time you’re not paying attention.
Chris: If it was a fake kidnapping, so, what?
Mark: And so, what would be the telltale signs for someone?
Chris: You know, if you catch anybody locking onto you… If you think somebody’s staring at you, they are.
Mark: There’s a reason for that, right?
Chris: Yeah, you know because a bad guy is… His targeting radar’s gonna lock on you you’re gonna feel that lock if you’re the least bit self-aware. They’re not staying at you because they admire your shoes, or your watch. Or maybe they’re gonna kidnap you, because they do admire your watch.
But it’s no different than getting pickpocketed. I remember the first and only time I was in Beirut. I’m good at counter-surveillance, because I was on a counter-surveillance team. So, it’s real hard to get behind me. And if you are behind me, my Spidey sense is gonna start to tingle and I’m gonna do something to get you off of me right away.
And then I realized, you know, not getting mugged is no different than not getting kidnapped. They have to they have to catch me off guard. They’ve got to close the ground on me. They’re gonna pretend like they’re not watching, till they’re within five feet of me and then they’re gonna make their move. And all I got to do is be self-aware and then not be afraid to get off the X.
Mark: Right. You make it sound easy, but at the highest level it is that easy. Just make yourself a hard target, right?
They want to go after the easy targets. They don’t want to go after the hard ones.
Chris: Yeah, it’s not a contest for them. And it just takes practice… Like and let’s get back to Matt, because his wife was telling me he’d come back from a mission… They’d be driving around where they lived and he’d be doing U-turns and making lefts and doubling back.
Mark: (laughing) right.
Chris: Going to the grocery store. And she’d go “what’s the matter with you?” and he’d go like “you know what? Just cause they’re not there, doesn’t mean I don’t need to be self-aware.”
Mark: Right. And he’s got to go back on the field, so, most SEALs try to at least maintain their edge while they’re home.
Chris: Yeah, you know, you guys go to the grocery store. You got a double back 4 times.
Mark: (laughing) exactly. That’s hilarious.
Negotiation versus Concession
All right, let’s say someone isn’t self-aware, or just has some bad luck and they get kidnapped… What’s the next thing that happens? Like, how do you get involved? Or when you were with the FBI would you get sucked into it as a negotiator?
Chris: I’m gonna get notified some way. I was really proud of my relationships with the State Department when I was with the FBI, because I would typically be the first person in the FBI to find out about a kidnapping. And there’s a whole long list of people that were supposed to know before me. And it would make them mad but when I would call and notify them.
I got you know… Like FBI headquarters got the strategic information Operations Center. SIOC’s supposed to have their pulse on the world. They’re supposed to be calling me.
And I’d call SIOC and I’d say “yeah, there’s American just got grabbed in Haiti. And I’m deploying people.” and they’d be all bent out of shape.
But we’re gonna get notified… It’s a collaboration with the FBI in the State Department. Negotiating that collaboration is another negotiation, which I had to learn the hard way. And then we’re gonna plug into the family – every family member we can find in the United States – I’m gonna put a hostage negotiator at your beck and call. That’s the way I ran it because I know eventually the bad guy’s gonna call you. And you’re gonna need somebody there that…
Mark: Is that…? I was just thinking while you were talking – if I’m the hostage taker – what do you call a hostage taker? Besides asshole?
Chris: Kidnapper. Businessman. Entrepreneur.
Mark: (Laughing) if I’m the entrepreneur/kidnapper and I grab someone – how do I know who to call?
Chris: Man, you have no idea how easy that is.
Mark: Yeah. Well, I don’t.
Chris: I can take your phone right now, I’ll bet you and type in three letters – M.O.M.
Mark: Mm-hmm. I got my mom’s first name in the phone, so, that would be a little bit harder.
Chris: You got a little security awareness. You type mom into my phone you get my mom on the phone.
Mark: You know what? They called my mom they’d say “I don’t want anything to do with that guy.” I’m sure that helps. So, they got to go to the next one on the list.
Chris: They’re gonna start working what their way down the list. That’s exactly right. And they’re gonna find somebody in the family that’s gonna be a soft touch.
That’s why we had to get out to every family member. Because we had to find the soft touches before the bad guys do.
Mark: So, they’re not like calling – they’re not like making the video and playing it on Fox News like you see in the movie, you know? Unless they kidnap the president somehow.
Chris: That’s too much work. It’s a lot of work.
But I will tell you – this is another thing that since I left, the people in the US government sort of forgot – if you see the terrorists put a video of somebody in the news – which happens occasionally. And most dopey American bureaucrats go like “they’re not gonna force us into anything.”
What the terrorists are really saying when they do that is “would somebody please talk to us? Please?”
Mark: Yeah, we want we want this guy to live. We don’t want to have to kill him, right?
Chris: Yeah, we want to make a deal. Please. They’re begging you to talk and that’s why the majority of government bureaucrats in the last ten years – since I left (laughing) miss that. The institutional knowledge has been lost.
Mark: Do you think it’s a good idea for America to not negotiate with hostage takers?
Chris: Well, first of all that is not the American policy.
Mark: It’s not?
Chris: The American policy is that we won’t make it concessions. And there’s a real big difference.
Chris: Because it’s dumb to not negotiate. I negotiated against terrorists, not with them. We had terrorists confess, because we tape-recorded them. We had a we had a kidnapping in Trinidad one time. And we taped the conversations. Got the kidnappers in place. Didn’t know for sure whether or not we had the kidnappers, so, we just played the tape of the guy we suspected was their negotiator. And he looked at us and said “all right, you got me.”
We’re like “boy are you stupid, cause we didn’t have you till you admitted that.”
Mark: (laughing) yeah, that’s interesting.
So, we negotiate but we don’t pay them? Or do we?
Chris: Well, you don’t want to make concessions.
But also, you could run a sting operation.
Like, there was a kidnapping gang. It was operating in Ecuador way back when ’98, ’99 2000. They were hitting oil platforms every October, because that was where the money is. It’s a business, right? And they were asking for increasing demands.
Now as is typical criminal kidnapping – they were made of a bunch of former revolutionaries – guerrillas who came to understand what a lucrative business it was.
So, third time they hit it, the private sector companies had gotten so lackadaisical – and this is before the bureau got fully involved in this – they murdered an American on deadline. They executed an American named Ron Sain.
And then the private sector people who’d been screwing around with this got all bent out of shape. They were afraid that they were gonna get sued for negligence. Because they didn’t take it seriously.
So, consequently this was the first time we decided “you know what? Let’s send a payment down range, because they’re gonna kill people. But then let’s do the Watergate phrase. Let’s follow the money.”
Chris: So, we didn’t recover all the ransom. A lot of money was sent down range. We got about 70% of it back. But instead of people getting killed every year or maybe a rescue which would have gotten maybe a handful of bad guys – by following the money 50 kidnappers were rounded up.
Mark: No kidding.
Chris: Their money men, their supply men, the entire organization got wiped out, because we followed the money. And they went from hitting every October to being gone. They were out of business. They were all either dead or in jail, because we made that thing.
Mark: Wow. That’s interesting. Yeah, the long arm of Uncle Sam, right? So, when once you get a lead like this, if an organization pops up and they kill someone or they start kidnapping people… Is the FBI just gonna keep after them until they’re out of business?
Chris: That’s the thing we want to do. I mean, every time the bureau gets involved, this communication process is an evidence gathering process. So, we’re building evidence every step of the way and we’ll indict these guys. And indictments live forever and Uncle Sam has a long memory.
Mark: Yeah, right.
Chris: And ultimately then we’re gonna send out if it’s overseas at some point in time you or some of your brothers are gonna go out to do a rendition.
Chris: And we’re gonna catch up with these guys.
Mark: Yeah. Well that’s good to know. Makes me proud to be an American.
Negotiation for Business
Mark: Yeah, let’s shift focus to the executive who’s listening and wants to learn how to negotiate better for his next business deal. What does it take to be a great negotiator? I mean maybe that’s too broad of a question, but let’s just start… Are certain people kind of prone to being good negotiators versus not good negotiation? It’s like what’s the overarching quality?
Chris: You need to be coachable – that means you need to be a learner. If you’re willing to learn coachability is something you can test people for.
Or you need to be a hard worker and you really want to learn. Or you need both.
That’s pretty much it.
Mark: But anybody can learn to be a good negotiator, you’re saying.
Chris: Yeah. It’s emotional intelligence. It’s just a strategic application of emotional intelligence. We’ve all got it in us. And all of us have a tremendous capacity. And the cool thing about emotional intelligence or EQ as some people say – your IQ is pretty much fixed, it’s like your height, there’s only so, tall you’re gonna get.
Mark: True that.
Chris: Your EQ is not. EQ is a capacity that you can build up until you’re in your 80s, which is why Warren Buffett is a brilliant negotiator.
Chris: He’s keeps getting smarter.
Mark: Right. Okay, so, let’s assume that all of our listeners are growth-oriented, open to your coaching and are ready to go negotiate the shit out of something. So, give us some tips.
Like, first of all let’s start with I’m sitting across an extremely difficult person to negotiate with.
What does that look like? Who are the most difficult people to extract a good deal out of? And how do you win that?
Chris: The difficult cat is a dude that won’t speak.
Mark: Won’t speak.
Chris: Yeah. Because then he’s afraid of the communication process, he doesn’t want to get into it. You know, like the sort of the Donald Trump negotiator – that guy’s talking all the time – I mean it’s really easy to gain the upper hand on that dude. I mean, it’s ridiculously easy…
Mark: Right. Because he’s wearing his intentions on his sleeve so, to speak.
Chris: Yeah, and a principal thing like that… Negotiator’s control oriented – a negotiator won’t shut up is control oriented. So, all you gotta do is make them feel like they’re in control, and you got the upper hand.
Mark: Interesting. And how would you do that?
Chris: Just keep you talking. And I’m gonna nod and then I’m gonna be able to say “no” without you knowing I’m saying “no.” in a very deferential way. That puts you in a complete problem-solving mode. I’m just gonna put you in a problem-solving mode and just keep sort of gently not agreeing. Until you say something that I want and then I’m gonna say “wow! That’s perfect!”
And you’re not gonna realize that I let you talk you into that. Because it came out of your mouth, and you were happy to be talking the whole time.
Mark: So, I imagine you have to put your learning hat on. I want to learn to be a great negotiator, so, I’m gonna have to learn about human behavior. But also learn about different types of people. Like archetypally or personality types.
How does that look like for teaching someone to be a negotiator?
Chris: You know, it’s not too bad. It’s not anywhere near as complicated as a lot of people might make it out to be. There are really basically only three types – fight, flight, make friends. It’s from the caveman days. Those are the cavemen that survived.
There’s coding in us, because we’re humans. It doesn’t matter what your gender is, it doesn’t matter what your ethnicity is. The way the emotional system is structured in your brain is like very much the analogy to a respiratory system.
Because it’s functioning almost all the time – you have limited actual direct control over it. You can hold your breath for a few seconds. You can keep your emotions under control for a few seconds. Doesn’t matter who or what you are in terms of gender, ethnicity.
So, I’ll start there. And there’s neuroscience and proven ways that the brain works emotionally. It’s also proven that you make your decisions each and every one of them based on what you care about. Which makes every decision an emotional process. And there’s certain ways that we as human beings from the caveman days were wired to be overly negative, were wired to be overly cautious. That just means I just have to change what I get you to perceive to be the threat.
Mark: Right. So, the three types are fight, flight or you said “make friends” is the third one?
Chris: Yeah. I mean some people would say our instinctive response or fight, flight, and mate. Instead of looking to mate with everybody, we would say what are you trying to make friends.
Mark: Well Trump is definitely in the fight and mate categories, I think.
Chris: (laughing) He seems to be.
Mark: He doesn’t take flight very often.
Chris: No, he doesn’t… But anyway…
Mark: So, you got a different set of strategies. So, I’m sitting across someone who puts his fists up. They won’t stop talking. They’re pushing, they’re bullying me. That’s a fighter.
Or someone who’s gonna run away from anything that I put out there as a negotiating demand. They’re gonna run from that and hide through silence or… So, help me understand what these three people look like. And how to deal with them.
Chris: Well, you know, nobody mistakes the sort of negotiator. They’re kind of out there. Dealing with them, it’s like getting hit in the face with a brick.
Chris: The flight type person is actually highly analytical. They come off as distant and cold. They’re very, very quiet. They’re very cold. Because one of their favorite words on the planet, in existence is dispassionate. They’re trying so, hard to be dispassionate.
Mark: Hmm. Interesting.
Chris: Because it’s a recognition in them that they’re emotionally vulnerable. They’re the ones I think who have the greatest instinct to understanding that human beings are ridiculously emotionally vulnerable. That’s why they try… Fight so, hard to be dispassionate.
Mark: Right. Don’t trust themselves.
Chris: Yeah, they know how vulnerable they are once they trust. You get past somebody like that… You get into a trusted position with them… They are all-in.
Chris: And they trust hugely. Which actually most people do – they’re just so, aware of it that they’re very leery of it.
Mark: Interesting. And the make friends category?
Chris: Person who is naturally smiling and gregarious. They make a lot of deals because you know this… I heard a stat from Stuart diamond who’s a Wharton negotiation professor wrote the book “Getting More,” And Stuart Diamond is a brilliant guy – he’s highly analytical. Because of that I have a tendency to trust his data, because your analyst – you get data from them that is solid gold. That’s something you can count on with them.
I was at a talk once and I heard Stuart diamond say “you’re six times more likely to make a deal with somebody you like.
Mark: Hmm. Interesting.
Chris: I’m like, “all right. I dig that stat because my source is Stuart diamond.
So, the “make friends” person, they make a lot of deals, because they’re so, likeable. They may not be great deals, but they make lots of them, because people want to make a deal with them.
Mark: Okay, so, I guess it’s important to know which one of these you are as a negotiator. So, that’s a fairly obvious statement, but what is… Is there a number one strategy for how to deal with someone else I’m negotiating with who is either a fighter or flighter or a make friender?
Chris: Yeah, you know, there is actually. And you drive at something that’s kind of interesting. To be a top negotiator you need characteristics from all three.
Mark: Mm-hmm. That make sense.
Chris: The fight guy – you have to be able to assert your own interests. The make friends guy – that’s the emotional intelligence way so, that when you assert, you take responsibility for it landing so, that people can hear it. We hate people that are blunt, but we love straight shooters. What’s the difference? A straight shooter says stuff emotionally intelligently. The blunt guy is the same amount of assertion with no emotional intelligence.
Mark: Mmm. Interesting.
Chris: That analyst guy – the flight guy – highly analytical. They think things through too much, but you do got to think some stuff through. And that’s a critical element for good negotiation.
Now at the end of the day how do you deal with them? So, we teach nine negotiation skills. Now different skills land on different types, differently. But the one that they all like is what we spent lots and lots of time on. It’s a ridiculously simplistic approach, but it’s kind of the MacGyver negotiation tool, and it’s something we call a label, which is just verbal observations. But you start making verbal observations, you get smart enough to realize anything that I observe – that’s gonna change how it’s interplaying at the time.
Mark: The Heisenger principle, right?
Chris: Interesting. What’s that?
Mark: Well that you change the nature of the observed – the observer changes the nature of what he’s observing.
Chris: Ah well, the observation is gonna change its nature. So, it sounds like it’s the same thing.
Mark: Yeah. Yeah, interesting.
Chris: So, if we come to the table and I sense that you don’t trust me – instead of saying “look, I don’t want you to think I’m not trustworthy. My emotional intelligence is picking up this tension between the two of us and it’s a trust issue.” the two-millimeter shift that makes all the difference in a world is you say “you know what? People like me probably seem trustworthy. Or people like me probably seem like we’re not trustworthy.”
You just call that out as an observation. And I’m gonna look for the negativity, because I’m gonna want to actually dial it down.
Chris: And it’ll clear your head.
Mark: So, you objectify it for the other person. That takes it kind of off the table.
Chris: It does. And there’s actually neuroscience that backs it up. There’s been brain science experiments where they watched people’s mental activity on – for lack of a better term – negative thoughts they’re having and positive thoughts they’re having. And they show that each and every time you get somebody to simply identify a negative, it diminishes it every time.
Mark: That’s interesting. I love that.
Does mirroring fall in this category of observation? Or no… That wouldn’t be verbal observation, that would be more of almost like a physical observation.
Chris: Well this is one that trips people up a lot. Because a hostage negotiator’s mirroring is not the same as the body language guy’s mirror.
Mark: I see, okay.
Chris: Body language guy’s mirroring is like you put your right hand to your chin, I’m gonna put my right hand on my chin. That either happens consciously or subconsciously. And a lot of times when we really get in sync, we are gonna start sort of doing a physical mirror.
But a hostage negotiator mirror is just repeating one to three words exactly as you said them.
Mark: Hmm. So, I say “I don’t know,” so, you say “you don’t know?”
Chris: Yeah. You know, it’s stupid simple. It’s no more complicated than really repeating the last three words of what someone last said.
Mark: And what does that do for you as a negotiator?
Chris: Well what the other person is gonna do is – it begins to connect their thoughts. And the other person is going to expand. And it’s actually way better than saying – if somebody says something you don’t understand you could say “what do you mean by that?” and they’ll just repeat it again louder – just like an American overseas. Same words only louder.
But if I mirror what you just said, you’re gonna reword it, because something in your brain triggered “all right, he didn’t get the way I just said it. I need to reword it. And I’ll probably not only reword it, but I’ll add a lot more words to it.
Mark: Oh interesting.
Chris: And it really fleshes out dialogue. We had one of our clients – one of the smartest guys they ever ran across – he always mirrored the other side’s positions every time. Because he said “how they respond to the mirror will tell me whether or not they’re solid or whether or not they’re puffing. And I always mirror, because I get an immediate diagnostic on whether or not they mean it, or whether or not they’re trying to put up a smoke screen.”
Mark: Interesting. Yeah, I can see that.
What about how do you use sympathy and empathy in a negotiation?
Chris: Matter of definition all right? So, in common usage they’ve come to become synonymous – which is not the case. You know, people say “ah, you don’t have any empathy.” and that’s nonsense.
Empathy is simply identifying where somebody’s coming from. And then articulating that identification. Daniel Goleman would call it cognitive empathy. In his last book “Focus” he said there are three kinds of empathy. The other two are versions of sympathy and he said the last one “cognitive empathy” is having a clear understanding where somebody’s coming from. Being able to articulate that understanding.
That’s empathy. And that’s actually The Mercenaries empathy. And that is insanely effective.
Mark: Hmm. That doesn’t mean you’re agreeing with them.
Chris: You draw the fine line. By that definition it’s neither agreement nor disagreement. And that’s why as a hostage negotiator, I don’t need common ground to negotiate.
Mark: Right. So, does sympathy come into play at all? Or is that gonna get you in trouble?
Chris: Sympathy is a weakness. Either your sympathy is nonsense, or it’s just not gonna help.
Chris: They first taught us that when I was… I started this whole journey volunteering on a suicide hotline… And they said “if somebody’s in quicksand, how much good are you doing them by getting in the quicksand with them?”
Mark: Yeah, by sympathizing with them. So, you wouldn’t say as a tactic “I sympathize with your position, but…”
Chris: Yeah, because first of all you didn’t put that word but in there if you actually sympathized anyway.
Mark: True that. Yeah.
Chris: You know what you just said “I sympathize with your position, but…” on an emotional intelligence level – and the other side’s subconscious is gonna pick this up – you’ve just said “hey look. I’m a liar.”
Mark: Right, interesting. Is there like a couple words which are really game-changer, powerful words to get to? Like I’m thinking of “no” and “yes” obviously are right there for me. We want to get them saying those two words.
Chris: I don’t ever try to get anybody to say “yes.” I always try to get them to say “no.”
Mark: Really. Interesting.
Chris: “yes” is a useless word. “yes” might be the most useless word in negotiations. Because there’s three kinds of yeses – there’s commitment, confirmation and counterfeit. Now there’s something out there called mere agreement or momentum selling when you start trying to get somebody to say “yes.” and the stupid theory is that when you get the little yeses, then you got them trapped with the big yes.
Mark: Yeah, I’ve heard that before.
Chris: Now that’s been so, overdone, people have gotten real good at the counterfeit yes. And if you and I are talking and I don’t want your product, but I want your information, I want your know how, I want to know how you do stuff, because I’m gonna try it without you. Or I’m gonna use you against somebody else. Then I start saying yes to you and you’re just gonna blather at length. Because you’re going to be so, happy.
And you’re gonna dump all your value on the table, which immediately makes you less valuable.
Mark: Right, interesting.
Chris: So, we don’t even bother with it…
Mark: So, “no” then is an important word.
Chris: Yes. For example, instead of saying “do you agree?” I’ll say “do you disagree?” now what you’ll do is you’ll say “no, I don’t disagree, but here are my following problems.” bang. Now I know exactly what’s going on.
Mark: Huh, interesting. So, you’re really just trying to… Not trick, but get people to expose more and more information that then you can use for your negotiating position.
Chris: I need to know how to make a deal as fast as possible. Or if I want to make the deal. You know, my job as a negotiator is to find the best deal possible, and then decide whether or not I like it.
Mark: Right. Interesting.
So, you know we gotta wrap up here. I can’t believe we’re already going for 50 minutes. This is so, fascinating.
You mentioned nine dominant skills or primary skills verbal observation – I think mirroring would probably fall under there, am I right?
Chris: Yeah, all three types love mirrors.
Mark: Yeah. So, what are the other skills? Let’s list them so, we can kind of have a mental reference point. And then folks can learn more about them from your book, I imagine.
Chris: All right, so, there’s simple paraphrasing is really good. Restating the meaning. That gets people talking.
Chris: Summarization is a combination of what they said and how they feel about it. That’s actually ridiculously powerful. I mean you get huge breakthrough moments.
Mark: So, you just say to them “hey, could you summarize what you just said?”
Chris: No, I summarize it for them.
Mark: You summarize for them. Okay.
Chris: I’m gonna summarize, because I’m going to try to get a breakthrough with you. It’s really the application of the old Covey principle, “seek first to understand, then be understood.” but it’s demonstrating at the understanding. And at that point in time, people are remarkably open to persuasion after you’ve effectively demonstrated that you understood them.
Mark: Interesting. It makes sense.
Chris: So, then another skill is something that we refer to as calibrated questions. But that’s actually a real concise list of what we used to call our open-ended questions. And our calibrated questions are principally driven by “what” and “how” questions, because people love to tell somebody else how to do something or what to do.
Mark: Hmm because they get to talk about themselves or how much knowledge they have.
Chris: Right. It puts them in a problem-solving mode. And it wears them out. I mean, there’s a lot of great things to get somebody start to answer “what now?” questions.
Mark: Interesting. Anything else?
Chris: Well we use a version what’s called an “I” Message really strategically really surgically. And the shortest form of an “I” Message is “I’m sorry.” and that’s probably one of the most misunderstood phrases, because women are taught not to say that they’re sorry as if the phrase in and of itself is wrong. It’s not the phrase that’s wrong, it’s when you use it.
So, I might say “I can’t accept that, I’m sorry.” that would be a poor use of it. But if I would say “I’m sorry. I can’t accept that.” then I’ve just changed the sequencing and you appreciated the fact that I said I was sorry if I said it first when I’m getting ready to say something you don’t like.
Mark: That’s fascinating. It’s amazing how nuanced words, you know… Just the use of the language can be in terms of how it lands and how it affects the conversation.
Chris: Yeah, yeah. Tiny little two-millimeter shifts.
Mark: Right. Fascinating.
So, your book – tell us about the book and do you go into these type of tactics and stuff in the book?
Chris: There’s a lot of specific, actionable stuff in the book. I mean, there’s the number one way to say “no” is in the first five pages of the book. And there it is so, effective at getting other people to change their position and drop their price… We get a lot of people that’s the only thing they ever learn.
Mark: Is that right?
Chris: There’s a whole ‘nother nine chapters there. Don’t stop there.
Mark: That’s funny. “Never Split the Difference,” that’s the name of the book and obviously people could find that at Amazon and other places?
Chris: Hey, I buy it on Amazon when I need copies. It’s the best price you can get.
Mark: Yeah, I’m the same way with my books.
Yeah, “never split the difference: negotiating as if your life depended on it. That’s awesome. And your business – if someone was interested – is the Black Swan group. You also mentioned earlier before we started that you’ve got an email list. Do you put out content on that or what do you?
Chris: We put out weekly content in a newsletter called “the edge.” it’s a short, sweet article. Comes out Tuesday mornings.
You know, some newsletters you get they’re like encyclopedias. You got to take a nap after you decide what to read.
Chris: You know ours it’s not. Ours a short, sweet, actionable advice every week. It’s free and it’s also the Gateway to everything we have. It’ll take you right to our website. It’ll tell you about training that we’re offering. It is a gateway to everything we have. Some stuff we give away for free. Other stuff, we charge a lot of money for.
Mark: Yeah. So, if someone uses… Wants to go to a website to sign up for that – what would that be?
Mark: And then you mentioned also that you can text… They can just text a number and the code and they can get automatically entered on the email list. What is that?
Chris: Yeah, this awesome text to sign up function we have.
Mark: That’s pretty cool. So, the number that you text to is twenty-two, eight, twenty-eight again that’s 22828. And the message you send is fbiempathy, all one word. Don’t let your autocorrect put a space in between.
Mark: Does that have be FBI in caps, or all lower case or whatever…
Chris: Lower case. Make it lower case.
fbiempathy, all lower case, text that to 22828 to get on your email list. It sounds like you got some great information that you send out on that. That’s awesome. I’m gonna do that.
Chris: A lot of people love it. It’s a great weekly supplement to the book.
Mark: Perfect. Awesome. Fascinating. Chris, thanks so, much for your time. It was really, really informative and also very useful for those of us who are both traveling as well and need to avoid dangers… But also, just to negotiate our way through life it’s good shit.
Chris: Yeah, man. Absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me on. It was cool.
Mark: No doubt. So, let me know if I can help out with anything else and thanks very much sir.
Alright folks. You heard it from the horse’s mouth – Chris Voss, former FBI lead kidnap negotiator. Bestselling author of “never split the difference: negotiating as if your life depended on it.”
Please go sign up for his email. I’m going to. 22828 is the text number and then just put fbiempathy in the content block or whatever. Subject line. Good shit. Very important stuff
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