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Lessons learned from an FBI negotiator

Wednesday, March 6, 2019 - 09:00
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No matter your position or role in life, one thing we all do every day is negotiate. We may not realize we are negotiating, but any time we are trying to get someone to do something, we are negotiating. How many times have you tried to get your child to do something, or your spouse, your boss, an insurance adjuster, employee, vendor or co-worker? We are always negotiating. That is why I love the book Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss. 

Chris is the former lead international hostage negotiator for the FBI and shares his field-tested approach to high stakes negotiations – whether at home or at work. If you think there is nothing practical to learn from an FBI hostage negotiator, you are mistaken.  Chris shares in his book such brilliant principles and tactics to navigate through everyday life negotiations as well as negotiating the “big deals.”   

As I contemplated sharing insights on what I have learned from Mr. Voss, I knew I had too much to share for one column. However, my goal is to share practical principles that can create a win-win negotiating style and encourage you to add this to your must-read list for 2019. 

Life is full of conflict in all relationships and learning how to engage in healthy and respectful conflicts without causing damage is what we most want. Voss points out the first step to achieving a mastery of daily negotiation is to get over your fear of negotiating. Successful negotiations are not bully sessions, but include Active Listening, Mirroring, and Tactical Empathy. Most importantly, negotiation is the heart of collaboration.  

Mirroring is simply an imitation of what the other person is saying. This type of mirroring does not involve body language, as you see someone move their hand to their chest and you do the same. Instead, this type of mirroring is repeating back the last two to three key words of what someone said. Voss has learned when you repeat back to someone what they just said, you are signaling to their subconscious we are alike, and it keeps people talking in order to gather information and build trust. Using a mirror is a great way to encourage your counterpart to expand on what they said and show them you have been paying attention. This also helps you get to the bottom of why they don’t want to do what you want. One important thing Voss points out is to never ask “why.”  We were ingrained from an early age that asking why is negative. As a child, did you ever hear, “Why did you do that?” You immediately knew you did something wrong. Instead of asking “Why?” replace it with how, what or when. To make this practical in a shop setting, when the insurance adjuster refuses to pay for a vehicle diagnostic scan, instead of asking, “Why not?”  mirror their last two to three words and change it to, “You will not pay for a diagnostic scan? How will we ensure a safe and proper repair? Do you want us to deliver the vehicle back to the customer without the safety systems working properly?” Obviously, that is not an option and neither side would say yes to that question. 

To find out more about Chris Voss and his book Never Split the Difference, visit

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