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Who Is Chris Voss
Today we have the opportunity to interrogate Chris Voss, a former international FBI lead hostage, negotiator, CEO of The Black Swan Group, multiple time TEDx speaker, master class teacher, and the co-author of the bestselling book Never split the difference.
Chris Voss has also received the Attorney General’s Award for Excellence In Law Enforcement and the FBI Agents Award for distinguished and exemplary service.
Read the excerpt from Chris’ interview below.
(For going over the full interview, please listen to the podcast.)
Starting a Career as an FBI Hostage Negotiator
I worked with New York City Cops and I really enjoyed the city and working with those guys.
I’d been on the SWAT team earlier in my very beginning FBI and I injured my knee. At that time we had hostage negotiators. Then I thought, well, instead of continuing to injure my knee, maybe I’ll start working as a negotiator. I mean, how hard can talking to terrorists be,I talk all the time.
But there’s a lot to it. And I was actually initially rejected. But I was persistent with that and I ended volunteering on a suicide hotline.
And that was a real turning point. If you want to learn about how to get along with people in crisis, this would be the perfect place to do so. It’s just turning up the heat, but in the end it’s still the same human reactions. And that was a phenomenal experience. That was a game changing moment for me on my entire negotiation career.
Being a Volunteer at a Suicide Hotline
They give you phenomenal training on empathy of all things. Tactical empathy, it is called and I define it much more in my book.
You won’t be on a line with anybody longer than 20 minutes. If you do it right, empathy is an accelerator, empathy, accelerates success.
They taught me how to use emotional intelligence. It was a good solid at 80 hours of training, two full weeks, four hours a day equivalent of two weeks of training.
At that time you did it in person. We didn’t have call forwarding. You can do it from home these days, but you took two, four-hour shifts a month, eight hours on a line.
I used to go up in the evenings and do four hours and I would learn. It was immensely rewarding.
The Key Strategy of a Good Negotiator and Leader
But communication skills, negotiation skills are perishable skills and they deteriorate in a way that you just don’t notice.
Once on the other end of the line a caller literally said, “Wow, you really helped me. You are fantastic at this. Thanks for how much you helped me.”
And my supervisor, Jim, said, “ Your skills have just gone, deteriorated really badly.”
I said, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. Damn didn’t you hear the guy congratulated me on what a great job I did.”
Jim said, “That’s the first indicator of how you screwed it up. He thinks you did a good job, which means he doesn’t feel like he did it himself. If they tell you did a good job, they don’t feel self autonomy.
They don’t feel like they can handle things without you. That’s the first sign that you screwed up completely.
And that was when I decided to dive back in. And that was another, huge moment for me because it made me appreciate keeping your game up. You got to work on your game.
I get coached now probably three different ways. And one of the outfits we work with a lot is an outfit called strategic coach
My people don’t get to talk to me every day. I mean, you know, they feel a lot of autonomy. If I’m running everything personally, then I’m doing a lousy job.
If they don’t feel like they can handle it without me. I’m not a good leader.
Negotiating with Terrorists – The Strategy
The first thing is that people want to be heard.
And I remember thinking that it was a tool that they gave us to deal with terrorists, especially in kidnapping. And I remember thinking like, I don’t see how that’s going to get us anywhere.
One of the kidnappings I worked in the Philippines, we thoroughly heard the kidnapper out on the other side. Now, you know, that whether someone feels thoroughly heard out is the real issue. It is not whether or not you understand. The issue is whether or not you make them feel understood.
Those are two completely different things: you understanding does not equate to them feeling understood. And when somebody feels understood what they say is: “That’s right.”
In order to hear them out completely you repeat everything back to them the way they said it. You say what they said, you don’t agree. You don’t disagree. You don’t do either of those two things.
Until you hear the terrorist say: “That’s right.”
Those are the magic words. When somebody feels hurt out, they say, “That’s right.”
We’re just hearing them out.
They’re driven by their emotional acts. Their emotional actions are their jet fuel. So you take their fuel away from them, they don’t come at you anymore. It took away so much of their energy that when the hostage has been heard he finally has the chance to just walk away.
Today people are looking to be heard.
It’s like when a family member wants to be hurt. It’s a cliché that people are yelling at each other over the holidays. Because these are people who’ve been involved with for a long time and they’re not hearing each other out.
And if they don’t hear each other, how can they collaborate? And that’s the essence of what’s behind the meat of the problem we’re in. We’re never going to be able to deal with resolving issues until people feel heard.
When you’re negotiating all the time it’s about how we treat people. And another thing we live by is, “Never be mean to somebody, that’s going to hurt you by doing nothing.”
And if you stop and think about that, you’re like, “Wow, everybody I talk to to try to get collaboration out can hurt me by inaction if they just fail to cooperate. They could hurt me by doing nothing. So those are negotiations. The really cool flip side of that coin is: everybody could help you if they felt like it.
Just make them feel like it. People can help you if you make them feel like it. And you should give them a chance.
Learn to Be Likable, Start by Smiling
Oh no, almost everything is learned. You can’t teach me how to be seven feet tall. You can’t teach me to be as big as a rock. But you know what the rock has learned to do, he learned just being willing to learn how to be likable.
You start by smiling. And some people gotta practice at it.
My daughter in law, the director chief of marketing in my company, she is the most likable person you will ever meet.
In fact she’s an animal, very cold and very distant. If she’s just herself, she’s highly analytical. She’s really up in her head. But she’s a learner: analysts are good at learning. They tend to be really introspective as well. And she just noticed that people who smiled and laughed, other people got along with them, they didn’t argue with them. They got stuff done and smiling and laughing was a way to get stuff done.
So she started trying it out. If you met her now you’d be like, you laugh, you’re so much fun. And she is, but she is an assassin underneath too. So she learned to be likable. You could learn this stuff.
Profiling People Is Easy
There are basically three character types, that is three survival types. And these date back to the caveman days: we fought it, ran from it or made friends with it.
And the world splits up pretty evenly into those three types. We’ve literally pulled probably 10,000 tested 10,000 people globally and seen very consistently that the world will split up in a five o’clock make friends.
So what are some examples of the types and how do you deal with them?
Donald Trump is the aggressive, the assertive type. Those people are direct and blunt, overly blunt, you know, attacking on a regular basis, they like to conquer. That’s my natural born type. We’re about a third of the planet.
The analytical type: they see conflict as highly inefficient. You don’t get anything done when you fight. Let’s think about this. Let’s come up with a plan. Let’s put it into gear. Let’s think about it a lot, they are very analytical.
The people from the third type make friends, accommodate, they are gregarious and love to interact. They love people. They’re happy. They’re interacting. They’re not necessarily getting anything done, but they’re interacting. So they’re doing some great stuff because they’re interacting and we’re having a great time.
We’re using the same words, but each of the three types is reacting vastly different to the same words or the same dynamic.
Silence is a great example. Dead silence between two people: the assertive thinks, “Oh, you went silent because you want to hear more from me. So I’m going to talk some more cause you shut up, cause you want to hear more.”
The analyst went silent because they wanted to think. And they’re saying to themselves, “Geez, I wish this guy shuts up. I need some time to think.”
And the accommodator they go silent when they’re angry, because to not talk is to stop the interaction, which is the most important thing.
So the analyst goes silent on the accommodator and the accommodator goes: ”Oh my God, they’re furious. Oh my God. Oh my God.”
And they freak out when the whole time analyst was just trying to gather their thoughts.
So that’s one of the differences between the three types when you run into trouble.
h3>How To Negotiate with The Three Types of People
There are a couple of hacks of being genuinely curious as a great way to get out of your own way. And there’s a whole bunch of other reasons to be genuinely curious.
You’re actually smarter when you’re genuinely curious. You’re in, at least a mildly positive frame of mind.
Shawn Achor, a Harvard psychologist, did this great Ted Talk called The Happiness Advantage, which everybody should watch.
Sean lays out this data: you’re 31% smarter in a positive frame of mind. I’m a very competitive person.
So positive frame of mind, curiosity’s highly positive. You’re smarter. Your brain works faster. You can take in more information, sort of being genuinely curious.
Be genuinely curious, don’t be judgmental. Don’t be attacking, you’ll change people’s psychological state. In that moment they will not know what to do with themselves because they’re used to arguments, they are used to being attacked.
They’re used to agreement or disagreement. And the application of empathy is neither. And it really catches people off-guard, which causes in many cases, instantaneous mind shifts.
You could watch them blank and shake their heads. Like they’re surprised you’re actually watching. An electrical mind shift takes place in their brain when they twitch and blink like that.
And it’s kind of fun to put people through that because at that point in time, you’ve got the upper hand, they had no idea what you do, which is the other cool thing about it.
If you can get your ego out of your way what you can accomplish is astonishing.
The Neuroscience and the Negotiation Process
We knew we were doing a hostage negotiation, but we didn’t have the neuroscience explanation behind it. Now we know so much more about the wiring. I can explain how it works. It accelerates success. I mean, you stop wasting time, which is the same as wasting money, not getting things done.
What is Tactical Empathy?
Empathy is a great missionaries’ tool and it’s a great mercenaries’ tool.
So we put the word ‘tactical’ in front of them for the following reason, really.
Since about 2015-ish or so people started publishing books on neuroscience explaining how the brain was wired because they have machines to watch the electrical activity in the brain.
I can put you in something called an FMRI and I can watch the electrical activity of your brain. And I can map the components and I can watch your thoughts in a form of electrical impulses, go through your brain.
So what do we learn from neuroscience? We learned about the amygdala, which is kind of the command post or the central location or the trading desk. Thoughts flow through the amygdala. 75% negative.
Survival wiring is negative wiring. The caveman has survived by being basically pessimistic.
Survival wiring is largely pessimistic.
What’s this have to do with tactical.
If you’re a researcher, you know, the word causation is like saying Baltimore. There is no cause, causation gets people crazy.
And as close to causation, as you could get causing the negative thoughts to go away, just calling them up.
And so tactically, if you’re angry with me and I know you’re angry with me, instead of saying: “I don’t want you to be angry”. You base your approach on neuroscience and say: “Seems like you’re angry”.
Your reaction will be: “Does it seem like I’m angry?”
And that kicks in itself, a labeling process that diminishes the negative thoughts and your anger will diminish to some degree, maybe a little, maybe a lot.
Maybe I got to say it a bunch of times, we referred to this as the elephant in the room
Nobody ever made the elephant in the room go away by saying the elephant wasn’t there denying it.
It was there. And we know that denial has such a negative impact that the next best thing was pretending.
It never occurred to anybody to say: “Hey, there’s an elephant.” – and have the elephant get small.
And that’s the tactical application because we now know that negative thoughts are so much more dominating. Our thinking: 75% of the real estate is for negative thoughts. That’s gotta be the problem.
How Do You Define ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ In the Negotiation Process?
We have a tendency to stay away from ‘Yes’ entirely because people are so used to being led into the ‘Yes Trap’ if they’re leery of ‘Yes’.
Trying to get somebody to say ‘Yes’ has a tendency to actually disturb a relationship because they’ve been battered by the con artist by the hospital, by sales people.
If somebody says ‘Yes’ three times in a row, they have to say yes to the deal. So the result of that is people get nervous as soon as you start to get him to say ‘Yes’.
There isn’t anybody I know that when you ask them: “Have you got a few minutes to talk?” doesn’t tighten up on some level.
“Oh my God, how long was a few minutes? Where’s this going? What have I led myself into? What am I committing myself to?”
The flip side: you learn the different real meanings of ‘no’:
‘No’ as ‘not yet’.
‘No’ as ‘I need more information. I’m not ready.’
‘No’ as ‘ I don’t feel hurt.’
‘No’ can really be ‘Yes’, but there are conditions.
They’re ‘no- addicted’ because they feel safe.
People say ‘No’ and suddenly they’re protected and they’re safe. There’s a chemical response when you feel protected and safe, you get a hit of serotonin. It makes you feel comfortable to say ‘no’. You get the serotonin you want to say ‘no’ more because it makes you feel comfortable. Serotonin makes you feel comfortable and competent simultaneously.
That’s what happens when people say ‘No’.
What’s good about that, they now will keep talking to you. Now they’re more open to sharing with you, what are the conditions that need to be met so they can come to an agreement and getting them to say ‘That’s right’.
With ‘Yes’ there’s a commitment.
The problem is that so many people have set us up that the ‘yes’ you get most likely is the counterfeit of ‘yes’.
People would think: “I’m getting set up again. Let me say ‘Yes’ to see what this person has got.”
And the likelihood that they will agree has just been diminished because having felt set up, they feel less guilt about leading you down the path.
How to Improve Daily Interactions At Work and At Home
It’s a hack, it’s emotional, spiritual hygiene, and a great comparison is dental hygiene. You say to yourself, well, you know, I brushed my teeth last week. I don’t have to brush them today. Or I brushed my teeth yesterday. I don’t have to brush them today.
I was grateful yesterday. Do I have to be grateful today? Do I gotta be grateful every morning when I get out of bed? Is it really that important?
Our survival mode is largely negative. You can overcome the negative wiring with the right amount of spiritual hygiene, be grateful on a regular basis.
Be curious on a regular basis daily, couple of times a day, take care of yourself. And then consequently, now you begin to turn into version 2.0, you’re a better person.
How You Can Reach Out To Chris
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