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When it comes to the negotiation process, the difference between leaving with a good deal and a bad deal often comes down to the preparation you put in ahead of time. Before you take a seat at the bargaining table, you should have a thorough plan for how to progress from your first offer toward a few possible win-win outcomes. One critical exercise that good negotiators conduct in their preparatory stages is the accusation audit. Whether you’re an FBI agent taking part in a hostage negotiation or a small business owner negotiating against a rent increase, conducting a thorough accusations audit will ensure that you enter the room feeling prepared.



What Is an Accusations Audit?

An accusations audit is an exhaustive list of all the negative things the other side of a negotiation may think, feel, or say about your side. Compiling an accusations audit helps you get ahead of the objections that could hinder the successful completion of your deal. Learning how to perform a thorough accusation audit will help prepare you for any negotiation and provide you with a list of effective counterarguments before you even take your seat at the bargaining table.

Accusation audits are one of the many negotiating strategies developed by former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss. During his time as a hostage negotiator in the FBI and in the private sector as CEO of The Black Swan Group, he developed a comprehensive negotiation training program as outlined in his bestselling book Never Split The Difference. The accusations audit is one of the key strategies that Chris Voss used in his work for the FBI.

How to Use an Accusations Audit to Prepare for a Negotiation

Accusation audits require you to be bold. They demand fearless and creative brainstorming as you assemble your list. Be exhaustive. Your goal is to list all the possible negative emotions and get out ahead of them. If you’re concerned about performing and employing the accusations audit, give it a try in low-stakes negotiations. Here are some tips for creating and using an accusation audit for a negotiation:

  • Be exhaustive. It’s important that you go down the full list of the worst things that your opponents might feel or say about you over the course of a negotiation. Though it may be uncomfortable, great negotiators don’t shy away from listing even the most vicious personal attacks that could possibly come up in a negotiation. By creating a comprehensive list, you are preparing a possible escape route for yourself should any of these things be brought up by your counterpart.
  • Get into your counterpart’s headspace. When you sit down to make your list, it’s important that you fully place yourself in your counterpart’s reality. As much as you can, tap into their mindset in order to evaluate the negative emotions they may feel towards you. Then, predict how those emotions may come out given what you know of their negotiation style.
  • Group accusations together. Once you have a full list of emotions and accusations, look through the list holistically with your negotiation team and group together similar entries. You’ll start to see patterns emerge and will be able to identify major themes that you can prepare for.
  • Formulate counterarguments. The advantage of an accusation audit is that it provides you the opportunity to create specific counteroffers and counterarguments before you start a negotiation. Business negotiations are all about providing your counterpart the illusion of control. By preparing for any possible arguments that may be thrown at you, you allow your opponent to think they are in control while maintaining the upper hand.
  • Counter potential attacks with data. If there are specific substantive items, see if you can come up with rebuttals based on evidence and data. If you’re prepping for a salary negotiation, look up the going rate for your position at other companies. If you’re researching for a real estate negotiation, prepare yourself by looking up the market rate for similar properties. By coming to a negotiation prepared for a give-and-take and equipped with evidence-based counterarguments, you demonstrate to your counterpart that you are arguing in good faith. This improves your chances of coming to a negotiated agreement.
  • Use labeling before you come to the table. Labeling is the process of verbally acknowledging the other side’s feelings and positions. Labels are powerful tools for reinforcing positive feelings and deactivating negative ones. Labeling pieces of information from your accusation audit early on in a negotiation can be a successful negotiation strategy. By anticipating and articulating the feelings to your adversary, you can defuse their negative feelings and defensiveness in the moment. This goes a long way in establishing rapport and trust.
  • Reassess during the negotiation. A challenge for negotiators during particularly complex negotiations is being able to adapt in the moment. Even if you’ve diligently prepared for a negotiation, once you’ve extended your opening offer, you have very little control over where the discussion leads. Being able to adapt on the fly is key to being a successful negotiator. It’s useful to conduct a mini accusation audit in the middle of a negotiation process in order to catalog new emotions or arguments that may have arisen during the negotiation. This will allow you to recalibrate and prepare for whatever arguments come your way later.
  • Have a complete strategy. A successful negotiation is generally the product of comprehensive preparation combined with good presentation. Even the most thorough accusation audit won’t help you win a negotiation if you haven’t honed other negotiation skills. Make sure that you’re in control of your body language and tone of voice, and maintain eye contact throughout the negotiating process. Using an accusations audit in a labeling maneuver will only succeed if you have a steady hand and an assertive presence.

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Learn more about negotiation strategies and communication skills from Career FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss. Perfect tactical empathy, develop intentional body language, and get better results every day with the MasterClass Annual Membership.