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6 Negotiation Strategies From Former Hostage Negotiator Chris Voss

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Mar 17, 2020 • 4 min read

Contrary to popular belief, effective negotiators don’t always play hardball and doggedly fight for their bottom line. Often, conducting a successful negotiation means relying on your listening skills. Good negotiators make calculated concessions to their adversaries and are always on the lookout for deals that ensure better outcomes for both parties. When it comes to mastery of the negotiation process, there is no better paradigm than Chris Voss, former lead international hostage negotiator for the FBI. Below is a compilation of Chris Voss’s problem-solving techniques and successful negotiation tactics.



Chris Voss Teaches The Art of NegotiationChris Voss Teaches The Art of Negotiation

Former FBI lead hostage negotiator Chris Voss teaches you communication skills and strategies to help you get more of what you want every day.

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Who Is Chris Voss?

Chris Voss is a leading authority on the art, science, and practice of negotiation with 24 years of experience in the Federal Bureau of Investigation—many of them spent as the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator. In 2008, Chris transitioned to the private sector, founding the Black Swan Group. As CEO of the Black Swan Group, he trains business leaders, public servants, and other individuals to become highly effective negotiators in their own right. Chris has also taken his knowledge into the classroom as an adjunct professor of business negotiations at both the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business and Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.

6 Negotiation Strategies From Chris Voss

The art of negotiation involves tactics and negotiating skills that can be used in a variety of settings. Negotiation skills used by an FBI agent during an international crisis can also be used by a real estate professional or small business owner trying to gain the upper hand in a business negotiation. As a former FBI hostage negotiator and current conflict management consultant, Chris Voss has developed a number of negotiation strategies that can be applied in a business setting. Here are some of the main negotiating tactics he recommends:

  1. Conduct an accusations audit. An accusations audit is an exhaustive list of all the negative things the other side may think, feel, or say about your side. Accusations audits are a necessary first step in any successful negotiation strategy, whether you’re preparing for a salary negotiation or a hostage negotiation. A good negotiator will have a thorough accusations audit prepared in order to anticipate possible attacks and plan counteroffers. You should consult your accusations audit throughout a negotiation process, keeping the end game in mind, in order to plan for possible moves your counterpart might take. Learn more about conducting accusations audits here.
  2. Search for black swans. A black swan is a piece of innocuous information that, once revealed, changes the course of the entire negotiation. Complex negotiations have many black swans, and a skilled negotiator will look for bits of information everywhere, from the small print of a contract to the personal life of a counterpart. Black swans can be deployed at different stages of negotiation to push your adversaries towards your ultimate goal.
  3. Ask calibrated questions. A calibrated question is a “how” or “what” question calibrated more for emotional impact than for conveying information. The calibrated question can lead to increased empathy for your position and give the other side the illusion of control. Calibrated questions are a component of any effective negotiation and can be used in high-stakes negotiations to gain a competitive edge over your counterparts by appealing to their emotions and coaxing them to let down their guard.
  4. Use mirroring to make your counterpart feel heard. Mirroring is the conscious repetition of your counterpart’s words. Mirroring can be adapted to fit any negotiation style and is a great way to demonstrate emotional intelligence and empathy in the midst of a combative negotiation process. Mirroring is a great technique to practice both in the business world and in your personal life, as it lets people know you are listening to them and helps you better retain the information you are hearing. When used as part of a business deal or contract negotiation, mirroring is a fantastic way to build rapport and mutual trust with a counterpart.
  5. Label your counterpart’s arguments. 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. Mislabeling, on the other hand, is when you intentionally misidentify the position of the person you’re negotiating with, giving them the opportunity to correct you, and, in so doing, getting them to reveal new information. Both of these techniques can be used at the negotiation table to alternate between making your counterparts feel heard and probing them to find out information they may be hiding. When used together, they are a powerful one-two punch that can appeal to your adversaries on a personal level before surreptitiously pushing them into divulging sensitive information.
  6. Practice tactical empathy. Tactical empathy is the deliberate influencing of your negotiating counterpart’s emotions for the ultimate purpose of building trust-based influence and securing deals. The ways you employ your voice and body language, apply labels, mirror your counterpart, and use dynamic silence all contribute to tactical empathy. Learn how to use tactical empathy here.
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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 All-Access Pass.