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Creating the Illusion of Control

Chris Voss

Lesson time 11:22 min

Who has more control in a negotiation: the person who’s talking or the person who’s listening? Chris lets you in on the secret to gaining the upper hand in a negotiation and explains how you can shift the power dynamic to your advantage.

Chris 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 do you think has more control in a negotiation, the person doing the talking or the person doing the listening? And how important is control, anyway, versus the upper hand and creating the outcome that's best for you? In this chapter, we'll talk about the secret to gaining the upper hand in a negotiation is to give the other side the illusion of control. How do you do that, and how is it best for you in creating the best possible outcome? Calibrated question is what we used to refer to as an open ended question, and it's calibrated for a fact. And we calibrate it to make the other side feel in charge. The secret to gaining the upper hand in a negotiation is giving the other side the illusion of control. And we're going to calibrate our questions mostly with the words what and how because people love to be asked what to do. People love to be asked how to do something. Why, as a question, triggers defensiveness universally. Why makes you feel accused. There's been some speculation that the reason why triggers a universal defensive reaction is that every human being when they were two years old-- no matter how many people were around them, no matter where they grew up on the planet, no matter what culture they were in, when they were two, they knocked something off a table, and they broke it. And the nearest adult pointed at them and said, why did you do that? And we had it drilled into our minds from about age two on that, when somebody said why to us, they were accusing us of doing something wrong. This is an interesting aspect, because in business today, we're constantly told to find out their why. Get their why. And so when we ask them why do they want something, it interferes with our relationship. It interferes with rapport, creates defensiveness. So how do we drive at some of the same information? We change our whys to whats. Instead of why do you need delivery in three weeks on the product-- they're going to be worried about what's wrong with the fact that I need delivery. Change your why to a what, and you say, what makes it necessary to get it delivered in three weeks? It takes the sting of accusation off of it. It takes the defensiveness out of it, and it gets us back to a nice calibrated what question. People like to be asked what so they can answer what. They feel in charge. They feel in control. We've got to say it with deference, but, again, we're giving the other side the illusion of control, and it's principally through the how and what questions. Forced empathy is when you force the other side to have empathy with you, and the idea behind empathy-- we're trying to trigger reciprocity. We're looking to demonstrate empathy because it's good for us, but we want empathy in return. And reciprocity may not always kick in. So we may have to say something at some point in time that forces the other side to take a hard look at our situation before they move forward. And our classic phrase to force empathy i...

Take control of the outcome

As an FBI hostage negotiator, Chris Voss persuaded terrorists, bank robbers, and kidnappers to see things his way. Now he’s teaching you his field-tested strategies to help you in everyday negotiations, whether you’re aiming to improve your salary, the service you receive, or your relationships. Get stronger communication skills, game-changing insights into human nature, and more of what you want out of life.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I used his contract negotiation during an interview process and increased by salary by 17% by discussing what I believed was "fair."

I love this class so much! Chris Voss is such a wonderful teacher. I've watched the class twice because theres so much valuable information!

Amazing life changing techniques that can help you immediately. I applied some of the principles in this class right away! Made money through E-mail!

Very insightful! I'd love to see Chris negotiate with someone who also knows how to negotiate though.


James D.

This class blew my mind. I'm always trying to learn ways to become a better business man and negotiator. This class made me rethink everything I know regarding the matter.

A fellow student

I'm confused by the section 'Avoid Triggering Reciprocity'. In the beginning, Chris says to avoid it if you're not ready to share information back. But in the end of the section, he uses an example of the drug dealer triggering reciprocity as a good thing that gave him the upper hand. Can anyone explain the nuances of when triggering reciprocity is a good vs. bad idea?

Nilmini H.

How would you ask in a relationship "why he/she divorce his/her wife/husband"? Would that be correct if we just ask "what happened?"

Kevin M.

What does everyone think of the question, "What would you do if you were me?" I mean this in a negotiation setting, not in an asking for advice setting. Is this a good question?

Bernardo F.

What an interesting way to change the overall meaning with just a subtle modification. I would love to know if there are any research on this, surely how the brain works in these scenarios must be amazing!

A fellow student

I think thy "Why" situation is more an issue because it is a personal question. Why requires you divulge your inner thoughts and feelings to explain the reasoning for something. "How" and "What" are external to you and so are not attached to one's private workings. People are more likely to have a discussion about something that's out in the world rather than something within their self.


I don't understand what it means to "trigger reciprocity"? Can someone explain an example of triggering reciprocity, or not?


I love this lesson. I am very new in this topic but I think it is very important for our daliy life.

Donna M.

Every single point of the negotiation experiences that Mr. Voss shared here, inspires me quite a lot. Can't wait to unlock new skill by applying these tricks in business. Thank you so much for sharing!

A fellow student

I never picked up on the pronoun use for whether a person is a decision maker or is able to speak for the organization. That's really interesting. Going to have to look for that more.