Episode 137 | October 9, 2018

Negotiation Secrets Of A Former FBI Hostage Negotiator with Chris Voss

A Personal Note from Orion

At the very core of our existence as human beings, we want nothing more than to feel connected, accepted, and loved. This validation is one of the strongest motivators which makes people act the way they do – and knowing this could be a game changer when it comes to your networking and sales strategies.

There is a saying: The quieter you become, the more you can hear. And the truth is, by learning to truly listen to someone in a way that makes them feel heard, respected, and understood, you will find that you connect with them on a much deeper level. Whether they be your partner, your client, even your child, by listening you are opening up opportunities to connect and strengthen your relationship.

My guest today is a former FBI hostage negotiator, someone who has most certainly mastered the art of listening and making others feel validated. Chris Vossis an author who also works with private clients to master the art of negotiation in their business deals. You don’t want to miss this episode full of incredible stories from Chris’ FBI missions!




About Today’s Show

I have with me a 24-year-old veteran of the FBI. This man is the real deal. He is an international hostage negotiator and he knows how to win in negotiating. His stories are off the hook and his methodology of finding the Black Swan, a small piece of information that has a huge effect on negotiation, is extraordinary. He’s been featured in TIME, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, CNN, ABC and so many more and now on my show, Stellar Life. I am so honored. You have to read his book and learn from him because these skills of negotiating can help you in everything that you do in life. I’ve read his book, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, and I highly recommend you getting it. Without further ado, onto the show. Chris, welcome to Stellar Life podcast.

Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

I’m very excited that you’re here and I’m excited about everything that we’re going to talk about. Can you share a little bit about yourself?

I’m a retired FBI hostage negotiator. I was the FBI’s leading international kidnapping negotiator. I wrote a book with a couple of other people called Never Split the Difference, about applying the principles and hostage negotiation in business. The book’s done really well and we’re having a great time.

Working for the FBI, is it like Mission Impossible? Is it the same as in the movies?

There’s no background music, no cool soundtrack unlike in the movies. We’ve got no background. We have to sing to ourselves and hum. It has its moments if you condense it all down, we could get a jump out of airplanes hardly ever, but we had some cool times. It was fun.

How did you start with the art of negotiating? How did you get to the level that you are now with negotiation and with saving people’s lives?

I was an FBI agent. I was on the SWAT team. I hurt my knee and I am grateful that I hurt my knee because it made me look at negotiations. I wanted to be in crisis response still. I’m an action-oriented person. I like to get things done. I like people to make decisions and I think about crisis response as things have to be done at the moment. You have to make up your mind as to what the best course of action is now, and you make decisions. I could continue to do SWAT if I wanted to, I just didn’t want to completely destroy my knee.

Crisis response is about having things done at the moment. You have to make up your mind as to what the best course of action is now and you make decisions.


I started in negotiations and it was cool. The thought that you could use words to get people to do things blew me away. Then I studied it on a crisis hotline and kept studying it every step of the way because on the hotline, you get people to turn their lives around in twenty minutes or less. That seemed crazy to me. It was emotional intelligence, human nature. I remember doing the stuff on a hotline and thinking like, “This can apply to everybody. Why only under pressure?” I have been working at it ever since.

What I read in your book was that you went and volunteered for the hotline in order to get the job, right?

Yeah. I went to the woman who was in-charge of the hostage negotiation team for New York City FBI, Amy Bonderow. Amy fielded the requests from people like me all the time. If somebody would walk up towards her and say, “I want to be a hostage negotiator,” because they thought it sounded cool and figured it would be easy. I was one of those people who thought it sounded cool and figured it would be easy. She said, “No, you’re not qualified. You have no background. You have no resume. Go away.” From the way I was brought up was to figure out and find a way to get the job done, ask who you should be asking. I said, “What do I need to do?” She said, “Volunteer at a suicide hotline. Once you’ve done that and not before, come back.” I did, and it worked.

What did you learn when you volunteered?

It was a crash course on emotional intelligence, on listening, on hearing what was driving people and how ridiculously powerful it is to feed it back to them strategically. Decisions are emotion-based. There is no way around it. No matter how much we struggle against it, we make up our minds based on what we care about, which by definition making up our minds an emotional process. It’s based on what we care about. I learned how to navigate emotions on a hotline. What’s holding people back is the biggest issue, not what they want but what’s holding them back. When you can hear that, you can change people’s behavior.

What makes a good listener?

Somebody who’s not determined to get what they have to say off their chest. The first thing you’ve got to do to listen is to shut up, but that might not be enough because some people only shut up when they’re thinking about what they have to say. The first step is shutting up, but the second thing is not paying attention to what the other side is saying. Those are two big steps that are overlooked a lot. Very few people can shut up because people are bursting with what they have to say. If you could shut up and then pay attention to the other side, you are well on your way to be an advanced negotiator. In anybody’s definition, listening is an advanced skill. We take it for granted because we could hear but it’s actually an advance.

The first thing you've got to do to listen is to shut up. Click To Tweet

When you listen to someone, what do you listen to? Do you listen to the tonality? How do you hear what they have to say? How do you listen between the lines?

The biggest space between the lines that is the most obvious is tonality and hesitation, things that are scaring them, things that they’re nervous about, things that are driving them. That’s a 1,000% in their tone of voice. It can be in their body language as well. Body language is a rich source of information. You’ve got to be able to read their tone of voice because you’re lucky to see somebody in person. You’re lucky to get them on the phone, let alone lucky to see them in person. If you’re reading in their tone of voice, the hesitation or the way that they phrase words, it then becomes huge. It’s five times the gold mine in tonality than it is in what they say.

Can you give me an example of a way that somebody’s phrasing in a sentence where you can get something else out of it?

I could be listening to you and I could say, “That was insightful. I do appreciate the hell out of it.” If I go, “That was insightful.” I just insulted you. I use the exact same words but your tone of voice says at the moment what’s going on in your brain, what you think. That’s why it says so much more because people will structure their words. Let’s say I ask you a question, “With everything I have laid out to you, don’t you agree that that’s the best decision.” That wasn’t a question, that was a statement. My tone of voice said to you that if you don’t agree you’re an idiot. I can take the exact same words and I can say, “With everything I’ve said, would you agree that’s the best decision?” I really asked. You’re drawn into that. All I did was change my tone of voice. A master practitioner’s skill is the tone of voice.

Many years ago, I took the Meisner Technique. Have you heard of it?

I’m afraid I’m not familiar with it.

It’s an acting technique where for a whole dialogue you repeat the same sentence to the other person and the other person repeats it to you with a different tonality. The whole exercise is to listen because when you act, you want to react to the feeling and not to react to what’s in your head, which is listening. After doing two years of the Meisner Technique, the world seemed a little darker to me because I could read people deeper and it sucked. I didn’t like it because I saw things that I was a very much naïve Pollyanna. If somebody said something with the wrong tonality, I did it literally. I didn’t listen. I was gullible and oblivious, and life was easier that way.

It says absolutely that you’re by nature an optimistic person.

I want to know for you and your experience and now that you can read people so well, do you sometimes feel a little jaded?

We’re wired to be negative. It was a necessary survival instinct.


There’s the read and what you can do with the read and that’s where emotional intelligence truly comes from. We’re wired to be negative. It was a necessary survival instinct. It’s what people refer to as the caveman brain, the reptilian brain, the famous amygdala, the amygdala hijack. That wiring is still in us regardless of gender, ethnicity, where we grew up or anything. It’s like our respiratory system. It’s there because we’re human. It was necessary for the caveman days because the pessimistic cavemen survived then the optimistic caveman got eaten, but knowing that we’re wired that way, doesn’t mean we have to stay that way.

It’s an advantage knowing that you’re wired. I might read you for being negative but from my hotline days, from my hostage negotiation days, and now for my business negotiation days, I know how to get you out of that. If I know how to get you out of that, then suddenly I’m much faster on the way to a trusted relationship with you than anybody else will be. We used to be referred to as empathy. It’s a timesaver, it’s an emotional hack, it’s a relationship hack. I know that people needed to be negative to stay alive, but I know that’s not your permanent state. I know I can get you out.

Do you think you can influence anybody that maybe thinks something negative about you? Can you influence them to think otherwise? Can you influence anybody to love you?

There are two issues. Can I influence you and can I influence you as far as I want to? Those are two separate ideas. My old boss, Gary Noesner, he taught at the FBI Crisis Negotiation and he recruited me into it. I learned a lot from Gary. He used to always teach us, we would have the best chance of success but not a guarantee of success. I can influence you every single time. Will it be enough? That’s a secondary issue. If I influence you positively, will we both be better off regardless? Yes. Will it necessarily get me to my goal? No. But if I made the world a better place and made the interaction a better place, we’ll win anyway.

Empathy is a timesaver. It's an emotional and a relationship hack. Click To Tweet

When you mastered influence, what tools did you use? Did you use a neuro-linguistic programming? Did you use hypnotic techniques? There is something that is called that Imago Dialogue that is powerful when it comes to communicating with your partner. It’s all about listening, mirroring, matching and reflecting everything back to your partner. What were the methodologies that you studied?

There’s a lot of overlap in all the great communication techniques. I didn’t study any of those per se but I know people have asked me about neuro-linguistic program a lot. Those who study that said there’s a lot of overlap because by definition human beings are looking for great communication. There’s even some overlap with hypnosis because it’s resonating with someone. All I ever studied was crisis intervention, hostage negotiation and then business negotiation. If it’s about having great relationships and a great collaboration, then there is going to be a lot of overlap. I haven’t studied any of those per se but I know that it shares a lot of the same ideas.

Can you share a case or two where you had to negotiate hard and it was difficult? What were some of the tools that you used to improve the situation and win?

We had a case in the Philippines where an American was kidnapped by the Philippine terrorist group known as the Abu Sayyaf. They were demanding $10 million for the American. They had started out by flat-out stating $10 million. They didn’t imply it, but the press had run with it. To me, that was always a great reason for paying attention to the differences between what’s said in the press and what was actually said because rarely does the press ever report with complete accuracy, and this was one of those cases. I know it’s very popular in the United States these days because we have a president who longs to talk about fake news as if it’s a new idea, it’s not. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure to get information into the media consequently, a lot of it is inaccurate. It’s the nature of the beast. It’s always been that way, it’s not new. That was the first thing, in this case, the Philippine Star reported that the terrorists demanded $10 million in ransom. What they said was in a previous case, Europeans had supposedly been ransomed for $1 million each. Stumbling around in his words the terrorist said, “An American has got to be worth ten times that.” I didn’t plant that in his mouth, that’s what he said.

That’s an indicator of somebody who’s not sure, uncertainty, still figuring out a strategy, but the press came out and said, “He demanded $10 million.” That’s not what he said. You have to know the difference that’s why you’ve got to listen. The difference between what somebody has told you, somebody else said and what they actually said. We’ve been into it and the bad guys, the terrorists were talking about how this is the result of 500 years of oppression in the South of the Philippines from all the colonial powers, from the Spanish to the Japanese to the Americans. All this craziness. Things that happened in the past, it didn’t have anything to do with the current situation, which is pretty much every argument that anybody ever has. When was the last time you argued with someone and they stayed completely accurate? They’re like, “What about what happened ten years ago?” That’s what people always do.

When was the last time you argued with someone and they stayed completely accurate?


We were stalemated for a while. I was coaching the negotiations and that’s what I did through the FBI. I was an international negotiation coach, “Find me somebody who is coachable, I’ll turn you into a negotiator.” All you got to be is coachable. So he said, “We’re going to reset everything now after four months of stalemate. All we’re going to do is we’re going to get our bad guy to say, “That’s right.” My son likes to talk about this as the birth of the that’s right moment because what I thought was just a fundamental basic was an epiphany. It was a breakthrough, it was a game changer. All we did was I coached my guy to get on the phone with the terrorist and repeat everything back the way he said it. Don’t put any spin on it. If you spin it, spin it his way. Overdo it, lay it on thick, overstate their case. Not that you’re agreeing with it, just state it and state it so thoroughly and completely that the only possible answer that they’re going to be left with is, “That’s right.”

My guy gets on the phone two days later and lays everything out all the nonsense, 500 years of war damages, fishing rights, economic arm, injustice, everything and he gets completely done. The terrorists, the sociopath, the killer, the murderer on the other end of the phone goes silent for a second and he says, “That’s right.” Then it is followed by dead silence again, no more demands, nothing. In the silence, my guy hesitated for a couple of moments and he said, “We’ll talk again in a couple of days.” “Okay.” Then they hung up the phone. We went from $10 million to zero in that conversation. All the demand was gone in that moment. The kidnapping took a couple of twists and turns. The terrorist got so disorganized that about three months later our hostage just walked away. They didn’t know what to do. They were keeping him in the mangrove swamp. They’d only check on him every three days or so. He was sitting out there all by himself and he says to himself, “Why am I hanging around? I’m going to walk away.” He walked away and we flew him out. There was a big press conference and we took him back to the US.

I was back in the Philippines three weeks after this. I then reconnected with the guy that I coached and he said, “You’re not going to believe who called me the phone.” I said, “I’ll buy it because I don’t know who.” He said, “The terrorist, the sociopath, the killer, the murderer.” I said, “What did he say?” He said, “Have you been promoted yet? I don’t know what you said to me on the phone. I was going to kill the American. Whatever you did, you were really good. They should promote you,” and he hung up. It was stunning. He called his respects when he completely lost. He’d also called to let my guy know, “If we ever have to talk again, I’ll talk to you. I felt so respected by you that even though we’re sworn enemies, I’d still talk with you.” That’s absolutely crazy how powerful that is.

Listening is an advanced skill, but we take it for granted because we could hear. Click To Tweet

It’s like all the problems in the world are happening because people don’t listen to each other or people don’t feel listened to or people don’t feel respected.

You’ve got me saying, “That’s right.” You’re a good negotiator.

What are some other techniques that you could share?

There is more subtle stuff to take some practice to get.

I want to hear another story.

In negotiations and information gathering process, you want to find out what’s important there is on the other side but most of the time you can’t find out by asking. That’s another reason to start stating their position back to them because it’s a great diagnostic. Sometimes you want to be a little inaccurate because they’ll correct you. People are at their most honest when they’re correcting you because they feel superior and smart. They’re most likely to give you unguarded, clear and sincere responses when they’re correcting you. That’s not a guarantee. If you want to get somebody to tell you some stuff, start stating their position with about 85% accuracy because where you get it wrong, they’ll correct you. You’ll be startled how much you could learn, how much you can trigger an unguarded response when people correct you.

It seems like you feel something and it seems like you feel X and it seems like you feel Y. I read it in the book and I started to use it but I’m not sure I’m doing it correctly.

It sounds like you’re doing it absolutely correctly. You’re on the right track. You feel you went into it and that’s why you say, “It seems like,” because it gives you a lot of margin for error. You let the other person know that you’re trying to get it right but you’re not 1,000% sure that you are. It’s a very soft way to communicate and encourage people to feel drawn to what you have to say. You get into it and also there’s something about that that triggers people who want to respond. It’s close to what one of our business clients called unlocking the floodgates of truth-telling. They’ll say, “It seems like something’s really important for you here,” and people will go, “Yes,” and they’ll tell you what it is.

You’re just guessing and you’re waiting for them to answer?

Yeah. It’s an educated guess. The more educated guesses you make, the more educated your guesses are. It works really well. There’s a construction company that we’ve been advising people on some of the deals. They do it potentially, getting it wrong. Here’s an example. There were one of two executives on the other side of the table who were creating problems and they didn’t know for sure which one it is. Let’s say it’s Tim and Bob. The next time they were in touch with their point of contact they said, “It sounds like both Tim and Bob have problems with this deal.” The other side immediately shot back and said, “It’s not Tim, it’s Bob.” That was closely held information but because they pinged it off them with the correction and people are on guard when they’re corrected. It was not a good strategic response to make by the other side to exactly clarify who the troublemaker was and who wasn’t, but people do that when they correct you.

What are the worst mistakes that people can do when they negotiate a deal or anything in life?

It’s crazy but the first one is to be sure that you’re right. By definition, whoever you’re talking with whether it’s a personal relationship, whether it’s someone very close to you, whether it’s a business relationship, it doesn’t matter. They’re going to have a few pieces of information that are important that you don’t have. You can be close to right, but they’ve always got something that you don’t know. If you can accept that, once you find out what you know, then you can decide whether or not you’re right.

The biggest thing is understanding that no matter how much you know, whoever you’re talking to knows a little bit more, which then means before you make up your mind you’ve got to find out what they’re thinking, what they know. That’s one of the biggest things. It’s impossible to know everything that the other people know. For example, you find out everything and it doesn’t change your mind, you went from 90% certainty to 100% certainty. Finding out what the other person has got for you before you completely make up your mind is a mistake that a lot of people make because when you completely make up your mind you get tunnel vision. You miss important stuff.

One of the biggest core issues around gaining somebody's permission is not taking their autonomy away. Click To Tweet

How do you build rapport?

Find out about the other side, listen and pay attention. I just joined a professional club in Los Angeles. I’m on a three-way conversation. We’re all brand-new members. Two of the other people, a guy and a girl. The guy is busy showing off how smart he is because he found out that what she does for a living, she probably wouldn’t want to hire what he does for a living. He’s trying really hard to show how smart he is. He shows off his industry knowledge. I was sitting and watching this, and she was going, “Yes, sure,” and half listening to him. I started talking to her and in about half the time he spoke to her for about five or six minutes, I spoke to her for about two, I found out that she was Nigerian born. She grew up in the Washington DC area in Maryland. Her father was a doctor. She studied history and she got to her current job because her old boss was looking out for her. Who do you think had the rapport?


Right because I stopped trying to show her how smart I was and in less time, I paid attention to who she was as a human being. Before we were done, I found out her name means love in Nigeria. Most people have been trying to establish trust and relationships. We think that trust is based on first how competent we are. Competence is important. But that’s second or third down the line as to whether or not I’m going to pay any attention to you at all, why would you care what I know if I don’t care enough to find out about you as a human being? I could be Stephen Hawking. I could be Elon Musk. I could be the smartest guy on the planet. If you don’t feel I genuinely see you as a human being, you’re not going to care how smart I am because you’re not going to trust me. We call this trust-based influence and it’s much faster.

I could be the smartest guy in the planet, but if you don’t feel I genuinely see you as a human being, you’re not going to care how smart I am because you’re not going to trust.


I found out more about her in three minutes than he found out in six minutes of him talking about how smart he was. I don’t want to make this that much about men and women either because a lot of this is human nature. When you meet in a professional setting, most people think they need to demonstrate their expertise. That’s the second thing people care about. The first thing people care about, “Are you going to see me as a human being?” How do I know? Take three minutes and get something out of me I haven’t told anybody else. Then suddenly I’m shocked and I’m going to want to get to know you.

People are more interesting when they are interested in the other person.

That’s how you’ll be the most interesting person at a party, be interested as hell and everybody else you talk to, they’ll all love you.

How do you do it genuinely? Sometimes I meet people and it’s my nature to ask a lot of questions because I’m a coach and as a coach, that’s what you do. You want to listen, you ask a lot of questions. Sometimes I meet people that I already categorized. I already think, “They are not my tribe. We have nothing in common,” and I let my ego come in the way and I become less interested. Beyond awareness, how can I improve on that?

That’s a little bit of a defensive mode, you’re protecting yourself probably because when you trust, you trust. When we get into this, we don’t reveal a lot about ourselves. Finding out a lot about the other person should lead you in a very guarded position because typically people will find out anything about you. They’re so shocked that somebody is listening to them. It leaves you in a great defensive position taking this approach. I do it genuinely because I get a huge kick out of it in a very short period of time, getting stuff out of people I even know they’ve never told anybody else where they flat-out say, “I haven’t told anybody that in twenty years.”

What’s the craziest thing that a stranger ever told you?

Since I’ve lived in Los Angeles, a friend of mine, we went out and I get to be at “Hollywood parties.” There was a producer there that had about 300 films under his belt. Everybody was following over and talking to this guy. I didn’t know who he was because I buy the entertainment industry, I’m not in it. I was talking to this guy and pretty shortly I found out he’s a Persian-Jewish. He was born in China and he grew up in Argentina. Not in a million years would I have guessed that looking at him and when he got done telling me that he said, “I haven’t told anybody that in twenty years.” To me, it was crazy to be talking to this guy who I figured was a Hollywood guy. It turned out that he was born in China and grew up in Argentina. How am I going to guess that? Especially looking at him, especially in the environment that we were in because there is not a drop of either Chinese or Argentinean blood in him. He’s Persian and light skinned. I got a big kick out of that.

The difference between adventure and ordeal is attitude. Click To Tweet

When you meet someone, how do you know whether or not you can trust them?

Typically, whether or not they’re willing to talk about themselves. There is so much vulnerability there. Are they willing to tell me about themselves? What bothers me a lot is when people start trying to get me the whole yes trap stuff. My guard goes up instantly as soon as somebody starts trying to get me to say yes. There are some obvious hassles like if someone starts using my name over and over and over. I want them to know my name, but you can tell when it’s turned into a salesman approach right away where they’re trying to get it in and manage. There are little tales here and there. It is more whether or not they’re willing to reveal information actually about themselves as opposed to talking about themselves and bragging about themselves. There are some fine lines there.

I can also think some people are guarded and maybe they are trustworthy, but it takes them a lot to open up.

I can tell whether if you’re being guarded because you’re trying to protect yourself or whether or not you’re being guarded because you’re trying to get an advantage of me.

In sales and business negotiations, what are some of the most powerful tools one can use to make the sale or create the deal?

Let the other side know that you don’t want a deal unless it’s right for them. Be a little reluctant. Be willing to sacrifice the short-term for the long-term upside. The basis of trust is if my interest and your interest are lined up what will happen to my interest? Do they completely go away? Are my answers only served if yours are served first? I don’t mind if you do well. I just don’t want to be the sacrifice on the way. I don’t mind if you’re making a living, just deliver me value. Be willing to live with everything you’ve said, every promise you’ve made. There’s so much pressure for the bottom line now in sales because that’s hard for people to do. The structure of sales is very difficult for salespeople. That’s why the great salespeople who have typically been through a few companies have come to the point where they realize that what they’re selling is their own personal brand and reputation and they need long-term clients that will follow them wherever they go. That’s when they get out of the near-term and they start thinking long-term.

When I did sales training many times I heard and that’s what I learned is you want to get them to their pain, you want to get them to feel their pain, so they know that. Like for a coach, they need to work with me because if I only give them the possibilities, the opportunities and only encourage them, then they wouldn’t want to work with me. They wouldn’t want to make the commitment to working with me and I won’t get the sale. When it comes to touching people’s pain points, what are your thoughts about that?

That’s a necessary part of the human motivation. When you’re taking them there, are you looking out for them? Are you looking out for what’s in their best interests? Is it a manipulation or is it a need? Pain or fear of loss, there are a variety of ways to describe it. It is our primary decision maker in life. It’s what motivates us most. As human beings, we have the ability to absorb pain incrementally and ultimately find ourselves in positions over a period of weeks or months that we would never tolerate if it did happen suddenly. That’s a coach’s job to help wake them up to that and be aware of it in a way that’s in their interest as opposed to something that doesn’t help them. Use your powers for good and not evil is what it boils down to.

These motivators of human behavior are true. It depends upon what you are using that recognition for, pain is the issue and fear of loss. In many cases, it’s all psychological perception. They say the difference between adventure and ordeal is the attitude. Some people can find a very mundane task torture and other people can find torturous labor rewarding because of why they’re doing it. How many temples have been built on the face of the Earth by people at hard labor for lifetimes for bread and water and happy to do it because it was saving their soul? How we interpret what we’re doing is the most important and then crazy issue. You’d get somebody to do anything if they think it’s taking them to a brighter future because they’re completely focused on the future.

How we interpret what we’re doing is the most important and crazy issue.


We move away from pain and toward pleasure.

We do but then it’s how we interpret it. Where is our pain taking us? In my book, in general terms, we talk about finding out what their religion is. You’ll be shocked what people will do on behalf of their religion and it’s in a very broad term. What gives them immortality? What puts them in a hall of fame? What gives them a lasting impression on the planet? We will do anything for immortality.

I want to talk about a few concepts from the book, gaining permission and bending their reality. When you negotiate, and I want to take it away from negotiation for a hostage situation and more into the business world, how can you use gaining permission and bending their reality to advance your agenda?

One of the biggest core issues around gaining somebody’s permission is not taking their autonomy away. That’s the real problem with this whole yes momentum, yes agreements, momentum selling, incremental yeses. What you’re trying to do when you start to get people to say yes is you’re trying to time down, you’re trying to back them into a corner, you’re trying to take away their autonomy. A former colleague of mine, Jim Camp, wrote a book about 2002 called Start with NO. All he did was say, “You’ve got a permission to say no.” His whole approach was from the very beginning to say to people, “You can say no to me at any time. You tell me to go away, you tell me to shut up.” He called it the right to veto and preserving the other side’s right to veto. Respect somebody’s autonomy. Don’t try to take it away in something you have permission to proceed because you don’t want to try to back me to the corner. We’ve taken it a few steps further. We found out by trying it that not just giving people permission to say no but intentionally getting them to say no causes a complete line change. We don’t say to people, “Do you agree?” We say, “Do you disagree?” We don’t say, “Would you like to do this?” We say, “Are you against doing this?” We don’t say, “You’ve got a few minutes to talk.” We say, “Is now is a bad time?”

My husband who read the book as well used it in an email, something like, “You don’t want the opportunity to work together,” or something like that. I don’t remember what he wrote. He got an amazing response where he was trying to reach that person a few times and he never got a response before.

It’s crazy because people then feel they could respond to you without committing and that’s the key issue. Their autonomy has been preserved. Many people are trying to take away our autonomy that immediately when someone stops doing that, we’re drawn to it. It’s very much the same way that you’re talking about the guy who wouldn’t respond to your husband now immediately responds and it makes no sense. It sounds stupid. We are such creatures of habits and we’re emotional creatures. We get into what’s called the no mode. I was coaching a client and he said, “We’ve got a real problem here. The other side’s in no mode. They’re saying no to everything.” I said, “Just change your question.” He said, “No, that’s too stupid. That will never work.” I said, “Try it and find out,” and it works. It’s stunning. That’s the first part.

We are such creatures of habits and we're emotional creatures. Click To Tweet

The second part is bending the reality and that gets back to perception and fear of loss. Nobel Prize-winning Behavioral Economics Theory by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two Israeli psychologists, “In that loss, think twice as much as an equivalent game.” Professor Kahneman gave a great interview on YouTube that I watched where he said, “It’s not accurate. It’s not twice as much, it’s more like five to seven times but Amos and I simply said twice as much because we wanted fewer arguments from our colleagues.” Loss bends reality and I could put two different propositions to you. Let’s say that you change your investment technique. You’ll make 20% more return on your investment. You will say like, “That’s interesting,” or I could say, “Stay with the investment technique that you have now and it’s going to cost you 20% every day,” and you go like, “This is costing me each and every day, I’ve got to make a change.”

Do you do workshops and teach people those things in your workshops?

Yeah, if we get a chance because we put announcements to our workshops in our newsletter. I could tell people they have to sign up for the newsletter, which is free.

How can they sign to the newsletter and connect with you?

Our website is BlackSwanLTD.com. In the newsletter, the blog is there that’s called The Edge. All the past issues are there. You can search it and you could look for stuff. You can also sign up there and it comes out every Tuesday morning. It’s a short, sweet, easy to read article with tips for the day, plus our training announcements when we’re doing training in different cities. We put that stuff in there also. It’s the gateway to the website. It’s a gateway to everything. It’s the best way to stay in touch with us and keep up on our stuff.

What do you think are the biggest lessons that you’ve learned from your glorious career?

There are two things. We’re all pretty much wired the same. There’s a common wiring that we as human beings possess. Our gender or ethnicity doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you’re Chinese. It doesn’t matter if you are Colombian. It doesn’t matter if you’re Indian. We all have the same basic wiring and the neuroscience these days backs it up. There’s a commonality to humanity, to mankind. It’s very strong. With that approach, you can develop a decent relationship with anybody and then this desire to be heard is so ridiculously strong. That in any interaction, if I could just make you feel completely heard, you’re going to give me 75% of what I want if you feel heard out. That makes no sense, but humanity doesn’t make any sense anyway so why should anybody have a problem with that? Those two things are nuts.

There’s a commonality to humanity, to mankind, that’s very strong. With that approach, you can develop a decent relationship with anybody.


That’s the biggest lesson that I got from talking to you and reading your stuff. It’s a real eye-opener. It’s very simple and there are lots of techniques, but this is the core of everything. It’s to listen. What are your three top tips to living a stellar life?

Hear people out. What you saw humanity as it is it felt dark to you and that’s defensiveness. Hear people out and you’ll be shocked at how much better your life is. That would be the first one. There’s got to be other clichés here. Stick to who you are and have integrity. The world is evidently fair to us overall. Everybody’s got the same amount of luck. We’re human beings so we notice the bad luck more. If you don’t bend yourself out of shape over the bad luck on balance, you’re going to be ahead. We hold ourselves back so much more than is necessary than the environment, whatever environment we’re in. We’ve got pretty much the same amount of luck with everybody else in that environment has. Don’t notice the bad luck so much because it’s not as bad as you think, and you’ll hold yourself back a lot less.

Energy flows to where your focus goes. To be a little more defensive, I don’t see the world as a dark place anymore. I definitely believe in the practice of gratitude because we, from prehistorical times, are conditioned to run away from the saber-toothed tiger and look for what’s bad. It is a daily practice to look for the good, to look for gratitude, to look for what we do have in our lives, and to count our blessings because we have so much of them. You’re one of my blessings. I enjoyed this interview. It was amazing and I appreciate you. Thank you very much.

Thank you very much. It has been my pleasure. Thanks for having me on.

Your Checklist of Actions to Take

✓ Speak less and listen attentively. Don’t be too eager to respond that you forget to pay attention to what the other person is saying.
✓ Take notice of tonality, hesitation, and body language. Sometimes it gives away far more important signals than with what they have to say.
✓ Set realistic expectations. Not every negotiation is guaranteed success. Focus instead on extending your influence in a positive way.
✓ State an educated guess. This triggers an impulsive, transparent and truthful response from the other person when they have an opportunity to correct you.
✓ Never assume that you’re always right. Strive to know what important thing the other person has before you make a decision.
✓ Don’t agree with a deal where your values will be sacrificed. Stay true to your word and be willing to live with everything you said.
✓ Accept the fact that there’s a commonality to humanity and that is we all wanted to be heard.
✓ Train your mind to always see the good and positive things. Aim to live in a place of gratitude.
✓ Never let an adversity hold you back or limit your capabilities. You always have so much more to offer, you just need to keep an open mind.
✓ Grab a copy of Chris’ book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It.

Links and Resources

About Chris Voss

Chris Voss is CEO of the Black Swan Group and author of the national best-seller “Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It,” which was named one of the seven best books on negotiation. A 24-year veteran of the FBI, Chris retired as the lead international kidnapping negotiator. Drawing on his experience in high-stakes negotiations, his company specializes in solving business communication problems using hostage negotiation solutions. Their negotiation methodology focuses on discovering the Black Swans, small pieces of information that have a huge effect on an outcome. Chris and his team have helped companies secure and close better deals, save money, and solve internal communication problems.

Chris has been featured in TIME, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, Inc., Fast Company, Fortune, The Washington Post, SUCCESS Magazine, Squawk Box, CNN, ABC News and more.

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