311: Communication Secrets from FBI Kidnapping Negotiator Chris Voss

By June 20, 2018Podcasts

 

 

Chris Voss shares how FBI hostage negotiation approaches enable more effective, persuasive communication, in any field.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The FBI 8 negotiation skills you can use at work
  2. Why yes is the last thing you want to hear
  3. The two words that immediately transform a negotiation

About Chris

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.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Chris Voss Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Chris, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to Be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Chris Voss
Pete, my pleasure. Let’s be awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, let us. Well, speaking of awesome, I’m sure you have many awesome stories and just to set the scene, could you kick us off by sharing a dramatic FBI negotiation story?

Chris Voss
Dramatic FBI negotiation story?

Pete Mockaitis
I’d like actual music to be playing in the background maybe if we can splice that in.

Chris Voss
Car chases and shootouts, right? Put a little bit of James Bond music in it for me in the background.

Alright, so a 12-year-old boy gets kidnapped in Haiti in a carjacking. It’s a standard business kidnapping. In Haiti their particular business model is carjack a car with more than one person in it, let one of those people go. You’ve got a car and a hostage. The other person you just let go to notify the family. Even better if one of those people is a kid because more likely they’re going to pay, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Chris Voss
As it turns out – which happened a lot in Haiti at the time. It was before the earthquake. The kid’s a dual national. He’s an American citizen. He’s a Haitian citizen. Bad guys don’t know they’ve got an American. They think they just grabbed a Haitian. It happens a lot. There’s a lot of dual nationals in Haiti. It was pretty much exclusively the business model at the time. This was of course their business model.

But the carjacking, because it’s really smart. It’s prequalification, if you will, if they have a car, they’ve probably got money for ransom.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Chris Voss
Dad’s not an American citizen. He knows his son is. Goes to the U.S. embassy for help. U.S. embassy says, “Yup, the FBI is going to help you.” Now I don’t know what went through his mind when he was told that. I can imagine maybe he was thinking helicopters were going to show up. Ninjas are going to-

Pete Mockaitis
Snipers.

Chris Voss
Snipers, the cavalry whatever inside of 15 minutes, but instead inside of 15 minutes he gets a call from some guy in Washington, D.C. named Chris Voss, who says he’s going to help him. He literally says to me on the phone, “You’re in Washington, D.C. How are you going to help me?”

Now, Pete I would ask you, how long have I got before this guy hangs up the phone?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m guessing three sentences.

Chris Voss
That’s at the outside. Probably, yeah, which interestingly enough is exactly the same amount of time you’ve got to make a first impression too or to make any impression at the beginning of a conversation because everybody you interact with at all times as soon as you get started with them, the human nature response is how are you going to help me.

[3:00]

I will tell you by the time I got exactly where I wanted to go probably in about 15 seconds with this guy, principally because I’d done this one before. Because I’d ask you, if you were me, what do you say? What would you imagine you need to say at this point?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve done this dozens of time in Washington, D.C. You are in the best hands in the world.

Chris Voss
Right. Convincing. Trying to establish credibility and confidence, which sounds like a sale job.

The good thing about that – actually your gut instinct is your instinct is that the absolute most important two things to establish right off the bat are trust and confidence. Not liking, but trust and confidence. That’s what you went for in what you were saying.

But the very next thing as soon as you start talking, people ask themselves, they say, “Do I have to explain this to this guy? Do you have any idea what’s going on?”

Here’s what I said to the guy. I didn’t give him any of my resume. Nothing.

I said, “Alright so Haitian kidnappers, they’re not killing kidnap victims these days. That’s really stupid because they kill each other at the drop of a hat, but they’re not killing kidnap victims. Today is Thursday and Haitian kidnappers love to party on Saturday night. If you say the things I want you to say when I want you to say them, we will have your son out by Friday afternoon, Saturday or Saturday morning early.”

He said to me, “Tell me what you want me to do.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well done.

Chris Voss
We had his son out Saturday morning.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good. Are there a few key sentences that he should share?

Chris Voss
Well, so first thing is my job now is helping people understand how to communicate effectively in all aspects of their lives. I told him what he was facing.

Instead of telling him I understood or tell him – instead of saying, “Look, I know what you’re dealing with. I’ve done it before,” I just laid it out for him. Here’s your environment. Here’s what you’re looking at. Because it immediately relieves the other person of the burden of having to figure out whether or not you know what’s going on. You just show them you know what’s going on.

Plus, I didn’t give them a strategy either, but what I did was offer them the slightest bit of insight into that dynamic, which I probably didn’t even need to do, the bit about Haitian kidnappers wanting to party on Saturday night, which is 1,000% true.

In anybody, try, try to get a deal done on Wall Street in New York in August. It ain’t going to happen because they’re all partying in the Hamptons. One of the reasons I love about that example because it’s kind of fun to compare Wall Streeters to Haitian kidnappers.

But as soon as you understand the social dynamics and the social dynamics are pretty common across the world. A friend of mine once recently said, “Every situation is different, but every situation has the same basic common threads.” When you understand human nature, you begin to understand the common threads.

Common thread this guy is wondering about is do I know what’s going on. I told him one of two things happen. Either he says, “Tell me what you want to do,” or he corrects me. If he corrects me, that means we’ve got dialogue. I’ve just instantly – him correcting me is an instantaneous establishment of a collaborative relationship, which is where I want to go anyway.

There’s no downside to laying out to somebody what they’re looking at no matter what the circumstances are. It’s instant rapport. It’s just add water. It’s faster – it’s actually faster.

One of the reasons I knew how to do this because I’ve done it wrong in different situations where they basically challenged my expertise and I said, “Look, I’ve been an FBI agent for 24 years, trained FBI hostage negotiator, went to Scotland Yard, went to Harvard Law School’s negotiation course. Not only have I trained where the FBI wrote the book, but I’m not writing a book.”

I didn’t give you but 25% of my resume just now and it took longer than it took for me to lay out to the guy what he was facing with. That’s the crazy thing about this. This is faster. It the indirect route and it actually takes less time to say it to the other side.

Because otherwise they want to argue, “Do you know what’s going on? Have you ever done this before?” Even if you’ve done it before, how do I know you know what’s going on. How do I know that you haven’t done this a million times and you’re not smart enough to figure it out? That’s why you’ve had to do it so many times.

There’s an old saying, “Some people have ten years of experience and some people have one year of experience ten times.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well said.

Chris Voss
You remove all those questions by just immediately laying stuff out for people.

Pete Mockaitis
I like it. I like it a lot. You’re sharing these principles with – as you’re doing your work with the Black Swan Group and your book, Never Split the Difference. I understand that you point to nine principles to be more persuasive. Could you give us a quick lay of the land there?

Chris Voss
Well, what they really are of those nine, the negotiation nine that you are referring to, is there’s nine specific techniques, tactics that we brought from hostage negotiation.

Now hostage negotiators have eight basic skills, which I would refer to as the FBI eight. The crazy thing about that, every single hostage negotiation team in the world, whether they’re in Baghdad, Iraq, Cape Town, South Africa, Tel Aviv, Israel, Tokyo, Japan, Chicago, Illinois, they all use the exact same eight skills in one format or another.

It doesn’t matter where because these work on the common threads, human nature. These work on human nature. You get this set of skills that are – it’s not cross culture. It transcends culture. It works on people because they’re people, because they’re human beings.

Then of those nine, these skills that are applicable to everyone regardless of gender or ethnicity, doesn’t matter if you’re Asian, African, Latino.

They’re kind of broken out into two groups. Groups to provoke thinking or groups to repute what someone said or groups to sort of dig into how they’re really being driven.

They focus on – you ask a question – you never ask somebody – you never try to get somebody to say yes. You never ask a closed-ended question where the answer is yes. But you ask a calibrated question, calibrated for effect or you make a statement that’s calibrated for effect.

It’s a combination of effect of questions and statements and repetitions. Bundled together they just – they open people up. It’s truth serum. It’s getting people to tell the truth without knowing they’re telling the truth.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fantastic. Tell us how it’s done.

Chris Voss
It’s being a little bit deliberate. It’s not talking first. It’s not making an argument. It’s amplifying what people say. It’s being patient. It’s shutting up sometimes.

What it really is – Stephen Covey gave us great advice a long time ago, “Seek first to understand than be understood.” We take Covey’s advice because what I’m trying to do is be understood, the second half of what Covey said, “Then be understood.”

Covey basically wanted the other person to talk first. We say, “Seek first to show understanding and then you can be understood,” so it’s showing understanding. It’s really kind of intuitive.

A guy gave me a great story the other day about how he bought a car. You know the best way to get somebody’s price on a car down?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear it.

Chris Voss
Tell them it’s worth every penny they’re asking.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Chris Voss
Because what that does is it takes away their argument. You want to say, “Ah, car’s not any good. There’s a million cars around here.” It provokes an argument. It gives them an argument. They say, “No, this is worth-“ they’re going to give you all the reasons why it’s worth every penny they’re asking.

If you say, “Look man, that’s a great car. That car’s beautiful. It’s probably worth more than what you’re asking. It’s worth every penny.” Suddenly they’re shocked. They don’t know it, but you’ve taken their argument away from them. They’re listening to you really carefully. They no longer have an argument to make.

Then after you say, “Look man, it’s a beautiful car. It’s worth every dime. I just can’t pay you that.” They don’t know what to do. They’re shocked.

It’s one of those stories – I still have – I get the sexiest color SUV you ever saw in your life. I fell in love with this Toyota Forerunner when I saw it, salsa red color. I mean that even sounds sexy. Does it not?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, it does. I want to see it.

Chris Voss
Salsa red color. Yeah, baby. It’s this great, deep sort of salsa red burgundy color. I still got it.

When I went and bought that truck I said, “I love this truck. It’s beautiful. It’s worth more than what you’re asking for it. It’s worth every dime. I just can’t pay that. How am I supposed to pay that?” The sales guy looked at me and he like blinked because – blinked about four times because his brain was just resetting. He got up and he went in the back and he came out with a lower price.

The guy – this friend of mine, his name is Joe. He did the same thing. He was laughing about it when he was telling me because he said, “It’s a great car. It’s a great price and you’re giving a discount.” He said, “You’re being generous.” Then he said, “It’s a great price. I just can’t pay it.” He said the guy just – the guy was flummoxed. When he was telling me this story, eh started laughing. He goes, “I didn’t imagine in a million years this would work.” The guy did the same thing. He went in the back and came back out with a better price.

Then I said it to him again, “Oh my God, you’re so generous. You’re so wonderful. That’s so nice of you. That car – I just can’t pay it.” He said the guy went in the back again, came back out with another price.

When you start making the other side – when you start articulating their position, what Covey said but instead of “Seek first to understand,” show understanding. When you lay out their position for them, they’re left with nothing to say. They’re never more agreeable than they are at that moment.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s brilliant. What I love it is it also kind of gets them on your side. It’s like, “Oh, well I’ve got to figure this out for you. That’s my new job now is to help make this work for you.”

Chris Voss
You’re exactly right. That was one of the things that Joe told me. He said, “Suddenly I felt like we were collaborating and not only that. We were collaborating, but he was trying to solve it for me.” That’s exactly what you just said. Something sort of crazy happens.

There’s a neuroscience behind it that backs it up. Then they suddenly become collaborators. They’re on your side. They want to help you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s a fantastic way to start. Then where do we take it from there?

Chris Voss
We could talk about my favorite color. Salsa red.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. It sounds critical. Some insights will bubble up from this.

Chris Voss
Well, sort of where we take it from here. This is counterintuitive stuff. This is – one of the questions that you were kind enough to send me in advance is what’s the big idea of your book. We were trying to understand whether it’s ‘everything you know about negotiation is wrong’ or ‘yes is the last thing you want to hear.’ Which one of those two sounds more interesting to you?

Pete Mockaitis
[long pause] The last one sounds more interesting to me because the first one, it just sounds like, “Oh, okay, marketer, you’re trying to grab my attention,” as opposed to the second one makes me go, “Huh, yeah? Really? What do you mean?”

Chris Voss
Perfect. Excellent. Alright, somebody calls you on the phone. They say, “Have you got a few minutes to talk?” What’s your instant reaction?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I probably don’t.

Chris Voss
Skepticism. Right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Chris Voss
We put up our guard. The crazy thing is that when we say yes, we’ve committed to something. Commitment creates anxiety and there’s always a hook. There’s always a trap.

Somewhere along the line in the last 50 years, somebody came up with the idea, this momentum selling or this yes momentum or create a yes proposition. Somebody went out there and sold a book said getting to yes. We’re like, “Okay, that’s what we want to do. We want to get to yes.” Somebody said, “Hey, you know what? Get somebody to say yes to three little things.”

If you look at how they instruct us, they actually call this stuff tie downs. You tie it down with each yes. You tie them down. Then your last question you’ve got them cornered and they have to say yes. Then you’ve got them.

Now maybe somewhere on some distant galaxy far, far away, maybe I’ll concede that there may have been a day that that was effective. But it’s been done to so many of us so many times that now the minute somebody starts trying to get you to say yes, your guard goes up instantly.

This is almost like a game that we play. Finally everybody in my company has finally got to the point where they see it. You can’t try to get – intentionally ask a closed-end question, “Do you want this? Would you like this? Does this work for you? Would you like? Would you like to make more money?” People’s guard goes up instantly because where’s this going.

If I say yes to some – my girlfriend once said to me when I accidently asked her a yes question – here’s how bad it is because I got on a shirt that I don’t like that I’m getting ready to throw away. It was an expensive shirt and I wore it that day. She was like, “Oh, I like that shirt.” I’m like, “Hm, all right, maybe I don’t throw this away.”

Then at the end of the day I go, “So you like this shirt, right?” And she says to me, “If I say yes, what am I letting myself in for?” I’m like, “Wait a minute, you even said earlier today you liked this shirt. I’m just going back for legitimate conformation. I’m not trying for commitment.”

There’s three kinds of yes’s: commitment, conformation, and counterfeit. But we get trapped so much by these conformation yes’s, these tie-down yes’s that lead us down this little path to where the bear trap is that the minute somebody starts in on us on any yes , we immediately back up.

If we’re not explicitly articulating what my girlfriend said, which is, “If I say yes, what am I letting myself in for,” everybody thinks that. It is so overdone planet-wide that it’s equivalent of trying to give a hug to a battered child.

We’ve all been battered by this yes nonsense, this yes trap, attorneys call it cornering, that the minute anybody tries to get us to say yes to anything, we can’t help but react like battered children. We start to back away. We start to get anxious. We start to worry about it.

I’m having a conversation with this about – my son is my director of operations now, chief negotiator for my company. He’s turned into a brilliant negotiator. About two years ago we’re walking out of this building, security building where we’re doing our training. He says, “I’m not completely sure that everybody is reluctant to say yes under all circumstances.”

Now at this moment we’re standing in front of the security guard. He’s checked us in, who works for Allied Security. He’s at work for Allied Security. He’s seen us before. He’s got on a uniform that says Allied Security.

I look at the security guard and I go, “Do you work for Allied Security?” He looked up at me and he kind of looked startled. He looked around. Then he goes, “Maybe.” I looked at my son, I just shrugged my shoulders. I go, “What do you want from me?”

The guy’s standing there at work, on duty, in uniform because he’s so used to yes is a trap and if I say yes, what am I letting myself in for. Happens all the time. We’re all battered with this.

I didn’t realize it as a hostage negotiator until I was really – when I was working on my book about three years ago we were working on the book, second writer I was working with. He believes that yes – getting to yes.

He said, “As a hostage negotiator how did you guys get people to say yes?” I remember being thoroughly stumped because it hadn’t really occurred to me at that point in time. I said, “We never did. It’s a useless, worthless word.” It’s so useless. We didn’t even bother with it. And we don’t. And we don’t in my company now either. We don’t try to get people to say yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you got me hooked, engaged and curious. Then in these scenarios, like let’s say you do get someone on the phone, the question is not, “Do you have a few minutes to chat?” What is the question?

Chris Voss
“Is now a bad time to talk?”

Pete Mockaitis
Is now – that is the right question, “Is now a bad time to talk?”

Chris Voss
“Is now a bad time to talk?” That’s our number one and a close number two is “Have I caught you in the middle of something?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Then play it forward. Where does that take us?

Chris Voss
All right, so I’m going to say – I’m going to call you on the phone, I’m going to say, “Hi, it’s Chris. Is now a bad time to talk?”

Because first problem is you don’t know who I am when I call. Most salespeople – most people call, “Hey, have you got a few minutes to talk?” without identifying themselves. But either they know your voice or you’re trying to get them to say yes. You want to get them trapped into the conversation before they even know who they’re talking to.

Or a lot of people call my phone and say, “Can I talk to Chris please?” or “Can I speak to Chris Voss?” Now, none of my friends ever call my phone and say, “Can I speak to Chris Voss?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true.

Chris Voss
They say, “Hey Chris, it’s Erik,” “Hey Chris, it’s Pete,” “Hey Chris, it’s Mike.” By identifying yourself first name only, immediately you’ve – even if you don’t know me, you know I’m Chris and your tension, your anxieties come down.

Now the next thing is I want you to say no because no makes people feel safe and protected. Every time you say no, you’ve protected yourself. Having just protected yourself, the anxiety has gone away. Your mind is calm. You’re more in – you feel in control.

Consequently, while I’m talking you’re not sitting there going, “Where’s this going? What’s this going on? What’s the trap? What am I letting myself in for?” Because you already said no and you feel protected. It actually causes you to pay more attention in the moment because you feel in control. You don’t feel trapped.

Those are the first and most important things because if you don’t feel trapped, then your willingness to trust has just gone up. As I said before, we’re looking for trust and confidence. I’m not trying to trap you and you know my first name is Chris.

I’ve just built a lot of trust instantly that is now mine to lose, which I still might lose, but I’ve got it instead of causing you anxiety immediately by trying to get you to say yes, which erodes your trust factor.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. Okay, so I say, “Hey Chris, it’s Pete. Is now a bad time?”

Chris Voss
Exactly. Now I’m going to answer one of two ways. I’m going to say – I’m going to go like this, I’m going to go like, “No, Pete. No, man. Go ahead. It’s never a bad time to talk. What do you got?” Now those words have just told me you have all of my attention at least for seven more seconds, but you’ve got it all in that moment.

As opposed to when I say, “Have you got a few minutes to talk?” while you’re going, “Where’s this going? What does this mean? What have I let myself in for?” I don’t have any of your attention because all of those questions are going through the back of your mind.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Chris Voss
So I’ve gone into – first of all, now I’ve got 1,000% of your attention.

Now the next smart move at this point in time – you know what you want to say and you know how long it’s going to take.

Let’s say I need four minutes to lay out what I want from you. I’m going to say, “Pete, I need seven minutes,” because I want to condition you to get used to however much time you grant me, I’m going to take less so that whenever I ask you for time – Because this, “Have you got a few minutes to talk,” thing, a few minutes is anywhere from 3 to 93.

Part of what the distraction is “How long is this going to take?” You’re looking at your watch. You’ve got appointments. You’re expecting calls. You’re trying to get back to your emails. You don’t know how long it’s going to be. Interestingly enough, this not knowing how long it’s going to last is the principle psychological stressor.

Pete Mockaitis
Even like of our lives.

Chris Voss
Exactly. Of our lives, of our lives. Way back when I tried out for the FBI’s hostage rescue team, which is the FBIs equivalent of the Navy Seals. Now they wanted to put us to the maximum psychological stress. One of the ways they did that, they’d say, “We’re going for a run.” We’d say, “All right, how far are we going?” “We’re not telling you.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Chris Voss
Now each and every time we went out with these guys, they never ran us for more than 45 minutes at a time, but if you’re taking me for a run and you go, “All right, we’re going eight miles,” I’ve run enough to know how fast I’ve got to go to cover six minute miles, seven minute miles, eight minute miles. I’m going to run at my speed to cover the distance.

You don’t tell me how long we’re going, now I’m wacking out. Do I got to run six minute miles? Do I got to run seven? How far are we going?

That was – the unknown – how long is this going “to last is the psychological stressor of the history of mankind. That’s what you put people through when you say, “Have you got a few minutes to talk?” because they don’t know how long it’s going to last.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I’m right with you there. Let’s keep this demonstration going here. I go, “Hi Chris, it’s Pete. Is now a bad time?” You say, “No, no, Pete. This is great.” It’s like, “I’m going to need seven minutes.” Then what happens.

Chris Voss
Then I say, “Alright, here’s the deal. Here’s what you’re faced with,” because first of all I need you eager to let me know I’m on the right track or to dial me in. Then I’ll say – once I’ve laid that out, then I’m going to go for no again. I’m going to say, instead of, “Would you like to do this?” I’m going to say, “Is it a ridiculous idea that you do this? Are you against doing this? Is this a bad idea?”

Again, I’m trying to trigger no. In reality I have a firm belief that – we call this a calibrated no. A calibrated no is worth at least five yes’s because once you said no to something you’re either going to take action or you’re going to tell me what you need to take action.

Case in point, my company, we just did a training in New York City about a week and a half ago, Advanced Tactical Empathy. It was a master class on persuasion. I had recently met Robert Herjavec of Shark Tank and offered a ticket to anybody from his company. He is a warm, engaging, interesting guy.

Pete Mockaitis
He sure seems like it on the show.

Chris Voss
He is. He sat down and gave me 90 minutes for lunch having never met me, only on the basis of a recommendation from a mutual acquaintance. I was blown away. There’s so many cool things about this guy.

I thought I dig this guy. I’m going to give him a ticket. Let his people taste the wares a little bit. Maybe we get some follow on business.

He’s sweet enough when I sent him the email, he says, “You know what?” He says, “How many can I buy?” I’m like, alright, so in addition to the complementary ticket, because even though he’s offered to pay, I don’t want there to be any doubt in his mind that he still gets a complementary ticket, I say, “We’ve got seven seats left. How many do you want?”

24 hours go by before I get an answer. We’re now down to four seats. This is shrinking fast. I’m having trouble getting a commitment out of him. If I get – I’m having trouble them giving me a number.

If I don’t get a number immediately, it’s going to close and I can’t let him in at all because we cap the number of people we’re willing to have in a room because we want a really individualized instruction. We charge them a lot of money to be there and we’re going to give value.

Finally, he said, “Look, I think I can spring three people.” This procrastination has gone on long enough, I’m still not paid. I got – he’s got to pay me in the next 12 hours or it’s going to close.

I sent him an email back and I say, “Are you against making a commitment for three people now?” and “Are you against paying for these before the start of business tomorrow morning?” because his company and my company are in Los Angeles. It’s about 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Clock’s working against us.

We’re three hours behind New York, the other half of my company, which means New York starts the next day before we do, which means if he doesn’t pay now overnight, he’s not going to get his spot. I’m going to feel bad because he got shut out.

I get an instantaneous email back says, “No, we’re not against making the commitment now. No, we don’t have a problem paying with you before the start of the business day tomorrow.” I get a follow on email from his assistant. They go online. They pay overnight after business hours because my no’s triggered instantaneous focus and concentration and willingness to take the next steps.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good, so good. I’m curious about this now as well in a written format because that progressive yes stuff that you were talking about also seems to be a guideline in copywriting, which I’ve been learning about.

I’m thinking, “Oh, maybe I’ve done it all wrong.” I’ve got an invitation to enroll in a course page. The first question is something I want people to say yes to, like, “Is your job disappointing you?” From a writing perspective, would you also kind of flip it in terms of, “Is your job perfect in every way?”

Chris Voss
That’s a great one. That’s more thought provoking. That’s more attention giving. Somebody can say no to that and they’re not going to feel trapped.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. Is it a different kind of a trap? It’s like, “Well, no, but no job is perfect. Come on now.” I don’t know. I wonder if there’s a different kind of defensiveness that that triggers.

Chris Voss
No, there isn’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right.

Chris Voss
But what you’re doing is – see, we’re wired to be negative and to be skeptical. Everybody knows we’ve got the caveman brain, the reptilian brain, whatever you want to refer to it as.

That was necessary for the survival of the species because the optimistic caveman would walk by a cave and go, “You know what? I realize that last time we walked by here that Fred walked in and there was a lot of screaming and growling and he never came out. But I’m an optimist. I think this cave is going to be okay. I’m going to walk in there and see what’s inside.” Now that guy died.

Now, so the skeptics survived. That’s how we survive. That wiring is still in our head. Any new idea that you haven’t heard or if you haven’t seen it in action, your caveman brain goes, “I don’t know. I can figure out how this might go bad,” because that was necessary for the survival of the species when we were getting eaten by Saber-tooth tigers.

Unfortunately, we’ve still got that in us and we’re not getting eaten by Saber-tooth tigers. That’s why we miss a lot of opportunities because in our head if it’s new and different, we’re initially skeptical.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. You’d recommend in a sort of sales writing perspective, your headline should try to trigger a no instead of a yes.

Chris Voss
Yeah. Trigger a no or at least stay away from yes because every other swampland, timeshare salesman on the planet has already been at your target audience with their yes questions. “Would you like to live in a beautiful place for free? Would you like to sit back and let your money work for you instead of you work for your money?” All these – it’s been so overdone that people are sickened by it.

I don’t know if it’s a fair analogy, you might have a favorite food. What happens if you overeat that food and become sickened by it? The mere smell of it disgusts you from that point on. The merest whiff of this yes momentum and people are immediately turned off by it.

Pete Mockaitis
Maybe a better question for the timeshare sales would be “Do you pretty much want to stay at home every summer?”

Chris Voss
Something along those lines. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
“Well, no, I don’t. I want to get out a little bit.”

Chris Voss
There you go. Trigger no. It’s crazy. It works on – and it works on everybody.

Employee, employer. I have coached people to go to their boss when they’ve been given a ridiculously difficult task and say to the boss, “Do you want me to fail?” Never had a negative response from that.

But we always – I tell people that and they go, “Ah, boss is going to burst into flames and say, ‘How dare you? Of course I don’t. What’s the matter with you, you insubordinate, ungrateful employee. You’re fired.’” That’s what our caveman brain does to us. But it doesn’t work that way.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. Thank you. I’ve got so much I want to cover. I’m watching the clock here. Hey, it’s the principle stressor, eh? You’ve got so many just juicy teasers in your book, in your table of contents. I’m going to have to prioritize a bit. Can you share what are the two words that immediately transform a negotiation?

Chris Voss
Alright, so normally we want to make our case and we want to get somebody to say yes. The two words are not the two words that come out of your mouth, but the two words that come out of their mouth that transform the negotiation. The most transformative two words, it’s equivalent of sprinkling fairy dust on somebody, is when they say to you, “That’s right.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Chris Voss
You lay – when you first hear, “That’s right,” you think to yourself, “That’s it? I expected it to be something more powerful than that. I love it when people say you’re right.” Actually, “You’re right” is what we say to people to get them to shut up and leave us alone.

But “that’s right,” whatever side of the aisle you’re on, whether you’re Republican, whether you’re a Democrat, in the last presidential election or any presidential election, if you will, when you saw the two candidates on TV, when they said something that spoke to you, that really mattered to you, that resonated with you in a deep level, you didn’t point at the TV screen and go, “You’re right.”

You pointed at the TV screen and you went, “That’s right,” because it’s a conformation words out of your mouth that what you just heard resonated with you on a very deep level. You may have made your mind up in that moment of which of those two candidates to vote for.

Pete Mockaitis
Got it. What are some of the best ways to elicit a “That’s right?”

Chris Voss
Let’s go back to the beginning. Laying out the situation as they see it, not as you see it. Then the real trigger points are when you begin to describe it not as they see it, but also how they feel about it.

A political consultant that took one of my classes said, “You know what? You think that America’s best days are ahead of us and not behind us. You’re frustrated by what’s currently going on today, but you’ve got a sense that America will be so much better.”

That included what I just said to you just now, so words about how people feel. You’re frustrated by this. Especially if you can articulate the negative emotions that someone feels in a situation. The real geniuses are, the courage – the deal – the fixers are the people that can walk into a deal and express it if it’s about them.

Another one of my students, she’s got a business to business negotiation. She’s with a big government contractor. They’ve got a small subcontractor in Washington, D.C. Small subcontractor is mad at the big contractor. The entire deal is getting ready to go down the tubes because the small guy is tired of getting pushed around. They think they’re getting taken advantage of.

She walks in she says, “You know what? You think we’re the bullies. You guys feel like that we’re a big contractor that’s pushing you around and we don’t care about your profit, we don’t care what happens to you and we’re arrogant and we’re dominating the market, we don’t care about the little guys.”

She laid about seven or eight other things out in that conversation into that first conversation, which was getting ready to destroy a multi-million dollar contract. The little guys on the other side went silent and they went, “You know, we appreciate you saying that. We need to go back to our office and talk about this.”

After two more meetings, the big contractor pulled an additional two million dollars in profit out of the deal and the small contractor was even happier. Not only did they increase their profit, but they completely reestablished a relationship with a small contractor was happy to let them increase their profit because they felt so good about the situation.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s wild.

Chris Voss
It’s crazy stuff. It really is crazy, counterintuitive stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so much good stuff. Tell me, Chris, anything else you really want to make sure to highlight before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Chris Voss
No, I think that’s it. If you can develop the knack for describing to people what they see and how they feel about it, you have just become an extraordinarily powerful negotiator.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Thank you. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something that you find inspiring?

Chris Voss
Wow. I’m reading a bunch of stuff by Ryan Holiday now. The Obstacle is The Way is a book that I just put down. Effectively it’s, and I’m paraphrasing, but it’s, ‘whatever the obstacle is, there’s a secret code in there just for you that’s going to lead you to greater success.’

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. Thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Chris Voss
Another book I just finished, The Culture Code. Start’s out the book talking about psychological experiment. Four teams are challenged to build a structure out of a marshmallow and like that dried spaghetti little things.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Chris Voss
They’ve got a marshmallow and they’ve got these pieces of dried spaghetti and they’ve got tape. They’re challenged to build the tallest structure they can build. There were teams of MBA students, teams of CEOs, teams of lawyers, and teams of kindergarteners. Guess who won?

Pete Mockaitis
Kindergarteners.

Chris Voss
The kindergarteners won. Like how can kindergarteners outperform MBA students? How can kindergarteners outperform lawyers? How can kindergarteners outperform CEOs? The rankings were first the kindergarteners, second the CEOs, third the lawyers, and last were the MBA students.

Because the kindergarteners didn’t mind making mistakes in front of each other. They weren’t – they just wanted to have fun. They wanted to get into it. They wanted to experiment. They didn’t get mad each other. They didn’t jockey for position or for prestige or authority or who’s in charge, who can be the most in charge and do the least amount of work.

None of that nonsense that the vast majority of us have gotten into that they only other better group – CEOs after a while have learned like, “Look, if we don’t perform as a team, we’re in serious trouble here,” so the CEOs have come to learn that teamwork is tantamount. But the other two groups are still screwing around with “I’m right. You’re wrong. I don’t want to be embarrassed.”

The Culture Code does a great job of getting into how do you in high-performing organizations create this culture of fun because you’re smarter when you’re fun and how do you get stuff done and how do you get people to work together better as a culture.

Some of the people in leadership positions and culture positions in companies have completely turned around companies without changing any of the personnel.

There’s a great story in there, the Pixar guys who create one monstrous great cartoon movie, animated movie after another. Pixar takes over Disney. Disney’s animation department is a train wreck. The Pixar people come in and the two leaders from Pixar all they do is they change the approach. They don’t change any of the personnel.

The next thing you know without firing anybody or letting anybody go, Disney starts turning out hits again.

Pete Mockaitis
What was the practice?

Chris Voss
It was creating a collaborative practice where people felt included and not judged and supported and once feeling simultaneously concluded and supported, then they could take the hard feedback because they don’t make a great animation film without a lot of hard feedback.

They make it companywide so much so that if you take any job with Pixar and one of the great examples was this young lady gets a job. She’s the coffee barista in their café. New employee orientation, they sit you down in a room with everybody else and they say, you are a film maker now. Even a person pouring coffee in a café because they know it’s got to be a team and everybody’s got to support everybody else.

That women then ends up goes on to successful roles within their filmmaking division. She starts out pouring coffee because everybody is part of the same team and they’re all pulling on the same team together.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Chris, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Chris Voss
Subscribe to the Black Swan Group’s negotiation newsletter, The Edge, comes out once a week. It’s a real simple process to subscribe. It’s free, complementary. It’s a good price.

The best way to subscribe, these are short, sweet articles. They’re not long articles that are involved where you have to go take a nap after you’re done reading it because it’s so dense. They come out once a week on Tuesday mornings. The newsletter is also the gateway to everything we do. It’s a gateway to the training. It’s a gateway to the website. It’s a gateway to everything.

The best way to subscribe to the newsletter is send a text message. The message has got to be fbiempathy, all one word. Don’t let your autocorrect put a space in between the fbi and empathy, lowercase fbiempathy. Send that to 22828. The number again is 22-8-28, fbiempathy, all one word. You get a text back to sign up for the newsletter.

We’ll start making you a Jedi negotiator from the first article you read.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Thank you. Do you have a final challenge or call to action to issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Chris Voss
Start paraphrasing what people say to you before you answer their questions. Just try it. Try it on your low-stakes conversations. You’re going to be delighted at the outcome. As soon as you start trying that on your low-stakes conversations, you’ll have the feel to try it on your high-stakes conversation.

People are going to love interacting with you. They’re going to love interacting with you. They’re going to feel heard and understood. They’re going to feel bonded to you. They’re going to want to help you out.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Chris, I’ve loved interacting with you and feel bonded to you. Thank you so much for taking this time, sharing the goods, and keep on doing the great stuff over at Black Swan Group.

Chris Voss
Thanks Pete. It’s been a pleasure. It was an absolute pleasure you let me prattle on like this.

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