You may not realize it, but EVERYTHING is a negotiation. This Chris Voss podcast episode will prove this to you.
We tend to think of negotiation as dealmaking. Like, haggling with a car salesman when buying a vehicle. Or asking your boss for a raise. And, sure…those are classic examples.
But what most of us don’t realize is that nearly every interaction we have is, on some level, us trying to achieve maximum benefit for our position, while still preserving the feelings of the other party.
Whether it’s trying to make a point during a disagreement with a co-worker or partner, using a discount code while shopping online, or even changing lanes in heavy traffic…everyone alive has the instinct to engender an outcome that’s positive for their interests.
But understanding how to turn the tide in your favor before walking away from the table? That is an absolute art. And there’s nobody alive who’s better at it than my guest on this episode.
“They have a reason for what they’re thinking. And if you hear them out without attacking them in return, they’re shocked. And then their mind opens up a little bit.” – Chris Voss.
Who is Chris Voss?
For those unfamiliar with Chris and his background, here’s a quick primer:
After graduating from Harvard Law School with a Master’s in Public Administration, Chris was drawn to applying what he’s learned in a real-world sense. He began his career as a member of New York’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, investigating threats like the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.
From there, he turned his talents to hostage negotiation, and began his work with the FBI’s crisis unit. It would be the beginning of a 24-year career with the bureau, eventually acting as their chief international hostage and kidnapping negotiator.
During that time, Chris worked in war zones and other volatile areas around the world, always with an eye toward saving lives, and protecting America’s interests. His skill set took him from Scotland Yard, to Iraq, to the Philippines, Gaza Strip, and Haiti, and everywhere in between.
After retiring from the FBI in 2007, Chris turned his considerable talents for bargaining to the world of business, reasoning that if his skill set could successfully defuse international incidents, they might also be valuable for business-minded people to craft better and more beneficial situations for themselves, and their companies.
It worked. Today, his successful consulting firm the Black Swan Group (founded by Chris, who also serves as CEO) brings his ivy-league educated, and battle-zone proven negotiation skills from the situation room to the board room. He teaches business pros how to make deals on the same level as his literal life-or-death interactions, and to great effect.
I first met Chris a few years ago when his book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It was tearing its way up the bestseller charts. And I was immediately fascinated, so I asked him to come on the show. It wound up being an episode that changed everything about how I viewed my everyday interactions.
Since our first interview, Chris’ influence and renown has only grown in reach. So much so that he’s now the leader of a Masterclass on how to leverage influence in life, and in business. So I knew he’d have new insights about how to use the art of negotiation in our daily interactions with others.
Curiosity Makes Every Negotiation Easier
The first question I asked Chris was, “How do you negotiate with someone who is making an emotional attack on you? How do you not become defensive about that?” We’ve all been in situations where negotiation seems impossible. Emotions make everything more difficult when it comes to compromise, so how do we navigate through those to find a solution?
Chris said that the key is having curiosity. And by “curiosity” he means – actually wanting to hear what the other person’s side is. Why are they thinking what they are thinking? Try asking them to “explain your thought process” rather than ignoring their side altogether.
Chris says that we are naturally wired to be negative thinkers. There’s a part of our brain called the amygdala and research shows that 75% of the amygdala is dedicated to negative thoughts. This helped us a long time ago, when we were running from sabertooth tigers on the daily. We had to think negatively to live longer.
But now (thankfully) there are no saber tooth tigers. Our lives are, for the most part, a LOT easier and we are more comfortable than before. But that negative thinking is still there, and it trips us up when it comes to negotiating.
If we take a moment to be curious about the other person’s point of view, we immediately open up a door for compromise. Everyone wants to be understood and feel like their thoughts are valued.
“If you hear them out without attacking them in return, they’re shocked and then their mind opens up a little bit. They’re like, ‘Ah, somebody who doesn’t believe in what I believe, I can have a conversation with?” Yeah, it makes all the difference in the world.” – Chris Voss
This goes for every type of negotiation: whether you’re working through a difficult situation with your partner or trying to get a free hotel upgrade. Acknowledging a person’s presence and that they are important and valued makes a tremendous difference in the business of negotiation. Take a moment to understand where they are coming from instead of steamrolling them with your opinion. Be curious and-open minded, and the other person will immediately open up.
Negotiation Is a Smiling Game
Did you know that smiling can be an involuntary reaction? Often when someone smiles at you, even a stranger, you’ll smile back and not really even think about it.
Every conversation is a negotiation, including ordering your Starbucks coffee. You know that sometimes, baristas will give you decaf coffee instead of regular coffee if they don’t like you? But if they do like you, they might spend time and care making your drink. You never know the impact of a smile and a kind word can have.
Chris talks about the “Happiness Advantage,” a phrase coined by TED speaker Shawn Achor. You are actually 31% smarter in a positive frame of mind. Being happy and joyful around people benefits not only yourself but also the people you’re talking to.
When Chris orders coffee, he always smiles and says the person’s name. “Hello, Hannah! How are you today?” It seems like a simple gesture, but it makes an enormous difference.
“They feel very connected with, they feel seen. You know, they feel like they’re a person on the planet. They feel like suddenly they’re not just another part of the thundering herd, that nobody’s paying any attention to.” – Chris Voss
Chris says that negotiation is always a game: “What do I need to say or do to get them to smile? ‘Cause I feel like if they smile, they’re gonna have a better moment. And hopefully that moment turns into better moments moving forward the rest of their day.”
Next time you’re ordering coffee, speaking with a waiter, or making a sales call, remember to treat the other person as a person – because they are. Showing kindness inspires people to be kind. If you show another person genuine kindness, it’s likely that they will show the same kindness to you. And who knows! You might get that free hotel upgrade without paying a dime.
Learn the Power of WHY on this Chris Voss Podcast
If I asked you “why are you wearing those shoes?” what would be your response?
You’d probably feel defensive right? “What’s wrong with my shoes?”
Chris Voss explains the power behind the word “why”: “Why triggers defensiveness in every human being on the planet.”
When negotiating with a potential business partner, using the word “why” can be extremely powerful. If someone wants to do business with you, ask them why. “Why do you want to do business with me? This does two things: 1) It creates defensiveness 2) It makes them feel the need to correct you.
Chris explains it like this: “So, either you’re gonna give me the reasons right away, because I’ve just hit an emotional button in you. I’ve actually hit two. I’ve created defensiveness and also it gives you, you think I need to be corrected, and correction is an addiction. It might as well be one of the seven deadly sins. I can trick you, I can get you to tell me so much more if you’re correcting me. I can get you to say things to me that you would never say to me otherwise.”
The person now feels the need to defend themselves. They have to prove to you that they are worth the investment, and by doing so, you can learn a lot more information about the person and their values. Immediately you become the controlling force of this negotiation
The person shrugs and answers, “Well, that’s up to you,” is usually not the person you want to do business with. Why? Chris Voss says, “If somebody sits down with you and they don’t have a vision of doing business with you in their head already, you can’t put it there.”
I’d never thought of this before. I always assumed that you could just “inception” someone and place your concept in their head. And while you can, you waste time doing that, and time is a precious resource when it comes to business. Also, you want the people you work with to have the same core values as you do. If they can’t tell you those values from the start, then chances are working with them won’t be profitable for either of you.
So next time you’re meeting with a potential employee or even interviewing for a new job, don’t be afraid to ask the question “why.” Why do you want to work for me? Why should I want to work for you? Asking why can give you an immediate advantage in any negotiation.
Why You Should Listen to Chris Voss Negotiation?
There’s always a way to get what you want, and it doesn’t mean you need to be a tyrant. The art of negotiating is what each of us can learn in order to consistently and confidently get people on our side.
Negotiations are often not easy, but there are some hacks you can use to secure the advantage. And if you’re looking to grow in your life, with relationships, with your career and with business, negotiation is going to be the key. You want to make the other person feel like they’re getting a great deal too.
At the end of the day, it’s really the art of “relationships” that Chris is teaching. He’s teaching you how to be better in relationships. How to build bridges as opposed to creating walls between people. We can create a lot of walls, whether it be at Starbucks, the workplace, or in our personal relationships. Negotiation is the key to breaking down those walls.
I really liked Chris Voss’s definition of greatness:
“Maybe having a sense of what you could be. It really is, again, another cliche… it’s [about] what would happen if you met the person you could have been? It’s probably a spectacular person. So everybody’s capable of astonishing stuff…And so, [greatness is] just having a sense of going after it.”
Powerful. What if you met the person you could have been? The greatest version of yourself? We all have the potential to become that person.
Negotiating is going to help us get there, and you don’t have to be a former FBI Hostage Negotiator to do it. Learn how in Episode 902.