[00:02:23.3] MB: Today we have an incredible guest on the show, Chris Voss. Chris is the founder and CEO of the Black Swan Group, an adjunct professor at the Georgetown and the University of Southern California. During his 24 year term with the FBI where he most recently served as the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator, Chris worked with approximately a 150 different kidnappings worldwide from the Middle East to Haiti including a number of high profile kidnappings. He also has been trained by the FBI, Scotland Yard and Harvard in the art of negotiation and negotiated with the likes of terrorists, hostage takers and bank robbers.
Chris, welcome to The Science of Success.
[00:03:01.2] CV: Thank you very much, happy to be here.
[00:03:03.8] MB: Well we’re super excited to have you on. So you obviously have an incredible background, tell us a little bit about your story and how you got down this path?
[00:03:14.0] CV: You know I was walking through the corn fields of Iowa when I realized that I had to be a hostage negotiator, no. You know, a police officer, FBI agent, New York City, part of joint terrorist task force, actually I’ve been a SWAT guy. The crazy thing was I had been on the SWAT team in the FBI and I had a reoccurring knee injury and providence, the universe got me into this whole communication thing, verbal communication, what a concept, right?
But I knew we had hostage negotiators and I decided I wanted to learn how to be a hostage negotiator and then it landed into just basic human communication and how do we communicate with people who really don’t see eye to eye to us no matter how intense that is and it was great. I found it much more interesting and it added a lot to the rest of my life and now it’s making work in business and personal life.
[00:04:08.8] MB: And you’ve obviously been through some incredibly difficult, tense negotiation situations. What are the concepts that, I believed you’ve talked about it and something that I’m really interested in, is the idea of the behavioral change stairway. Could you explain that concept a little bit?
[00:04:25.0] CV: Well, it’s the idea that there’s a progression of how we get to where we want to go and the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line. It’s like what I like to talk about in communication all the time because, we want to go directly at what we want. And the stairways, it really started as two dimensional representation of we’ve got to make some steps and each step then becomes the foundation for the next step and the first of it is just basic developing a rapport.
You develop a rapport by, I’ll use the term that puts everybody to sleep, empathy. Most of the time, when was the last time you were at a cocktail party and you had an exciting conversation about the latest developments in empathy? It’s probably not being talked about on CNN but it’s really an indirect root to establish in a great relationship is letting the side know you understand them and showing them how you understand.
And one step leads to another, which basically then puts you in a position to influence other people. It’s based on trust and it’s based really on emotional intelligence and one step at a time was each step being a great foundation for the next and you can influence outcomes. You can change people’s minds.
[00:05:39.7] MB: And one of the things you’ve done incredibly well is bring emotion into the process of negotiation, which originally started out as a very dry, logic driven field. Can you talk about that a little bit?
[00:05:52.3] CV: Yeah, well you know I’m not bringing emotion in at all. It’s there, it’s the elephant in the room. I mean there’s this monstrous creature in the middle of every communication and what we want is based on what we care about. You know, you make every single decision, each one of us, I make all my decisions based on what I care about and that makes decision making by definition an emotional process. So my approach is let’s stop kidding ourselves.
Hostage negotiators don’t kid themselves about emotions. So they said, “Okay, look this is an emotionally driven situation. Give me a set of tools where I can navigate these emotions.” The history of business negotiation has been this fiction that somehow we’re rational and we’re logical, and I’m sorry and that’s why emotional intelligence has become to the forefront of business success today. Study after study, survey after survey shows that the top performers of every level at business are those who are using the most emotional intelligence, every single level.
Even IT internet related interactions, you have to be able to communicate with people to get stuff done and so give me the tools from hostage negotiators, the tools that are designed for maximum success in emotions and do they apply to our business and personal life? Absolutely. Because we’re driven by what we want and so it’s a recognition of the reality of we make our decisions based on what we want. Emotional, what we care about, emotional intelligence and these are the skills, these are phenomenal skills.
[00:07:35.1] MB: You made an incredible point, which is that it’s not that you’re bringing emotion into the process, it’s that it’s already there and we just have to learn to work with it and accept and recognize that fact.
[00:07:47.4] CV: Yeah, it’s just there. I used to have to try to make the case for it and scientists don’t understand what hold together the universe and because they can’t measure it they say, “Well there must be something out there called dark matter. It must be dark matter,” and I used to say emotions are the dark matter of negotiation because we don’t know what it is. We can’t wrap our minds around it, but it holds everything together. So let’s recognize that it exists and maximize it and this stuff is very effective. I mean you can’t get away from it.
[00:08:21.7] MB: And you touched on empathy a moment ago. Tell me about how to sort of leverage that, especially in a situation where somebody listening might think, “How can you have empathy for a terrorist or a hostage taker?”
[00:08:34.7] CV: Right, right and you know what? This is not your grandfather’s empathy either. I mean we’ve learned enough about it over the years and that’s why I changed the term in my book to “tactical empathy”. I mean we know what this is. We know what we’re looking for and we know how it affects people. So I’ll tell you in advance what are the triggers you want to look for and it changes people’s outcomes. It’s the real essence of connecting with someone because everybody can help you.
There is an old saying, “Never be mean to someone who could hurt you by doing nothing,” and there’s pretty much everybody that you interact with can probably hurt you by inaction or choosing not to do something. So if you are willing to accept that that’s true, then the flip side is, pretty much everybody you interact with can help you in some small way if they feel like it and they feel like it when you connect with them, when you have rapport with them. When they feel like you understand them.
When they look at you and they say, “That’s right. I believe in what you just said,” and it can be something as simple as taking your application and then putting them on the bottom of the pile because they didn’t like the way you spoke to them to putting them on the top or maybe taking your application or whatever you want, your request, and directly walk in it and see the boss at that moment. Or it’s the Macy’s sales person who looks two ways to see if the manager is around and then decides to give you the employee discount because they like the way that you talk to them. I’ve had that happen to me a number of times.
You know somebody is always in a position to help you if they feel like it and when you start accumulating this over a long term period of time, it’s a return on your investment and you find yourself with great relationships in business deals, and somebody comes to you and says, “Hey you know what? I looked out for you today. There was this problem coming and I went ahead and dealt with it because I knew it was going to catch you off guard,” and that’s the way you become successful over a long period of time and you’re happier and the people that you do business with like doing business with you.
[00:10:40.3] MB: So how can somebody who’s listening right now apply the lessons that you’ve learned from building empathy or creating tactical empathy for someone like a terrorist or a hostage taker and what are some practical ways they can apply that in their own lives?
[00:10:55.9] CV: Okay, great question and I’m glad you brought it back because the exercise, the challenge is, let’s define tactical empathy. The same way Daniel Goldman calls it cognitive empathy and Goldman says that actually sociopaths are the best at this and that’s simply recognizing what’s driving the other side and then articulating it back to them in a way where they feel hurt. So this is what’s important here is what’s not said.
I’m not saying you agree, I’m not saying you disagree. If I neither agree nor disagree with your position, if I simply understand where you’re coming from and recognize it, that gives me the ability to have empathy with anybody. I can know what drives you without agreeing with it and then I can have empathy with a terrorist or sympathy for the devil. Empathy with a terrorist, not quite the same thing. I’m not agreeing it, I’m not feeling it, I am just seeing it.
And because of that, I can tell you, with Jihadi John, the killer from ISIS, I can tell you what drives him and as soon as I know what drives him because I simply recognize it, now I can influence it, I can move and I can change it. I might not be able to change it a little, I might be able to change it a lot. But I am greedy in my influence and I want to and I am very particular. My dollars are scarce, so I am not spending my dollars when I can spend emotional intelligence and change the outcomes at the same time and with that, it gives me the power to have influence on anybody on the planet.
It might not be a little, it might be a lot. I’m not willing to leave anything on the table so I’ll take whatever influence I can get to try to change the outcome. If you can accept that you only have to see where the other side is coming from to be able to then take apart what their drivers are and maybe dismantle them and rebuild them a little bit, their emotional drivers, you can then have influence on anybody on the planet and that’s what a hostage negotiator does. We put ourselves in a position to influence anybody. We don’t have to like them, we just have to be willing to influence them.
[00:12:54.4] MB: I love that point that it doesn’t matter what your starting point is, you can create influence with anybody on the planet if you are able to really dig in and understand what they want, what they’re feeling and thinking emotionally and what drives them.
[00:13:09.2] CV: Yeah and it’s important to draw the distinction that understanding is not agreement. Now that scares some people. That scares a lot of people. I can understand Bernie Sanders supporters, I can understand Donald Trump supporters, I can understand Hillary Clinton supporters. I can understand all of them and soon as I know where they’re coming from, it gives me an opportunity to adjust where they’re going.
[00:13:34.1] MB: You touched on this concept a moment ago, the idea of, and maybe it’s a little bit different, but the idea of mirroring. Can you talk a little bit about that?
[00:13:43.0] CV: Yeah, sure. A mirror is, and it’s not the mirror that everybody else thinks of. Most people see mirroring as, “Let me mirror their body language, let me stand like they stand. If they’ve got their chin in their right hand, let me put my right hand in my chin. If they’re leaning against the wall, let me lean against the wall.” The mirroring of the physical body language, that’s not it. It’s simpler and it’s actually more powerful.
The mirroring a hostage negotiator does, what the difference is, the mirroring is just the repetition of the last one to three words that someone has said. The last one to three words that someone has said? Exactly. Just exactly like that, and it’s a great simple tool that feels enormously awkward when you do it. When I am training people I have them do it right away because the biggest barrier to these skills is not their complexity or the intellectual challenge of understanding them.
The barrier here is feeling awkward because it’s different. You feel awkward, the other person feels listened to. A mirror triggers, punches of button in somebody else’s mind. It’s like reword what you just said and go on. It’s always a command. It’s the closest thing that a lot of people that I have trained they say, “Wow, this is Jedi mind trick. A Jedi mind trick? It’s a Jedi mind trick.” Because people love it and they want to go on.
It was a funny story that, it made me look funny and that’s why I included it in the book. I had an employee that was mirroring me for 45 minutes once and I didn’t even know it. My son was sitting there and finally he couldn’t take it anymore, he goes, “Stop at doing it, don’t you see what he’s doing to you?” And I was like, “No, what’s he doing?” “He’s been mirroring you for the last 45 minutes, you didn’t even know it. You just enjoyed talking so much he kept you going.”
[00:15:33.1] MB: So it’s really just as simple as repeating back the three or four words that they said?
[00:15:37.9] CV: Right, you pick up one to three words and the problem that solves also is like most of us when we say what we mean, we often use words that are very carefully selected for our own brain and we know what we mean by that but there is a pretty good chance actually, it isn’t exactly the way the other person is thinking and your perfect words are kind of missing the mark and if somebody says, “What do you mean by that?”
Well most likely they repeat the exact same words only louder. It’s like an American trying to be understood in France. I just say it again, only louder and what a mirror does is it flips that switch so the person will repeat what they’ve said in different words. It’s how you get someone to paraphrase themselves is what it really does. It triggers a paraphrase and you don’t have to paraphrase for them, you let them paraphrase and you’re going to increase your meaning.
The other thing you’re going to do, you mentioned moments before, it buys moments for you in the conversation so you get more time to think and the other thing that mirroring does and I’ve got a client of mine who’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, he mirrors the other sides negotiation position. So key words in it every time, because he knows how they respond tells them whether or not they’re firm or whether or not they’re open for conversation. And when you get someone to paraphrase themselves, that gives you a real clear idea of the firmness of their position.
[00:17:07.9] MB: So the idea of buying moments in a conversation, I know you’ve talked about the importance of listening and I want to dig into that, but also the idea that if you’re focused on only on explaining yourself and explaining your arguments, it’s really, really hard to kind of step back and understand what the other side is saying.
[00:17:25.1] CV: Right, yeah good point. You need this moments because some people have described the art of negotiation as letting the other side have your way. Well how do you let the other side have your way? You’ve got to get the other guy talking, which means you have to be quiet and you have to keep them talking. Winning in a negotiation is not beating the other side.
Because when you beat the other side, actually you leave resentment planted in them and they want to pay you back if they feel beaten and what’s going to happen is it’s going to erode your implementation and as a human being or as a company, revenue is realized when it comes in not when it’s promised, which means you don’t make your profit when the deal is signed. You make your profit as the deal is implemented, even if it’s in an agreement between a husband and wife. You both realize value as you carry out what you agreed to. People who feel beaten aren’t going to want to implement. They’re not going to want you to realize your revenue or again, they’re going to hurt you when they can by doing nothing.
So you buy these moments so you let the other side talk that you find out what’s possible, never be so sure of what you want that you wouldn’t take something better. You’ve got to hit the other side what those better things might be and then when they came up with a great idea that you didn’t think of, you look at them and you congratulate them for how smart they are and then they’re going to implement. You’re both going to like it and you’re both be better off and so you’ve got to let the other side go first in order to get there.
[00:18:55.9] MB: So going back a little bit to talk more about how we can be better listeners, tell me about the concept of active listening and how can we cultivate that?
[00:19:04.8] CV: Well, it’s not just active but it’s proactive. So you cultivate that first, the first and simplest way to cultivate it is to shut the front door. Is to go silent and, you know, we talk about moments, what’s a moment? A moment is three seconds. Give the other guy a chance to speak and then actually try to paraphrase what he said or ask a clarifying question. There’s great power and clarity when you’re trying to pull clarity out of the other side.
Paraphrase what they’ve said. Mirror the last three words of what they just said to get them to paraphrase. You’re designing a communication process that draws the other side out, which the other thing that you want the other side to do is you want them to show you their hidden cards. In every conversation, in every negotiation, there are things that we’re holding close to the vest that’s really important to us. That’s why we’re holding them close to the vest.
There are hidden cards if you will are proprietary information, are secret information that happens every time. If you are holding cards, so are they and where the real magic lies is where those cards overlap. So you’ve got to get the other side to trust you enough by listening, what we used to call active listening, which is not just sitting there with your mouth shut and glaring at them intensely. But it’s asking them a good question, asking them what or how.
The two biggest great questions start with the words “what and how”. Or trying to draw them out with some clarification and then give the conversation back to them. Most of us when we talk, we want to talk for half an hour. You know, ask them a question and let them start talking again. Encourage them. It’s a very encouraging process but it’s very much how you get at their black swans, there are hidden information, their secret hidden cards where you make great deals.
[00:21:06.2] MB: The two greatest questions start with the words what or how, explain that?
[00:21:10.6] CV: What and how, people loved to be asked how to do something. People loved to be asked, “What about this works for you?” Of the list of open ended questions that you could use. What and how are the most powerful because they make the other side feel good. In many cases, you’ve just done though is especially with how, you’ve caused them to take a look at the overall situation and the context of it and you’ve also caused them, you know, one of my first favorite way of saying no is, “How am I supposed to do that?”
There’s two things about saying that. First of all, it’s those words but secondly and even more importantly is your tone of voice. Because people can either feel like you are asking for help or you are making an accusation. I can say, “How am I supposed to do that when you present me with a difficult challenge that I can’t accomplish?” Or I could say, “How am I supposed to that!?” The exact same words but completely different meaning which is an accusation and I am signaling that I don’t like what you want and maybe even then I don’t like you, which is bad for the communication.
So the how questions are one of the most flexible things combined with tone of voice to draw the other side out or even to set a boundary and say, “Look, I can’t do that, and I need you to take a look at the whole context here and I need you to look at me when I say how am I supposed to that?” And it lets you know that I want to cooperate with you but what you just put on the table just doesn’t work.
[00:22:42.9] MB: And you touched on this in that explanation, tell me more about open ended questions and why they’re so important?
[00:22:49.6] CV: Well they invite the other side to talk, they show that you’re willing to listen and they are the most flexible overall. You can actually, and some people have been running circles with the how and what questions, so how do you follow up a how and what question is extremely important also. Every CEO in the planet has been asked, “What keeps you awake at night?” And they’re tired of that question. Not that they’re tired of that question but as soon as they’re done answering, the person that asked them doesn’t listen to the answer in any way, shape or form.
And that gets back to a little bit of the active listening or the proactive listening I’ve talked about before. If somebody answers your question, somebody answers your how or what question, you’ve got to show them that you are paying attention and that you just didn’t have a preset list of things that you want to say regardless of what their response is. But there is a list of what’s called a reporter’s question. It’s the who, what, when and why, how and where? And the how and what questions actually invite the longer answers. If I ask you “when, where, who,” those are all very short answers, very concise answers that don’t invite a lot of conversation.
If I ask you why even when I want to know why, you feel accused. Why did you do that? Why did you wear that shirt? Why did you get up at 7 o’clock this morning? So one of the advantages I have as a hostage negotiators having used these skills in literally every culture on the planet, interesting side note, every hostage negotiation team whether in Japan, whether they’re in China or whether they’re in Nigeria, whether they’re in Latin America uses the same skills and these skills have been road tested in every culture and they work on use because we’re human beings.
The why question in every culture on the planet, we always ask why when we think someone is doing something wrong. We’re like battered children for why, we always feel accused and so that’s why we knock that off of our list of questions asked. Now you may need to know why, you just turn it to what question, instead of saying, “Why did you do that?” You say, “What made you do that?” So if you throw all the rest of these out, you’re left with the what and how questions and they’re the most powerful.
[00:25:06.6] MB: Tell me the story of Jose Escobar’s kidnapping?
[00:25:10.4] CV: We used to use, Jose Escobar was really when we moved completely away from the classic proof of life question, you know, “What was the name of Jose’s first dog when he was a kid?” The what questions that are designed to enlist a one word answer and there are security questions for our computer, there are security questions for our bank accounts, our credit cards, it’s a question that sounds like an open ended question and it’s usually a one or two word answer and only one person on the planet can answer it.
That used to be the proof of life question, and we realized that we won’t get long answers. We didn’t get that much out of it. It was real easy for the inside to answer it, it took no effort on their part and bang-bang, we proved somebody was alive but we really didn’t get anywhere else and we switched that to, “How do we know Jose’s alive and how are we supposed to pay you if we don’t know he’s alive?” And that massively changed the dynamic because the other side, killers, terrorist, murderers, it made them stop and think. It made them look at the context, it made them look at us.
It accomplished all the things that we want to good how question to do and the thing that I realized more than anything else was because he turned dilemma in business is, how do you get to the decision maker? Well, kidnapping organizations are businesses and the decision maker is never the negotiator just like every business negotiation. We found out after the fact is that we kept asking the representative, the negotiator of the group acting on the decision maker’s behalf, “How do we know Pepe’s alive? How are we supposed to pay if we don’t know if he’s alive?”
Their representative kept going back to the jungle and huddling up with the rest of the kidnappers saying, “This is what I’m being asked, this is the answer that I’ve been giving. I just want to know if this is the best way for us to proceed based on the question,” and they spend a tremendous amount of time, we found out afterwards, talking about whether or not they were going to take Jose to town and put him on a phone.
When we realized that that adjustment from “what was the name of Pepe’s first dog”, or Jose’s first dog. I call him Pepe now and then because that’s actually his nickname and how do we know Jose is alive? It changes the whole dynamic on the other side and they get together and they worked together in ways that we know that we had never made kidnapping groups work together before. Jose ultimately escaped and part of us getting them to work together and slow the situation down contributed to his opportunity to escape. So that was our adjustment, getting away from one word answers to the how question and we gained a tremendous amount of power over the other side when we did that.
[00:28:00.5] MB: And how can that same proof of life concept be applied in a business context?
[00:28:05.3] CV: Yeah, it’s a great question and it gets back to in business, the primary objective is to get to the decision maker, get past the blocker get to the decision maker. That’s faulty because first of all, that treats the blocker, who’s the important player on their team, as if they need to be dismissed and that sends a bad signal and it sets your blocker up as actually a dill killer on down the line because never be mean to someone who can hurt you by doing nothing.
As soon as you’re dismissive of the blocker, the blocker now begins to slow you down or chooses to let you be hurt by things that they can hurt you with inaction. So we need that blocker, we need the blocker to feel included to get to the decision maker and the how questions begin to involve the blocker in our solution. When you’re talking to the blocker in business, the representatives, the sales rep, the secretary whoever it might be, you would ask things like, “How are your objectives proceeding with your company? How can we work with you so that everybody is better off? How does what I propose fit into what you guys are trying to accomplish?”
“How does what I propose fit into what you guys are trying to accomplish”, now suddenly makes your blocker feel involved and wants you to succeed because they are going to answer you and they’re going to want their answer to succeed and as soon as they give you that answer, you now have a collaborator on the other side as oppose to a blocker and they now start to work with you to work with the decision maker who’s the person you’re trying to get to.
Because once you get to the decision maker, after you’re done talking to them, the decision maker is going to go back to the blocker and say, “What did you think of this guy” or gal? “How did they interact with you?” They’re going to say, “Thank you for bringing this person to me because this fits into our objective. So they’re going to say, “Don’t ever let that guy through again.” Your blocker is going to have a tremendous to them how all of that is teed up to the decision maker and that’s what the how questions are designed to do, pull the other side together behind your objective.
[00:30:11.2] MB: That’s fascinating. So what are some of the other parallels you have seen or some of the ideas that have crossed over from hostage negotiation to business negotiation or negotiation in everyday life?
[00:30:24.1] CV: Well the other side always wants more. They just don’t know where it is and as soon as they feel listened to, they’re going to be more amenable to other ideas. There are three basic types in negotiation and they get us back to the caveman response because the caveman part of our brain, the amygdala, that where every thought goes through there. Evolution hasn’t evolved that out of our brain, it’s still there and so when the caveman saw something, he thought, “I run from it, I kill it, or I make friends with it and it becomes part of my tribe.”
Fight, flight or make friends. I eat it, it eats me, I mate with it, however you want to describe those three basic responses but in each one of those responses, coming to an agreement is a secondary benefit. There’s always something more important to the other side than coming to an agreement and part of that is always in being understood. So if I can gain leverage on you, if I can get more of what I want by not spending a dime but by simply letting you know I understand, then I open up the opportunity to get more for me and to have you like it.
Stuart Diamond wrote a book that I loved the title of it’s called Getting More. It sounds very selfish but it’s in fact what we all want. We all want to do better, getting more is also about having, from my context, it’s also getting more by having better relationships. By having someone want to collaborate, by having the same person want to do business with you again instead of you needing to search for new business counterparts all the time.
I have tremendous respect for Donald Trump and what he’s accomplished as a negotiator and as a business man. Understand that he needs to change his business venues every few years with his very aggressive approach because people get tired of that aggressive approach. When was the last time he put up a building in New York City that came anywhere near to Trump Tower at the Grand Central Station? Magnificent pieces of real estate that he did back in the 80’s.
Having to look for new business partners all the time means that he has to continually move from place to place to place. Not all of us have the ability to do this. Most of us like Warren Buffett would, I’d rather be like Warren Buffett because he’s got to be not only the richest guy in Omaha but he maybe one of the richest people on the planet. He hasn’t gone from place to place to place to place and not all of us want to move from place to place to place almost as if we’re in the witness security program. We want to stay in one place and we want to flourish and we want to prosper.
And you do that by having great relationships and having people wanting to continue to do business with you and that’s a lot of what this is really designed to do.
[00:33:20.7] MB: So you talked about the difference in style between Trump and Warren Buffett. Tell me about how that plays into this sort of the three different negotiating styles, which you touched on as well, and describe a little bit what each of those styles are.
[00:33:36.0] CV: Well you know one style is a very extremely assertive. I supposed that even more say it’s sort of aggressive and the aggressive style is intoxicating because you beat the other side and you have victory and you celebrate. The problem with that is, the more people you beat, the fewer people want to do business with you and what really comes to pass is as I was talking to an executive in an energy company in Boston several years ago, the CEO of the company.
In his industry. He developed a relationship of being a very tough negotiator and after a while, no one would make deals with him. Everybody that he talked to if by definition you did business with him, he won that meant you lost, nobody wanted to do business with him and he was in the position where he actually had a deal on his desk that he negotiated every single point with the CEO from the other company and the CEO refused to sign.
Having negotiated and agreed to it at every point when it came to signing at the bottom he wouldn’t sign and he said, “I know why this guy won’t do this. I’ve got such a reputation as a tough negotiator. If he signs a deal that means he lost and he knows his board’s going to fire him because he lost,” and that’s the residue of being the very assertive guy. When you always win and the other side always loses then pretty soon people lose their appetite for that and nobody wants to do business with you and with all due respect for Mr. Trump, his business is spread all over the world.
He doesn’t stay in one place. He’s not putting building up in New York City anymore, he’s not building casinos in Atlantic City anymore, he’ll build a golf course or a resort in one location and then he will have to move on and my assessment is he’s left such a toxic residue with each deal that people don’t want to continue to do business with him. That’s one type, now he actually prefers to be understood, interestingly enough, and the book that he’s gotten some criticism over.
As to whether or not he wrote it, I don’t know the art of the deal, I don’t know if he wrote it or not and his co-author is bad mouthing him now which is another interesting residue of being assertive but I read that a long time ago and he was more than willing to talk about and described the people that could handle him and there are people that have handled him. His son in law is one of them. His son in law was not one of the assertive-aggressive types, his son in law is very analytical.
His son in law is very quiet, Ivanka’s husband I believe and in this is a great description of what I refer to as the analytical guy. The analytical guy doesn’t like open conflict. He sees it as being extremely non-productive. The analytical guy thinks things through and you will never discuss a problem with an analytical person until they have at least one solution and probably multiple solutions. So the analytical guy, the non-open combat guy can do very well with the assertive negotiator and you see that play out in Donald Trump’s organization with the people that he seems to have the most respect for.
So that’s the second type, and then the third type is the person whose relationship oriented and they make friends. They bring you into their tribe, they want you to be part of their life, they want to have a long term ongoing relationship with you, they’re likeable and there’s an interesting statistic that people who are likeable, you’re six times more likely to make a deal with someone you like and that becomes a very strong tactic to be brought into a negotiation. You can understand that if you are likeable, people will want to do business with you.
That sounds crazy, right? Why would you want to do business with somebody you like as oppose to somebody who feels like they’ve got punched in the face by you. So likeability is the third core attribute and in my view the great negotiator combines all three tribes. A great negotiator is assertive without being aggressive. A great negotiator thinks things through and comes up with multiple options. A great negotiator develops a good relationship with you and is very likeable and you want to continue to do business with them. So whatever your default type is, I’m here to tell you don’t discard it, add to it and add to it by evolving and improving not by changing.
[00:38:03.2] MB: You’ve said before that you would never lie to anyone that you’re not going to kill. Tell me about that?
[00:38:09.4] CV: Yeah, you know, that came up because when I went through Harvard Law School’s negotiation course as a student and I was, I’m the only FBI agent, I think, that every went through the class who wasn’t a student. They said, “You know, what do you feel about lying?” Because they are very much against lying. Lying is a bad idea and I said, “Well as a hostage negotiator, I’d never lied to anybody that I am not going to kill and even then, I’d probably don’t do it because somebody they know is going to find out about it and I’m going to have to pay for it.”
I mean lying is this great seductive trap, “Maybe I can just get what I want right now if I tell this one lie and I’ll fix it later.” Well there’s a couple of problems with that. You just set a ticking time bomb on yourself that’s going to blow up because nobody likes being lied to. That’s the first problem. The second problem is, what if they were trying to trap you in a lie to begin with?
Most people, the practiced liars try to trick us into lying to see if we will. I mean they see it a million miles away and there are some negotiators that actually try to seduce you into a lie early on so they can see your first tale. They will ask you a question they know that you won’t give you a straight direct response too. So many times the temptation to lie is actually a trap set by the other side. All right, so let’s pretend that it is not a trap and most of the time it is. If I lie to you, you’re going to make me pay for it and then their trust is broken, you’ll never going to believe me again.
And if I can get away with that lie, and I never have to deal with you again, since you’re in my world to begin with, you’re going to tell somebody that I lied to you and my reputation is going to precede me. There is an old phrase, “Do something right, three people know about it. Do something wrong, 12 people know about it.” So there is a 12X multiplier on lying and that gets around and then pretty soon, you’re done in your community and you’re going to have to join the witness security program because you’re going to have to move on. So there’s just so many things wrong with lying. It’s just such a bad idea. I’m not interested in letting myself in for those kind of problems.
[00:40:20.6] MB: So how do you feel about compromise in a negotiation?
[00:40:25.2] CV: You knew you were going to ask me that question. I hate compromise. The spirit of compromise is a great thing, the practice of comprise is a bad thing. The best descriptor for compromise is I’ve got this great gray suit on and I’m not sure whether or not I want to wear a black shoes or brown shoes, so I compromise and I wear one black and one brown. That’s compromise. “I’m not sure if you’re right, you’re not sure if I’m right, we’ll take a little bit of each one’s idea and let’s put it together and see how it works,” and a lot of times compromise is a little bit lazy.
Look, I’m sorry for those of you that compromise but take a little more time, find a better outcome. Compromise is watering down solutions and then the secondary part of the problem with compromise is we always feel loses twice as much as we feel equivalent gains. So when I compromise, I feel I’ve given in and I’ve lost something and it’s going to sting me and for me to feel even with you, I need you to lose too. Compromise is a path to lose-lose and then if a loss feels twice as much as an equivalent gain, if I lost five, I want you to lose 10. And if I make you lose 10, then when you lose 10, you’re going to make me want to lose 20 to get even, and it’s this vicious spiral and I’ve heard a lot of people describe negotiation as, “Well we were both unhappy so then I know it was a great deal.”
That’s not what I want. I don’t want to be unhappy with the deal and I don’t want to be at a deal where I am not satisfied until I make you feel unhappy. It becomes this vicious spiral and if you just take a little more time and maybe hear the other side out, maybe they’ll throw something on the table that you really like and instead of asking them to compromise, you take their better solution. That gets you out of the vicious spiral and maybe put you into a virtuous circle where things are getting better all the time instead of getting each other back. So compromise is a dangerous whirlpool trap that I don’t want to get sucked into.
[00:42:35.7] MB: Tell me about the idea of shaping what is fair in a negotiation?
[00:42:40.7] CV: Fair is the F word. You just used the F word on me in a negotiation. Oh my God! Fair is this emotional, bang-bang word that if I say, “Look, I just want what’s fair,” which is said all the time, I’ve just accused you of being unfair. It’s what manipulative negotiators do. It’s what the NFL owners did when they lock the players out. The NFL players said, “We’ll be happy to come back to work as soon as you open the books and show us what you’re offering us is equitable based on revenue,” and the owners didn’t want to answer that question.
So they said, “We’ve giving the players a fair offer.” It was a cover for a position of weakness. We use the F word, the word fair, when we’re afraid we can’t defend our position but somehow we’re losing. So it’s actually a great tip of the iceberg window into what’s going on with the other side. Nobody ever uses the word fair when they are coming from a position of strength ever. Because if you’ve got a position of strength, they’ll just lay it out.
We often use fair when we’re afraid of a loss coming our way and we can’t defend ourselves from that loss and interestingly enough, I tell, in all the masters of business administration programs that I teach in, watch for the word fair and I’ll bet you you’d see it come up in nearly every negotiation you have and I’ll be darned if that isn’t true. So people are covering positions of weakness all the time and fair is the word that comes up more frequently than price and is always an indicator of the other side’s feeling of insecurity.
[00:44:32.0] MB: That’s fascinating. I love that idea that when somebody starts talking about fairness, it’s really a tell for weakness or lack of strength.
[00:44:40.2] CV: Yeah, it is.
[00:44:43.2] MB: So changing gears a little bit, and this something I’m fascinated about, tell me about the Chase Bank robbery?
[00:44:49.6] CV: Yeah. Well, bank robbers with hostages happen all the time in the movies and in the real world that we live in, it happens about once every 20 years in the entire country. So I was fortunate enough to negotiate at the Chase Bank robbery with hostages and literally it was in New York City and the last bank robbery with hostages in New York City was 20 years before that. We get into this bank robbery and we expect bank robbers upset about being trapped and we get a stone cold manipulative guy on the other side who is absolutely convinced that he can work his way out of this and it was the first time I learned about the use of personal pronouns.
We couldn’t get this guy to use “I, me or my, I want”, you know, “this is my idea”, “this isn’t making me feel good”. We couldn’t get him to use a singular personal pronoun to save his life. He always used “we, they and them”, he always talked about the guys, the other guys in the bank as being the more dangerous ones. You know, “I’m not sure because I don’t know what they’re going to do.” He was always laying it off on them. I’ve came to found out that this is the hallmark of powerful negotiators in business. If you’re sitting across the table from someone that is constantly talking about the people that are not at the table, the rest of his team. You know, “My board of directors,” the guys that are not in the room that is a sign of the dominant decision maker in the group.
They are covering their influence with plural pronouns because they do not want you to corner then and in the Chase Manhattan bank robbery, we had the mastermind of the bank robbery on the phone from the very beginning. He’d manipulated everybody and he was hiding that manipulation from everybody and he didn’t want us to know that he was the ring leader. So he was happy to pick up the phone and tell us about the other guys that were inside and he had to ask permission from them. He was constantly laying it off on them.
I saw this in a kidnapping in the Philippines about 10 years after that and have come to learn that the dominant decision maker will avoid singular pronouns like the plague. He’s hiding or she is hiding their influence. So you’re talking to somebody who’s always using plural pronouns and trying to defer to others, you’re talking to a powerful and influential person and they know it and they don’t want you to corner them and that was the biggest lesson in the Chase Manhattan Bank.
[00:47:25.8] MB: That’s such a fascinating story and obviously an incredibly important negotiating lesson as well, thank you for sharing that. What would one piece of homework be that you might have for some of the people listening to this podcast?
[00:47:39.5] CV: You know watch the interactions around you just a little. Watch people talking at each other because they both want to go first and watch when one of them gets tired and the other keeps talking at the tired person, you’ll see the tired person try to get the other side to shut up by saying, “You’re right, you’re right, you’re right.” Watch the number of agreements that one person thinks was made when the other person just said, “You’re right,” with no intention of following through.
Study the dynamics around you a little bit and you’ll see that if you will listen first, you’re going to save a lot of time and you’ll see that “you’re right” is what people say to you to get you to be quiet and when you can get out of that, the homework then is try to get people to say “that’s right” instead of “you’re right” and then see what happens. I can promise you that amazing things will happen.
[00:48:46.5] MB: What are some resources you would recommend for listeners who want to do some more research about negotiation and some of the things we’ve discussed today?
[00:48:54.8] CV: All right, so I’m going to say I want you to buy my book, Never Split the Difference. I think you’re going to get a return in your investment before you finish the first chapter. I think it’s a great book primarily because I got a great co-author who wrote a readable book and the feedback that we’ve gotten back constantly from everybody that’s read it is, “It’s useable, it’s counter intuitive, and it’s an easy read.” It’s not unusual to have somebody tell me they’ve read it multiple times. So I’m going to ask you to buy my book.
Now, we’ve got a bunch of stuff on the website, blackswanltd.com, that’s complimentary. It’s free. We give away a lot of free stuff. We’ve got a twice a month negotiation advisory newsletter that’s very short pieces to give you useable information that comes out twice a month. It’s called The Edge and it’s free. We’ve got a variety of different short PDF reports that will supplement your negotiation. Those are free, we’ve got some e-mail negotiation lessons that we charge you for and I think that they’re a great buy. You are going to get seven times your value out of anything that you buy from us and you’re going to get tremendous amount of value off our website and the free stuff also, blackswanltd.com.
[00:50:20.0] MB: And I can agree, Chris’s book is amazing and he obviously, anybody listening to this can tell that he has been through some incredible, and incredibly difficult negotiations and there are a ton of lessons from his book. Well Chris, this has been amazing. I’m so fascinated with your story and your background and all the work that you have done. I just wanted to say thank you very much for being on the Science of Success.
[00:50:43.1] CV: Man, you are awesome. Thank you for having me as a guest.