Chris Voss discusses strategies and tips he learnt that served as the foundation of his career working as an FBI hostage negotiator. These are not hacks or quick fixes to manipulate others, rather, tactics based on psychological principles to guide towards greater chances of a favourable outcome in  negotiations.

Among some of the more prominent concepts are:

Focus: on what your counterpart has to say. Let them talk, and talk. Slow down your negotiation so they feel and know they are heard.

Voice: Your voice and demeanour are more important than what you have to say in how you are perceived. Radiate warmth and acceptance, with a playful positive low voice and a smile.

Mirroring: Repeat the other's  last few words -  say the last 3 -  to them, to get them talking more or also if you disagree in order to do so without being disagreeable.

Tactical empathy: Listen, understand, and visualize yourself in your counterpart's shoes to understand better their feelings and what is behind these feelings. Then, vocalize their feelings - label them.

Labelling: Spot their feelings and calmly repeat their emotions to them in words. "It seems.../sounds like.../looks like....". Hold your silence after labelling, don't explain. Let it sink. They will often clarify whether they agree or disagree, and expatiate.

Accusation audit: List the most terrible thing your opponent could say about you upfront. This takes the sting out as well as relieves you both. If you put out the accusation against yourself, even if it's what they might have said, they are more likely to empathize rather than letting them say it themselves or think it. e.g. “You may feel like we treated you unfairly…”

Master No: "No" psychologically protects and puts us in a place where we can relax and better consider our possibilities. It's the start, not the end of dialogue. "No" is not necessarily rejection but often "I'm not yet ready to agree, I want something else, I need more information, I do not understand."  Make your counterpart say No. Bait them with a No question. People need to feel autonomous and in control. "No", and permission to say it, gives them that.  Push to the point where you’re no longer afraid of No, rather you seek it. Change “do you have some time to talk” to “is now a bad time to talk”? Humans are loss averse. To rejuvenate someone's interest in an opportunity, dangle a question in a form where "No" will be the answer to keep chances of benefiting. "Have you given up on XYZ"? It's easy for people to mask their intentions in Yes, but not so much in No. In cases where your counterpart's response is "No" rejecting your desired result, follow it up with "Ok, what about it does not work for you” or “it seems there's something here that bothers you."

That's right: Ask questions tailored to, or use summaries to trigger - and get your adversary to say "that's right". It's invisible to them but is a gateway to them accepting or being convinced about what you are trying to establish. When they say "that's right", they get the feeling they have assessed what you said and found it correct of their own accord. That you resonate with their cause.

Calibrated questions: Use calibrated open-ended questions with a calm tone to guide your counterpart to understand the issue, while they maintain an illusion of control. Use when, what, where and how. "How am I supposed to do that? What can I do to make this better for us? How would you like me to proceed?" Open-ended calibrated questions get your counterpart to work for you and invest effort into your solution. They get to come up with answers and also contemplate your problem when making their demands. Avoid framing questions as "why" questions. Why easily comes across as accusatory e.g. "why did you do XYZ' vs "what caused you to do XYZ".  Use "what" and "how". 

Neutralize negative, reinforce positive: Acknowledge negative at the beginning of any conversation. "I’m an asshole for doing xxx, I made a huge mistake with yyy." Furthermore, label the underlying emotion that is causing a particular behaviour rather than confront the behaviour. "It seems you feel frustrated that..." rather than mentioning the table they banged. Then replace the negative feeling or emotion with positive solution-based thoughts.

Fairness: We are so driven by "fairness" that we put in a lot of effort to reject perceived unfairness, even at a substantial often deal-breaking cost. It if often beneficial to communicate to your adversary that you are genuinely intend to be fair, however if improperly worded, this could have the opposite effect of sounding like you are accusing them of being unfair. For example if you said to them "I'm just trying to be fair." Carefully word in your intent of "fairness" in your negotiation without sounding nefarious. You could start the negotiation for example, with “ I want you to feel like you are being treated fairly at all times, so please stop me at anytime if you feel I’m being unfair and we’ll address it.”

Tone: The most important first step to negotiation: regulate your emotions. Pause. Think. Step back. Don't react, ask a calibrated question.

Listening: All negotiations are driven by underling needs which you will be much better off once you've known. If you know what emotionally drives the interest of your adversary, you can frame your deal better in a way that resonates with them. Who has control in a negotiation? The listener - if he can harness the talker’s revelations to his goals.

Anchoring: We have a bias to give weight to the first piece of information - such as a number  or price - put on the table and use it as a starting point to negotiate from. Use anchoring to set the starting price high, however also be alert for when your adversary is anchoring and aware of tips to counter it.

Combining and putting to practice

  • Combine labelling with praise to boost your counterpart's cooperation.
  • Use mirroring and labelling, you ping pong between "what's that?" and "I hear you".
  • Use people's loss aversion when you want to offer less, combined with accusation audit to disarm and lower their chances of feeling insulted.
  • Clear the road before advertising the destination: You may need to label the other's emotion correctly for them to proceed with you else they remain stuck on their blocking emotional barriers.
  • When bargaining, start with 65% of your target price and increase in 3 steps to 85%, 95% then 100% but only after your counterpart made another offer and you have thrown in intermittently a few calibrated questions. Your conceding and moving say from 65 to 85 % makes them more willing to reciprocate - just as doing a favour for someone makes them more likely to do one back. And decreasing raises and ending in non-round numbers will get your counterpart to believe that he is squeezing you for all you're worth whereas you are really getting the number you want.
  • Express passion for your counterpart’s goals and their ability to achieve them.
  • Many more requests are granted when there is a “because” following them (even when the reason doesn’t make complete sense).
  • Rather than perceive your counterpart as irrational, remember they just might be acting based on wrong information, limited in power to act or having interests you do not yet know.
  • We mostly do not fear people, but conflict. Do not avoid honest clear conflict. It will get you the best car price, the higher salary and the largest donation. See it as the basis for negotiation and an opportunity to bring in empathy.
  • Face to face interaction reveals much more than research, especially in unguarded “off-screen moments” when your counterpart might tend to reveal verbal or non-verbal information.
  • Prepare for your negotiations: labels, calibrated questions, responses etc. Do not be taken aback by extreme anchors. Smile when you speak and it will mask the moments you may have been caught off guard. The guy across the table is not the problem. The situation is. Remember “when the pressure is on, you don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to your highest level of preparation.”
  • When you get a deal, to be sure the other party will implement properly, ask them how they will do it.
  • Analyze the negotiation space to know who the other players not at the table are, and ensure that they are also on board with the deal.
  • If you're unsure your counterpart is committed or truthful about something, as them questions that make them agree to it 3 times, better still formulating the questions to get them to agree, in 3 different ways.
  • Clever negotiators use "we" rather than "I " giving the impression that lots of power lies in other parties, in order not to be cornered in their negotiations. Beware, often people who employ "we" can be the most influential while those using "I" can be powerless pawns.
  • Saying your name can have a humanizing effect and soften tension. "My name is XY", while offering a handshake. It's also common knowledge that saying the other party's name in negotiations has positive effects.
  • When negotiating, everyone has some information that they are not giving out and there are pieces of information which we never imagined, that would be game changing if they were revealed. To get better chances of uncovering these, ask lots of questions, listen carefully to the answers while paying attention to non-verbal cues and labeling aloud observations to your adversary. "Don't look to verify what you expect. If you do, that's what you'll find."
  • To get leverage in crucial deals, don't only show your adversary that you can provide what they want, show them they have something concrete to loose if the deal is not made.
  • Use leverage:
    • Positive leverage: you have something your partner wants - use it to get a better deal.
    • Negative leverage: you know what worries your counterpart or what they fear losing - label it, make it clear without attacking them. "It seems you strongly value delivering on time (If their not taking the offer implies they risk not delivering on time.]
    • Normative leverage: You discover what your partner's norms and standards are and use them when possible to your advantage as people do not want to be hypocrites - they want [to show] that their actions match their beliefs.

 Monetary [salary] negotiations

  • For salary negotiations, say "people at top corporations like XYZ typically earn between X and Y amount" where X is the figure that actually works for you.
  • Use non-monetary things to your advantage by offering what may not be important to you but useful to your counterpart when you anchor high, and asking for what may not be important to them but useful to you when they are offering low. Be very pleasant all the while. Big smile!
  • Use odd numbers: requesting $6,725 seems more like it was properly thought out and calculated than $6,000.
  • In general, let the other party go first stating monetary transactions, lest you start too low. Going first and anchoring a very high figure also has its benefits though.
  • Define success for your work and conditions for your next raise.
  • Asking "what does it take to be successful here" gives your manager an opening to advice and have a stake in seeing you succeed.

Preparing for Negotiations

  1. Think of best and worst case outcomes, but come with a flexible enough mind to get information from your counterpart to use and negotiate upward of your goal. People who expect more and articulate it get more. Set optimistic reasonable clearly defined goals.

  2. Write a summary of known facts – to get “that’s right” from your counterpart.

  3. Prepare 3-5 labels. Think of accusations they might make no matter how ridiculous and prepare corresponding labels. “It seems you value/don’t like/are reluctant to…”. Rehearse and role play.

  4. Prepare 3-5 calibrated questions that reveal value and dive into your counterpart's motivations. "What are we trying to accomplish? What’s the biggest challenge you face? How would you like me to proceed?". Then label some more.

  5. Prepare a list of non-cash items that could be of use to you. 

Good luck on your next negotiation!