EPISODE 368
Ashley Stahl & Chris Voss
How to Get What You Want in Any Negotiation (with Ashley Stahl and Chris Voss)

In this episode, Mark hands the mic to Ashley Stahl, a former counterterrorism professional turned career coach. In this feed drop from Ashley’s You Turn podcast, Ashley interviews Chris Voss, the lead international kidnapping investigator for the FBI, author of Never Split the Difference, and CEO of the Black Swan Group.

Ashley Stahl & Chris Voss
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Show Notes

Today, Mark hands the mic to Ashley Stahl, a former counterterrorism professional turned career coach. In this feed drop from Ashley’s You Turn podcast, Ashley interviews Chris Voss, the lead international kidnapping investigator for the FBI, author of Never Split the Difference, and CEO of the Black Swan Group. In this masterclass on negotiation, Chris and Ashley cover salary negotiation tactics, how to use empathy to get what you want, negotiation psychology, and so much more.

Key Takeaways:

  • Never go first. Chris says the secret to gaining the upper hand in negotiations is giving the other side the illusion of control. That’s why the smartest and best negotiators let the other side go first. He who speaks first loses, since you’re giving the other side a lot of information right off the bat, and you’re not learning anything you can use in your favor. If you’re asked a question first, respond, but don’t answer the question right away. Pivot as much as possible back to the other person and make them divulge first.
  • There are no bad teams, only bad leaders. Chris says that if his people are responding to him poorly, then he’s failing as a leader, and he needs to make some changes. The more work-focused a leader gets, the more the work product suffers. If a leader isn’t happy with the job somebody’s doing, they’re likely treating that person as a commodity and not as a human being. Make sure you’re spending enough time nurturing and encouraging your people and finding out who they are.
  • Empathy means understanding, not caring. Empathy has become a synonym for caring about the other side. But Chris says empathy is really about completely understanding where the other side is coming from. If you need to like, agree with, or sympathize with someone to exercise empathy, then what happens if you don’t like them? What happens if you don’t agree with them? You can’t exercise empathy if those are necessary requirements. But if you don’t need any of those things, you can exercise empathy with any human being on the planet.
  • Seek first to understand, then be understood. In any negotiation, this is the fastest sequence to get your way. You don’t have to agree that the other person’s perspective is true, fair, or even reasonable. All you have to do is reflect their perspective back to them, so that they feel like you understand them.
  • Focus on fixing losses vs. accomplishing gains. The reasons why we won’t do something are more important in our decision-making than the reasons we will do something. 70% of sales are made by people trying to fix losses, not accomplish gains. So in any given negotiation, the reasons why someone doesn’t want to agree will play a bigger role than the reasons why they should agree.
  • Don’t give lip service. If you hear the other side out in a negotiation, you need to adjust what it is you have to offer after hearing their objection. You need to show that you actually listened. If you make no adjustments and act like you didn’t hear and understand them, the other side will think that talking to you is a waste of time.
  • Never compromise. There’s a difference between compromise and adaptation. Never be so sure of what you want that you wouldn’t take something better. This also means accepting that the other side may have the best idea.
  • Relationships make or break a deal. The quality of the relationship between two parties throughout a deal can make or break the whole thing in the end. If someone has been problematic in the run-up to a deal, they’re not suddenly going to change their behavior once the deal is made. The best indicator of future behavior is past behavior; if you’re entering a business relationship with this person, pay close attention to how they act in the deal process before closing.
  • Chris’ best tip for salary negotiation. In a salary negotiation, talk about what you bring to the table. When you start talking to a potential employer about collaborating on a great future together, now you’re a different person to that employer. It shows that you’re interested in mutual gain. Talk about how you’re going to fit into their important goals. If you live up to what you’re talking about, you’re going to seem like a bargain for them.

Quotes:

“I was on a SWAT team when I was with the FBI, and I had a recurring knee injury, which I knew eventually was going to blow my knee out. And I still wanted to stay in crisis response. So I figured I’d be a negotiator, and figured it couldn’t be that hard. I distinctly remember talking to myself, how hard could it be to talk to terrorists? I could do that.”

“You can get really distracted by trying to get a great salary and end up with a lousy job.”

“My opening offer, and my counter offer, often is empathy. The other side is just dying to talk. I mean, everybody is just dying to have their say, even in a job offer when one side is trying to get you to go first. So the issue is, you know, first, can you get started by responding, but not answering the question? Or can you pivot?”

“There are no bad teams, there’s only bad leaders. If I get problems with how people are responding, then I’m failing as a leader, and I’m going to have to change things around. I’m probably not spending enough time nurturing and encouraging them and finding out who they are as people. The more work-focused I get, the more our work product suffers. If I’m not happy with the job somebody’s doing, I’m treating them as a commodity and not as a human being and I gotta change my leadership style.”

“Empathy and being empathic has become a synonym, or become equated to caring about the other side. And that is not the case. Empathy has become this warm and fuzzy, soft term that almost seems like sympathy or caring. And that’s a bad application of it. Because I can be very sympathetic towards you and not have the least concept of what you’re really struggling with, how you really see things… the more you care, probably, the less empathic you are.“

“If you need to, like, agree, or to sympathize, to exercise empathy, then what happens if you don’t like them, what happens if you don’t agree with them, what happens if you don’t sympathize? You can’t exercise empathy, if those are necessary requirements. But if you don’t need any of those things, then you can exercise empathy with any human being on a planet.”

“Seek first to understand, then be understood. That’s the fastest sequence to getting your way.”

“The reasons why we won’t do something are more important in our decision-making than the reasons we will do something. 70% of sales are made by people trying to fix losses, not accomplish gains. So in any given negotiation, the reasons why you don’t want to agree will play a bigger role than the reasons why you should agree.”

“People are more concerned about letting you know why they want something rather than why they don’t want something.”

“If you hear the other side out, you need to adjust what it is you have to offer. You need to show that you actually listened. Because otherwise, we just talked, but the other side feels like talking to us was a waste of time.”

“I’m absolutely against compromise. I’m absolutely against meeting in the middle. There’s so many problems with that. Compromise is one of the worst things anybody could possibly do.”

“Never be so sure of what you want, that you wouldn’t take something better. ‘Never split the difference’ also means accepting that the other side may have the best idea.”

“Million dollar deals will break down over less than 1%, depending upon how the process was handled up to that point. And so if people are bent out of shape over price in any given deal, and they’re refusing to budge, that’s because the agents on both sides of that have failed to properly shepherd that process through. So then instead of better relationships being built every step of the way, resentment accumulated every step of the way. And the more resentment accumulated, the more it becomes about price.”

“I’m into long term relationships. And if you’ve been problematic in the run-up to try to create this deal, you’re not suddenly going to be nice when we get to the deal. You’ve been giving me who you are; the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. You’re going to continue to be problematic. I don’t care how good the deal is; dealing with you is going to be a problem.”

Mark Divine 0:05
Coming up on the Mark Divine Show,

Christopher Voss 0:06
My opening offer and my counteroffer often is empathy. The other side is just dying to talk. I mean, everybody is just dying to have their say, even in a job offer when one side is trying to get you first. We don’t give the number first, we just don’t. Salary is a price term in a negotiation. If it’s a horrible job, if it makes you feel awful, it doesn’t matter what they pay you. It’s blood money.

Mark Divine 0:34
Welcome to the Mark Divine Show, this is your host, Mark Divine and the show I interview and world leading experts from a variety of different fields. I often do solo casts, and I’m doing something a little different today, something called a feed drop, where I have one of my previous guests, all star Ashley Stahl, who’s a former counterterrorism professional turned career coach who has her own podcast, we had an incredible conversation, and we decided that you would get tremendous benefit out of listening to one of her interviews with an individual that I interviewed a couple of years ago named Chris Voss, who’s the lead international kidnapping investigator for the FBI, author of Never Split the Difference, CEO of Black Swan Group. And this is a masterclass on negotiation. Ashley, because of her background, is really able to work with Chris to discuss what it takes to be an incredible negotiator in your everyday life. You’re gonna love this conversation. I’m super stoked to bring it to you. And we’ll be doing more of this in the future. So here’s Ashley and Chris, hoo-yah.

Ashley Stahl 1:32
Hey, everybody, it’s Ash here. And I have Christopher Voss. He is the author of Never Split the Difference, the lead international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI. And he’s also the CEO of The Black Swan Group. And he is obviously such an incredible negotiator that I couldn’t help but bring him on to talk to us. But before we get into all of that, Chris, welcome to the show. Thank you for being here.

Christopher Voss 1:54
Thank you, actually, my pleasure, it should be fun.

Ashley Stahl 1:57
I worked in counterterrorism in my early 20s. And I was absolutely fascinated. And I ended up working in political risk where there was a fair deal of hostage negotiation. But I never did the negotiating. I was always watching people down the hall like you, wondering what magic dust you have that you’re sprinkling in tense situation. So I’m curious, what drew you into hostage negotiation in the first place? Like what was it about for you?

Christopher Voss 2:24
Well, really, for me at the time was just to be involved in crisis response. I’ve been a cop before I was an FBI agent. And of course, cops are the first ones on the scene, they’re our first response guys, and I liked responding to crises. And I was on a SWAT team when I was with the FBI, and I had a recurring knee injury, which I knew eventually was going to blow my knee out. And I still wanted to stay in crisis response. So I figured I’d be a negotiator, and figured it couldn’t be that hard. I distinctly remember talking to myself, how hard could it be to talk to terrorists? I could do that.

Ashley Stahl 2:56
How interesting, not a thought that probably everyone has. And what do you think it was in your personality, in your being, that made you a good match for that?

Christopher Voss 3:06
I think initiative. Initiative, imagination and liking to get out in front of problems. Like, I believe in being preemptive, being proactive. If there’s a problem coming not only do we you know try to solve it in its inception, but what can we do to keep it from happening again, I like very proactive stuff.

Ashley Stahl 3:25
Okay, so your, you would say a problem solving mind as well, because I know sometimes, especially with entrepreneurs, they find problems as opportunities. But that’s not for everybody. And as far as steps to be a good negotiator. I know that plenty of people are listening right now, thinking that they need to negotiate their salary or negotiate a pay raise, or even I don’t know, negotiate a prenup to get married. What do you think are some key ways of being that people would need to evaluate within themselves to be a great negotiator?

Christopher Voss 3:59
Kind of a combination of a couple of things. I mean, we like to say the secret to gaining the upper hand in negotiations is giving the other side the illusion of control. So the smartest best negotiators let the other side go first, to hear the other side out. Like if you want to sit down and negotiate with Warren Buffett, he’s gonna want to hear what you have to say first. And a lot of people want to speak first. He who speaks first loses, you’re giving the other side a lot of information right off the bat. You’re not learning anything. You’re behind the curve and the emotional intelligence dynamic. Because if you’re really determined to have your say, you’re already building up resentment in the other side. So hear the other side out first is one of the key issues.

Ashley Stahl 4:43
Okay, I really hear this and it’s interesting because I have a course called the Job Offer Academy, and what I say in the salary negotiation module is the first person to give away a number loses. So pretty much the same thought, but I’m curious, what happens when people insist on you being first, because I know that happens in salary negotiation or in relationships, where there might be some sort of tug and pull back and forth. How do you become the person that gets to go second, because there’s not always that flow?

Christopher Voss 5:10
My opening offer, and my counter offer, often is empathy. The other side is just dying to talk. I mean, everybody is just dying to have their say, even in a job offer when one side is trying to get you to go first. So the issue is, you know, first, can you get started by responding, but not answering the question? Or can you pivot? We don’t give the number first, we just don’t. And you actually don’t have to in a salary negotiation, either, you can always say, you know, I’d be happy to throw a number on first. But you know, let’s pivot to something else. And you can pivot to something else.

And salary is a price term in a negotiation. If it’s a horrible job, if it makes you feel horrible, it doesn’t matter what they pay you, it’s blood money. A friend of mine is the head of an international bank, and he has a reputation for paying less than everybody else in his industry. And people stay with him longer than they stay working for anybody else in that industry. And wait a minute, did you just say he pays less yet people stay longer? How does that happen?

First of all, they love working for him, they grow as human beings, he finds out what their personal goals in life are to find out what’s more important to them than their job. And he works really hard at helping them achieve that and accomplish that to make their lives better for themselves and their families. And then the kicker on top of everything else, when they move on from him, they always move on to bigger jumps in salary than they do anywhere else. So he says, Stay with me, you’ll be happier, you’ll stay longer. And then when you move on, you get a better raise than what you’d get anywhere else. So you can get really distracted by trying to get a great salary and end up with a lousy job.

Ashley Stahl 6:53
Wow. Okay. And as far as what you were talking about with your friend who has an incredible work relationship with so many people that he hires, you talked about him being aware of what they value, and really trying to make that important as it relates to his work with them. So for me, as a CEO, I found that a lot of my employees value their free time, but we have deadlines. And I used to find myself being really easy with them, saying no problem if you don’t feel well or no problem, take care of yourself or head home early, as long as you hit your deadlines. But then I started to get less disciplined employees, or slips in the work. But obviously, I’ve cleaned that up a lot since I learned that but I’m curious, how do you walk that line between giving people what they want and enduring a loss yourself?

Christopher Voss 7:42
That’s a great question. Because I get employees also who are always talking with each other about the balance of what their compensation is and really, what the culture for lack of a better term is, that they’re in the middle of. I mean, I recently read a book called The Culture Code, which I think is phenomenal. So if work is suffering, as a leader, you got to adopt the sales model. There are no bad teams, there’s only bad leaders. If I get problems with how people are responding, then I’m failing as a leader, and I’m going to have to change things around. I’m probably not spending enough time nurturing and encouraging them and finding out who they are as people. The more work-focused I get, the more our work product suffers. If I’m not happy with the job somebody’s doing, I’m treating them as a commodity and not as a human being and I gotta change my leadership style.

Ashley Stahl 8:36
Got it. Okay, and what does it look like for you to make that shift as a leader? Because as it relates to negotiation, you’re saying somebody who takes initiative, and I think there’s obviously leadership to that. So how does that look for you? What does that mean?

Christopher Voss 8:50
I’ll start getting a lot more interested in how they are assuming banks, what’s going on in their personal life, family, kids spouses. I will need to connect more with them on a regular basis. Just checking in on how they are. I’m very task oriented. I don’t send out Happy Monday as my first text in the day. If somebody hasn’t heard from me for three or four days, and none of us are in the same location and the first thing they hear from me is, where’s that project we’re working on? Where’s this? Where’s that? What’s the status for this? What’s the status of that? They got a legitimate reason to think to themselves, he doesn’t care about me as a human being at all. First of all, trying to nurture people more on a personal level. And that is not my natural default mode. I’m more assertive, I’m a straight ahead, goal oriented person who – I think that I want to be told what’s expected of me and I want people to get out of my way and let me do it. And, boy, that is so counterproductive when I’m trying to lead teams. It kills my team.

Ashley Stahl 9:51
Yeah, I can relate. I’m definitely task oriented as well. And I found that even though I love people, I’m so committed to that in my personal life and it’s been a huge arc of growth for me professionally. So getting kind of back to how to be a good negotiator. I think there’s a lot of dimension to caring about the other side, being empathic, hearing what they have to say, what else would you say… take initiative, have empathy…

Christopher Voss 10:13
I’m gonna throw out some fine distinctions. Empathy and being empathic has become a synonym, or become equated to caring about the other side. And that is not the case. Empathy has become this warm and fuzzy, soft term that almost seems like sympathy or caring. And that’s a bad application of it. Because I can be very sympathetic towards you and not have the least concept of what you’re really struggling with, how you really see things. I think a lot of people get really confused. And they say, Yeah, but I care about people, that makes me empathic. No, it doesn’t. Not in the least, as a matter of fact, the more you care, probably, the less empathic you are.

Empathy is defined as a mercenary skill. And the way we defined it as hostage negotiators, who were my brothers and sisters at the Harvard program on negotiation, define it. And that’s why I had a great collaboration with them before I left the FBI. Bob Miller said it best in his book, Beyond Winning, when he says, empathy is not about being nice. It’s not about liking or agreeing with the other side. It’s completely understanding where the other side is coming from. Because if you need to, like, agree, or to sympathize, to exercise empathy, then what happens if you don’t like them, what happens if you don’t agree with them, what happens if you don’t sympathize? You can’t exercise empathy, if those are necessary requirements. But if you don’t need any of those things, then you can exercise empathy with any human being on a planet, and I prefer a skill that I can use with the entirety of the planet, not just the people that I like or the people that like me. That’s a very liberating thing. But it seems to be a very hard thing for some people to accept.

Ashley Stahl 11:50
Right. Okay. So you were saying before we started recording that openness is a key factor in being a good negotiator. And it sounds like there’s a link with empathy, being able to put yourself in their shoes or understand what they’re sharing. How do you go about doing that? When it comes to entering into a negotiation? Because I know some people are listening on the line. And they’re thinking that they have salary negotiation, raises, prenups, all the things that relate to negotiation on their radar. I’m guessing there’s some level of overwhelm of like, how do I be good at this? So what are some steps that you can offer to break that down?

Christopher Voss 12:27
Try to articulate the other side’s perspective, in any conversation, you’re in, try to articulate their perspective on something to the point where the only response they can possibly say to you is “that’s right.” And you don’t have to agree, you don’t have to disagree. You just have to lay out how they see things, and how they feel about it, and be fearless. And I mean, be willing to say, You know what, I seem like a jerk. You know what, it seems like my company has been pushing you around, it seems like the only thing I want to do is get work product out of you, and treat you like a commodity and move on with no caring whatsoever for how you are as a human being. Now, what I just said, not one bit of that, that I say that I agreed with it that it was true, that it was fair, that it was even reasonable. All I said was this is your perspective. And let me see if I can articulate your perspective. And the insane thing is, this gets back to the Stephen Covey guide from way back when, seek first to understand, then be understood. I can get my way with you much faster, if I can get you to say “That’s right.” And that’s why Covey gave that advice. Let’s pretend that Stephen Covey was a sociopathic mercenary, which he wasn’t. But let’s pretend he was, let’s say that all he wanted was to be understood. He said, Seek first to understand, then be understood. That’s the fastest sequence to getting your way.

Ashley Stahl 13:49
So what else can somebody do to show up in seeking to understand someone – they can mirror them, restate what they’re saying?

Christopher Voss 13:58
Yeah, talk about how they feel about it. And actually, the other counterintuitive thing that almost all sales gets wrong is – the reasons why we won’t do something are more important in our decision-making than the reasons we will do something. 70% of sales are made by people trying to fix losses, not accomplish gains. So in any given negotiation, the reasons why you don’t want to agree will play a bigger role than the reasons why you should agree. So I’m going to focus on why you won’t agree to begin with, like, what are the deal breakers here? what’s getting in your way, what’s holding you back? People are also a lot more willing to talk about that. Because by laying that out, there are no implied commitments. So they have a tendency to be a lot more honest, and a lot freer in telling you what the problems are. The minute you start saying to somebody, alright, so what would it take to make this deal? People begin to back up and get concerned because they say Oh, well, if I admit to this, you try to trap me. And they’ll be far more vague about that. So focusing on the barriers after you’ve talked with somebody about what their perspective is, opens up conversations a lot faster.

Mark Divine 15:10
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Ashley Stahl 18:48
So how do you suggest getting someone to open up about their objections? Because I think sometimes in different negotiations, people might keep their cards closer to them. They don’t want the other party to know why they don’t want it. What can somebody do to encourage that feedback?

Christopher Voss 19:02
Well, people are more concerned about letting you know why they want something rather than why they don’t want something. Nobody’s ever trapped by you know, this doesn’t work for me for the following reasons. Where we feel like we’re being taken hostage is the leverage is why we might want something and that’s exactly what we’re driving at here. You’re not giving yourself the feeling of being taken hostage if you can say why something doesn’t work for you. It doesn’t work for me because I need it on the following timetable. So people are a lot freer actually telling you why things won’t work rather than why they will. Because that’s where they feel the leverage is. You know why I do need this is what my weakness is, what most people feel. So that’s the stuff those are the cards that they hold back.

Ashley Stahl 19:44
Got it. So you’ve given probably four steps, like first is just initiative, or you’ve talked about that kind of person at least. You’ve certainly talked about empathy and openness. Third, you’ve talked about mirroring somebody, validating them, sharing what they’ve said, and then addressing their objections. So what do you do when they give you their objections? How do you handle those?

Christopher Voss 20:04
Well, they give me an objection. Now I’m beginning to actually get a clearer picture of what my real value proposition is, it’s helping me hone down on my value proposition because that’s tremendous intelligence, I can now begin to focus on delivery, I can begin to focus on what’s left, that might work for the other side. If I’m still sort of searching for how we’re going to make this happen, by definition, if we’ve gotten this far into the conversation, you’ve gotten the feeling that you can interact with me without me arguing with you, without me jumping on what you’re saying, without me suddenly jumping in with my pre canned value proposition Spiel where I don’t pay any attention to what you have said, anyway. Remember reading in Jordan Belfort’s book, The Way of the Wolf, everybody knows who Bill Ford is, they happen to think of him as a Leonardo DiCaprio character, as opposed to the guy was in real life, who in fact owes retired people and little old ladies and people who couldn’t afford it over $100 million in restitution. But his book is interesting to read, like, Alright, so how did this guy get to this position, and he had this something called a straight line selling method, where they actually did a pretty good job of listening and hearing the other side out, but then no matter what happened, it was always by my widget, whatever, ultimately, the other side, had to say, after he heard him out and after he got him to talk, he still would offer the exact same thing he had at the very beginning of the conversation. If you hear the other side out, you need to adjust what it is you have to offer. You need to show that you actually listened. Because otherwise, we just talked, the other side was talking to us a waste of time. You can get away with that one time, hear somebody completely out, and then have it not affect what you’re going to do. You just taught the other side a great lesson: talking to you is an utter waste of time. So if you’ve given me a bunch of information or about to help me come up with what would be a great fit for you, I need to make those adjustments.

Ashley Stahl 22:05
Well, but I also imagine that there’s a fine line between modifying what you’re offering and appearing wobbly, or weak or flippant. So how does somebody who wants to negotiate well go through the steps where they have initiative, they listen to the other side? They validate them, they mirror back what they’re saying. They look at the objections, and they start to focus on delivery thinking, okay, now I need to adjust what I offer. How do they not look weak by doing that? Because I know there’s a strength in that. But it can also appear as weak. How do you walk that line?

Christopher Voss 22:38
That might be a fear in somebody’s own head. I mean, if I haven’t laid out for you a proposition at all, you’re not going to know that I made an adjustment.

Ashley Stahl 22:48
But haven’t there been times where maybe something was offered, and now you’re negotiating to fix it because the party didn’t resonate with it?

Christopher Voss 22:55
Well, we certainly are willing to make adjustments for people we deliver services to as we implement and see what works. Our desire as a company. I mean, we deliver service, our desire is to over deliver, and to have you rave about what we’ve done. So we make adjustments while it’s going on by paying attention to the other side. It’s an interesting idea by adapting and adjusting so we could deliver a better product, we don’t worry how it might look, we think it looks that we’re very responsive. You can get up in your own head a little bit. I say that as if it’s a possibility. We’re wired as human beings to get up in our own heads in a negative way. The limbic system, what drives our emotional system, what’s left over from the caveman days, the pessimistic caveman is a caveman that survived. The optimistic caveman said, You know what, last time we walked by one of these dark caves, and one of our friends went in, there was this horrible screaming sound afterwards, and evidently, they were eaten. But I’m an optimist. And I’m gonna go in this one anyway. And that caveman got killed, but the cavemen who were pessimistic are the ones that survived. So it’s a natural wiring in all human beings, for us to be overly negative, which is what we need to caution ourselves against, because the environment is far more permissive than we think it is. So we do have to be careful about getting up in our own heads negatively. Because there’s an old saying about economists that I think applies. You know, most economists predict 15 out of the actual three recessions that happen.

Ashley Stahl 24:29
Yeah, you know, it’s funny, I guess the question was coming from my growing up, because my little brother and I, my brother was this little sweetheart, but I was a crazy kid. And it was hard for my parents to control me. I mean, I didn’t even know how to swim and I would jump into a pool, you know, and I really did that. And I think that there’s so many different things looking back where they would try to negotiate with us. And the moment we saw that they would shift or they would move it was like feeding ground for both of us, brother and sister. Like oh look they’re wobbling, we can mess with them, we can get more. So how if you make adjustments do avoid getting gouged? I know that you’re not a victim, you can offer something you’re not willing to do. But how do you avoid that dynamic?

Christopher Voss 25:11
You know, what do you offer in return is some of the question, Are you compromising? Are you meeting in the middle, to try to give in to try to avoid being perceived as unfair? I’m absolutely against compromise. I’m absolutely against meeting in the middle. There’s so many problems with that. Compromise is one of the worst things anybody could possibly do. So as soon as somebody starts compromising their position without adapting… and there’s a difference between compromise and adaptation, compromise is lazy and compromise, I just think instance, after instance, after instance, where compromised was just a horribly stupid thing to do and got horrible outcomes.

Ashley Stahl 25:50
Okay, so tell me more about that. Because to me, in good relationships, they say they take a compromise. And I know that compromising is something that’s looked well upon so I’m still struggling to understand this.

Christopher Voss 26:02
Yeah, well, don’t politicians indicate what a great thing compromise is? Doesn’t everybody’s country work wonderfully and don’t we have great laws? And so yeah, the spirit of compromise, you should be the spirit of being open. There’s a great negotiation that we write about in our book, which is a business negotiation book, even though it’s written by hostage negotiators. Of a negotiation between a husband and a wife over Christmas tree. The husband wanted an artificial tree, the wife wanted a real tree. What’s the compromise there?

Ashley Stahl 26:34
I don’t know. One gets a there’s like one big fake tree and a small real tree. I don’t know.

Christopher Voss 26:40
Right? Okay, well, that sounds silly to begin with, right? Then the person was small, real tree is unhappy because the artificial tree is bigger than theirs. And they seem diminished. Or any compromise that you can think through that doesn’t make one side unhappy, at least half of the time. Guaranteed unhappiness half of the time. Now what they did, instead, the story was relayed to me by a husband, who was in favor of the artificial tree, would like to say, never be so sure of what you want, that you wouldn’t take something better. Never split the difference also means accepting that the other side may have the best idea. And you may need to go completely to their side. They get into the conversation. And she won’t explain why she wants a real tree. She just won’t. She just doesn’t want to hear what he had to say. So he says to her, he uses a skill. And it’s very easy to be fooled by the simplicity of this. But he says it seems like you had real trees growing up. That’s actually a very specifically designed chosen set of words, to get an honest reaction, it’s something we call a label, and she immediately blurts out, yes, and I have such great memories of the smell of a tree, and how close my family felt, with my brothers and sisters around a Christmas tree, every holiday, my memories from the smell of the tree. And those are the same memories I want our kids to have. And he immediately understood that what she wanted was a far better solution to what he ever had in mind. And he got a real tree, no compromise. He gave in completely.

Ashley Stahl 28:17
Interesting. And what about if somebody’s buying a house, let’s say and the other side, all they care about is the money. That’s the one factor that they’re focused on the most. And the offer comes in low? How can you approach that if maybe one side is showing you one factor, and you don’t have it? Like money?

Christopher Voss 28:36
So the most dangerous negotiation is one you don’t know you’re in. That negotiation over the house started days earlier, weeks earlier, depending upon when it started on the opening interaction. The smartest, and I happen to be in Los Angeles these days, the smartest Realtors here, everywhere. When they make an offer, they include a letter describing the people that are trying to buy the house and not just who they are, but their hopes and dreams. You know, we love this house because we want to create the same memories for our children that you had here and we are not just buying a house, we’re trying to buy a home. That’s called the humanization process. Personalization process, the same thing we do in hostage negotiations, when we want the hostage takers to look at the hostages as people, not as commodities, we start to humanize them from the very beginning. By the time we get to the price, people who are determined to get the last dime on their house, dependent upon how painful it was to get to that point in the first place. Was there a contentious negotiation back and forth? My girlfriend is in real estate here in Los Angeles and she coached a friend of hers two days ago, and they were on a million dollar property, it was getting ready to break down over $1,500.

Ashley Stahl 29:54
Oh my gosh

Christopher Voss 29:56
But that’s par for the course. And these deals break down all the time, whether it’s in a hot market less like Los Angeles, or it’s a slow market, like anywhere else in the country, million dollar deals will break down over less than 1%, depending upon how the process was handled up to that point. And so if people are bent out of shape over price in any given deal, and they’re refusing to budge, that’s because the agents on both sides of that have failed to properly shepherd that process through. So then instead of better relationships being built every step of the way, resentment accumulated every step of the way. And the more resentment accumulated, the more it becomes about price.

Ashley Stahl 30:43
So it’s like people are starting to think to themselves, now this has really become trouble. Now I’m going to be more difficult or it’s taken more of my time, what is the belief that you think people are holding?

Christopher Voss 30:53
I’ve been pushed far enough, I’ve been inconvenienced here, I’ve been disrespected. I’ve been pushed, I have no idea who these people are on the other side, all I’m seeing is a contract that has names on it. That’s just a piece of paper with writing on it, I have no idea who these people are, I could care less. And since I could care less, I can find another contract. It doesn’t matter to me that I’ve already blown 30 days of my life, in a hot market, a deal that’s fallen through that has soaked up at least 30 days of people’s lives between showings of that house, offer, counteroffer, going into escrow, inspections, or the whole nine yards. Unless it’s an all cash deal, everything’s going to take at least 30 days. So even in a hot market, people don’t think about how much pain they endured, and they’re gonna have to do it again, that resentment has built up to the point where like, you know what I’ve had, I’m gonna take care, I’m gonna start all over again. And of course, they’re gonna start that same painful process all over again. Also, they don’t see that rationally, because we’re all emotional creatures.

Ashley Stahl 31:52
Yes. So then how do you get to that point, let’s and by the way, this is so interesting you’re sharing this, because one of my girlfriends just bought a house with her husband that was $12 million. It had 10 offers over asking price, and they spent 200,000 under the asking price, and got it because of their story. So I hear what you’re saying. So I’m curious for feedback from you, though. What if that doesn’t work? What if you give a good story and you give a good offer? And it’s still about the money?

Christopher Voss 32:19
There’s no any one tactic that works all the time. And you have this question a lot about our emotional intelligence approach. They’re like, well, what if that doesn’t work? Like I can imagine a point in time, that won’t work. But of course, you can’t, because anybody that tells you they got something that works all the time, is lying to you. And you don’t have anything that works all the time. What we have on our emotional intelligence approach is an accumulation of tactics, and the best chance of success, not the guarantee of success. So yeah, not only you’re not going to make every deal, but you don’t want to make every deal. You want to have your best opportunity at every deal. And you want to know, then, what is the best deal possible. And then you decide whether or not you want that deal. So we approach every negotiation in a collaborative fashion, because I want to know, no matter who you are on the other side, you could be a liar, you could be someone I can’t trust, you could be someone who doesn’t keep their word, I still want to know the best possible outcome. And if it’s an ongoing relationship, and pretty much everything other than a buying and selling of a house, is going to be an ongoing relationship. You know, the most dangerous negotiation is when you don’t know your end, we were negotiating from the very beginning. When I first started working on the book, the first writer I worked with, I had a lot of trouble scheduling interactions with, she happened to take her time getting lined up. And then finally, after we’d been interacting over a period of weeks, she wanted to know what my offer was. And she told me what she wanted out of the deal. And I simply said no, and didn’t interact with her again one more time. She sent me an email back saying like, Well, I thought you were gonna make a counteroffer, we just started negotiating. And what I thought to myself, because I never communicated with her again, was, we’ve been negotiating for a long time, you just didn’t realize it.

Ashley Stahl 34:05
So you’re gauging the other person the entire time.

Christopher Voss 34:09
I’m into long term relationships. And if you’ve been problematic in the run-up to try to create this deal, you’re not suddenly going to be nice when we get to the deal. You’ve been giving me who you are; the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. You’re going to continue to be problematic. I don’t care how good the deal is; dealing with you is going to be a problem. And we’ve learned that in hostage negotiation, and that, in fact, is the case, you know, what you see is what you get. So we need to have a great working relationship in the process otherwise, I’m probably not going to make that deal with you, even if it is lucrative for me.

Ashley Stahl 34:42
That’s so interesting. Okay, and just listening to you, and it’s funny because I keep finding myself saying what if that doesn’t work? Because I keep hunting for new strategies that you have to share, which so far, there’s been a lot of them. I’m so curious to learn what has been the most fascinating or interesting negotiation move you’ve seen another party do that you wanted to take with you after the negotiation into your own toolbox?

Christopher Voss 35:06
Well, one of my favorites, we intentionally trigger the word no on a regular basis. Like we don’t ask people if they agree, we ask them if they disagree. Anything important, we don’t bother with the word yes. We treat Yes as the most useless word on the planet. Yes is worse than maybe. Because if you say maybe you’re openly signaling ambivalence to me, that’s clear. People say yes, as a complete and utter lie all the time. And that’s why it’s a worse word than maybe, I’d rather hear maybe, at least you’re honest enough with me to communicate with me that you’re not sure. But how we originally got into this actually was something I learned from someone else. It was something I learned from a female hostage negotiator. And in my hostage negotiation days, we were getting into the book, start with no. And I found the ideas to be really, really powerful, it was a turning point in my life reading that book back in 2002. And we went on to collaborate with Jim Camp, the author and still collaborate with his son, Todd to this day.

And I’m laying this out. And the woman in charge of the hostage negotiation team in Pittsburgh, her supervisor had gotten very jealous of her. She had a great relationship with the Pittsburgh Police Department and in his jealousy, he was going to remove her from the hostage negotiation team. And she went in for the appointment where she knew in advance that he was going to fire her from the team and force her to focus on her quote her day job as an investigator, and she looked him in the eye and she said, Do you want the FBI to be embarrassed? That is like the most manipulative question I’ve ever heard in my life, I would never have had the guts to ask this question of Marty had he told me about what happened.

But since the answer was no, even a rigged question, and a rigged know, people will still comfortably answer you’d be shocked at what people are willing to say no to. I mean, just astounded. And of course, this bureaucratic, small minded, jealous, administrative geek said no. And he said no, comfortably. And he sat back in his chair and he kind of steepled with his hands, which is the indicator of what they feel like when they’re in charge. And she said, What do you want me to do? And he said, you know, just don’t let this negotiation stuff interfere with your investigation. Now go ahead and get out of my office. He called her in there to fire her. But that very important sequence of what we refer to as a no oriented question, followed by even more, what do you want me to do? Which is a calibrated question that lets you feel in control, puts you in the upper hand, but the other side feels like they have control. She walks out of there brilliantly. And I would say that that particular question, in and of itself, we learned from Marty, we were kicking it around, we threw some ideas out and she said, Hey, this is what happened. Is that the same thing? And I said, No, it’s not the same thing. It’s better!

Mark Divine 37:43
Okay, we’re gonna take a short break here from the Mark Divine show to hear a short message from one of our partners.

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Ashley Stahl 40:22
You said you have your girlfriend in LA negotiating real estate, it probably takes a sharp mind to work with you when it comes to negotiation. So how has this played a role in your day to day life? Or is this something that you put your work hat on for?

Christopher Voss 40:34
It’s not whether or not you have the tools or the skills, it’s what you’re trying to do with them? Are you trying to make great relationships? Are you trying to genuinely understand you’re trying to collaborate, you want people to be with you forever, and be happy about it, you want them to get more out of life, and you get more out of life at the same time. So it’s really where you’re coming from. We negotiate with each other in my company all the time, my son’s in my company, he’s my business partner, my daughter in law is in my company. I have very close associates that I’ve known for a very long time involved in a company. And with my girlfriend, it’s, am I trying to manipulate her? Or am I trying to make both of us happy? Now you can use this stuff to manipulate people. Absolutely. It all depends on where you’re coming from. where I’m coming from is I want us both to be happy, I want everybody to be happy. And that makes it acceptable.

Ashley Stahl 41:21
Amazing. And for anybody listening right now who has a salary negotiation coming up, a raise conversation they have coming up, what should I be asking you that I haven’t yet asked you?

Christopher Voss 41:35
Well, really, in a salary negotiation, talk about what would make the salary a great job, talk about what would build a great future for you within that company. As soon as I start talking with a potential employer, how we can collaborate on a great future together. Now I’m a different person to that employer. Like, as an employer, I’m thinking, Wait a minute, you’re not just out for yourself here, but you’re out for me, too. You want me to get great things in the future. I’m a lot more interested in talking with you when your focus is on us, as opposed to your focus being on just you. It’s one of the reasons why most supervisors, most employers, see their employees as selfish. Because the only time you go to the boss is when you want something for yourself. Not because you’re trying to help your boss solve the worst problem they’re faced with. Let me change the conversation around when you go in for a job interview, talk about how you’re going to fit into their important goals and how you can be the best within that, that’s gonna open up the conversation because now they’re going to be willing to offer you the best package they possibly can. Because if you live up to what you’re talking about, you’re going to be a bargain anyway.

Ashley Stahl 42:56
Amazing. This is providing extraordinary value. Well, this has just been amazing. Where can everybody find out about you, learn more about you, follow you?

Christopher Voss 43:06
You know, the best thing to do is to subscribe to my company’s newsletter. We put out a newsletter that comes out once a week on Tuesday mornings. It’s short and concise, and it’s sweet. And it’s an easy read. You don’t have to go get a cup coffee because it’s such a heavy read. And the best way to subscribe to the newsletter, it’s called The Edge, is a text to sign up feature that we have. You text the message FBIempathy, make it all one word, don’t let your spellcheck put a space between FBI and empathy, FBI em p a t h y and send that message to the number 22828. And that number, again is 22828. You’ll get a response back to sign up. The newsletter is the gateway to all of our training. It’s a gateway to our website. You’ve got announcements about when we’re training in different places. Last week, we had an open enrollment course in Dallas. We’re going to have a couple in Los Angeles in November. The Edge is the best way to keep up and you get a nice, concise dose of negotiation advice every Tuesday morning.

Ashley Stahl 44:07
Wonderful. Thank you so much for this, Chris. This has been incredible.

Christopher Voss 44:12
My pleasure. It’s fun being on with you. Time really flew.

Ashley Stahl 44:15
Yeah, it did.

Hey, it’s Ash here reflecting on this week’s episode with Chris Voss. What an incredible background he has, impact he has, with his books, and just a huge influence when it comes to how people are negotiating today.

But what’s so weird is that I actually want to talk to you about what it felt like to interview him because I noticed as I was conversing with him, these old nerves come up inside of me. You guys have been hearing me interview now for a while. I don’t know if you picked up on it. But throughout that interview, I was really nervous and I walked off of the recording, thinking, what’s this about? Why do I feel so nervous? And I realized what it was was, what it was is, that I remember my life in counterterrorism being in my early 20s, feeling intimidated by men like Chris Voss, who is such an incredible man, such an easygoing man with so much to offer and share. But I remember when I walked into the Pentagon, for my first week of work, feeling like so small, feeling like I didn’t have something to offer, and buying into the belief that these experts around me that I have nothing to add to them, that I could bring them no value.

And we live in a world right now, where a third of the workforce is slowly going to be displaced by robots by the year 2025. And when you ask famous futurists what skill sets people need, given that robots are replacing people, and people are losing their jobs to robots. The number one answer is soft skills. I’ve heard this answer from Peter Diamandis, over at XPrize Foundation. I’ve heard this answer from Faith Popcorn, one of the top futurists who predicted online shopping, who predicted the slow death of the grocery store, it’s still dying, she predicted so much. And I really trust these predictions. And so when it comes to really thriving in tomorrow’s workforce, the number one skill you need a soft skills. What does that mean? That means that whenever you walk into any given room, and you face any expert, that your soft skills, your ability to communicate, your ability to have charisma, your ability to move, inspire or fascinate, these soft skills, your leadership abilities, your ability to manage stress, your resilience, all of these core skill sets are key ingredients for how you thrive in tomorrow’s workforce.

What does that mean? That means that when you walk into a room full of people that are competent, like Chris Voss, competent, like my former boss, in counterterrorism, when I worked for the Department of Defense, my former boss was the head of the Bureau of Stability Operations, and as well as a diplomat from NATO. So when I look back on those leadership figures in my life, I remember getting the chills thinking about walking into their office. And whenever you have a bodily, physical, visceral reaction like that, it’s because of course, you’re believing something about the situation that your body is listening to.

So what I was believing was that I had nothing to offer, that I could really fall on my face, that I could say the wrong thing. But what I wasn’t seeing at the time that I totally see now in this episode was a reminder now, is that it’s not about what you know, it’s about how you be… those are your soft skills. So what I want to offer you now is to really stop and think, what are your best soft skill sets? Is it that you stay calm under pressure? Is it that you seem to be friends with everyone, that people find you easy to get along with you have charisma? Is it that you’re an excellent communicator, that under pressure, you seem to have the most graceful responses, people can’t see you panicking. That’s definitely me. I have three speaking engagements this week. One is to a mastermind group, a bunch of million dollar entrepreneurs, about how to use copywriting to translate that into money. And so I’m going and talking about some of the copywriting tools I use over at Cake Publishing with my copywriters and my ghost writers. I have another speaking engagement about how to grow a podcast because thanks to you, this podcast has been growing and I am just like, Oh, I could cry in gratitude because this is the biggest passion project I’ve ever had. And another speaking engagement I have is to a group of 300 women about life purpose. And it’s so funny because no matter how many times I give these speeches, if it’s the same speech, if it’s a different speech, same audience, different audience, I still feel my nervous system freak out. But for some reason on the outside, I look totally calm. It’s like, am I a sociopath? Like what is going on?

The truth of the matter is that that is one of my superpowers, is to have a lot of grace with my communication and to look really calm. That’s a soft skill that has really served me in my career. So if you don’t know what soft skills you have, Google soft skills, look them up. Leadership skills, teamwork, communication skills, problem solving skills, work ethic, flexibility, adaptability, interpersonal skills. These are just really incredible examples of different soft skills that you need to think about. You know, so again, communication skills, listening skills, negotiation skills, nonverbal communication skills, persuasion, presentation, public speaking, reading, body language, storytelling, verbal communication, visual communication, writing skills, critical thinking, being adaptable, being creative, being a critical observer, having a good design sense, a good desire to learn, being flexible, being innovative, being a logical thinker, being a problem solver, like we talked about, being a researcher, always being that person that goes and finds the answer, being resourceful, thinking outside the box, troubleshooting, valuing education, a willingness to learn, being really good at conflict management, deal making, decision making, dispute resolution. These are all examples of soft skills, I could go on and on, inspiring people, leadership management, having tough conversations, that’s a great soft skill. If you can do that well. Managing remote teams, mentorship, project management, resolving issues, supervising inspiring people, managing talent, being confident, being cooperative, just having a positive attitude. These are all soft skills.

So get on Google, look up some soft skills, pick which ones you think you might have, and maybe circulate them to the people closest to you and ask them, which one of these soft skills do you think is my superpower? And the more you know that, the more you can hone that, because I’m all about what studies indicate. And it’s that instead of focusing just on your weaknesses, and trying to make them better, focus on your brilliance, and really hone and nurture that.

So that’s what I’ve got to say for you today. Just such a reminder, thank God for Chris Voss coming on the podcast, reminding me of my old nerves with high level men who are working in something like negotiation that can feel intimidating, noticing myself feeling intimidated by him, which does not usually happen in these interviews. Most of the time it’s because these people are my friends. And so whatever story I have about their career is usually like a balloon I can pop because I know them and all their shit and all their issues. But with this guy, I felt some nerves and it was just such a reminder to remind myself and forgive myself for buying into the belief that I am worthy or valuable for what I know. The truth is how I be in the world. My natural gifts, my soft skills, are what are going to carry me the most in my career, in my relationships. And the truth is the same for you. So this is Ashley Stahl signing off. I’m so excited to have connected with you on this. And I can’t wait to connect with you next week.

Mark Divine 52:02
That was a fascinating conversation between Ashley Stahl and Chris Voss, lead international kidnap investigator for the FBI, author of Never Split the Difference, a world class negotiation expert, share it with your friends, and thanks very much for your support of the Mark Divine show. And if you like that, then go check out Ashley Stahl’s podcast, because she has some incredible guests. And she’s a terrific interviewer. And once again, thank you, Ashley, for letting us share that episode. And I know you’ll be doing the same thing, sharing one of our episodes on your show.

Special thanks to my incredible team, Geoff Haskell, Jason Sanderson, Melinda Hershey and Jeff Torres, who bring the show to you every week with incredible guests like Ashley and Chris. If you want to find me, you can find me at LinkedIn, my LinkedIn profile Mark Divine or at real Mark Divine on Instagram and Facebook and just mark Divine at Twitter. And send me ideas for solo casts or questions you might have and we’ll try to hit those up.

And if you’re not part of my newsletter subscription, and getting my weekly Divine Inspiration newsletter, where I have my weekly blog, a book that I’m reading, the notes for our current podcast episode and more, then go to Mark divine.com to subscribe and share it with your friends.

If you haven’t rated the podcast or reviewed it it’s very very helpful for us to stay at the top rankings, Apple or wherever you listen or you get this podcast so consider rating and reviewing the show. Thanks so much for being part of this journey of ours to reach 100 million people and get them on the path to integration to become more compassionate, whole leaders and to help us change the world into a more positive, compassionate and inclusive place. Until next time, this is Mark Divine, hoo-yah!

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  1. Amazing conversation! So many gold nuggets… Ashley and Chris did an amazing presentation that is practical and useful; a must hear to develop your soft skills.

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