Hi again Reddit! I’m Chris Voss, the founder and CEO of [The Black Swan Group](blackswanltd.com), a consulting firm that provides training and advises Fortune 500 companies through complex negotiations. You may remember me from last year.

Rooted in hostage negotiation, my methodology centers around “Black Swans” small pieces of information that have a huge effect on an outcome. I currently teach at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. I’ve also lectured at other schools including Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, Harvard Law School the MIT Sloan School of Management, and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. I’ve been a guest on CNN and Fox News, and I’ve appeared on The Daily Show, Anderson Cooper 360, and NPR.

Before all of these fun things, I was the lead international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI, where I tried out all kinds of new approaches in negotiation. I was involved in more than 150 international kidnapping cases in my over two decades with the FBI, and I learned that hostage negotiation is more or less a business transaction.

On May 17th of 2016, my first book “Never Split The Difference” was published, distilling the skills I've gathered over my career into usable tips that will give the reader the competitive edge in any discussion—whether in the boardroom, at the dinner table, or at the car dealership. It’s now being published in 14 languages by 15 international publishers for 20 countries around the world.

Seriously, I was blown away and really grateful for all the attention the book received. It’s become a national bestseller, was listed as one of the best business books of 2016, and has been called one of the seven best negotiation books ever written on Inc. I hit the front page of Reddit, chatted at Google, spoke on some great podcasts, had more than 1.5 million page views on Quora, and was featured in some great press.

The book's readers used its lessons not just to make more money, but to improve their relationships with others and their lives as a whole.

But my core message from the book still stands… everything we’ve previously been taught about negotiation is wrong: you are not rational; there is no such thing as ‘fair’; compromise is the worst thing you can do; the real art of negotiation lies in mastering the intricacies of No, not Yes. These surprising ideas—which radically diverge from conventional negotiating strategy—weren’t cooked up in a classroom, but are the field-tested rules FBI agents use to talk criminals and hostage-takers around the world into (or out of) just about any imaginable scenario.

Ask me about how men and women negotiate differently, how to navigate sticky family situations, negotiating as a parent, advice for recent graduates, stories from my time in the FBI, or even how to get past a bouncer into a busy club. AMA!

You can also learn more about me at www.blackswanltd.com

Proof here

Comments: 151 • Responses: 54  • Date: 

ArcticBlueCZ13 karma

Did anyone asked for pizza during hostage situation like TV taught us? Can you tell us about some really tough hostage situation with a good ending?

Chris_Voss21 karma

Yep! As nuts as it sounds, sometimes they do. Not a bad sign as it may likely show they are giving some rational thought to their actions and may be engaged in some sort of predictable planning thought process.

I negotiated a bank robbery with hostages in Brooklyn. Though it happens on TV all the time, in real life, where there's actually a negotiation, it's pretty rare (usually, even if they take hostages, they get out of there before the police arrive).

Anytime people are help a gunpoint in a bank, you never know if the bank robber is actually orchestrating a deadly outcome. The negotiation team was comprised of both FBI Agents and NYPD Hostage Negotiators. It was like an All-star team and the NYPD guys were really, really good.

Because we played a strong "team game" - everyone helping everyone else listen - in any conversation there's just too much for 1 person to take in - we got everyone out safely.

During the course of the negotiation, I was handed notes 2 different times that gave me clues to prefect things to say. Both of those notes were right-on and were picked up by me colleagues who were listening intently.

That was a cool day.

liamquane13 karma

Do you have any "non-hostage rescue" related negotiating advice?

Chris_Voss21 karma

Lots of them! Mostly with me negotiating myself out of a jam!

I’m about to miss a flight out of Malaysia on my way to Australia. I’m facing an immigration line to leave the country that looks every bit of 40 minutes long and my flight boards in 20 minutes. The breakdowns that have caused me to get in this position were all under my control or oversight.

I cut the line (of 40 people) to the Malaysian government bureaucrat who is taking his time and likely not impressed with the selfish concerns of an American who’s failed to get out in front of his schedule.

Me: “I am so sorry. I’m afraid I’m late. My flight boards in 20 minutes and if you don’t let me through I’m going to miss my flight.”

Him: “Why were you late?” (Unsmiling – He is also looking at the next guy in line that I have jumped in front of and clearly thinking about sending me to the back.)

Me: “It was completely my fault. I’m probably going to be the stupidest person you talk to today.” (What do you think he was thinking at that moment? FBI Empathy /Tactical empathy to the rescue.)

Him: (What is he now thinking? “That’s right.” He smiles, reaches for my passport and ticket – stamps them) “Have a nice flight.”

Later that week I’m delayed in the TSA security checkpoint at Newark Airport. They’ve snagged me because I’ve left a few ounces of water in my “Voss” water bottle in my carry-on shoulder bag. I want to keep the bottle because it’s “Voss”! (and it also has a larger opening to pour in the bizarre vitamins I take.)

The TSA guy is giving me sideways glare/glances as he’s got several bags to check & would clearly rather be doing something else. I smile. No smile in return.

He walks over to get my bag, and when he picks it up I say, “Bless me father for I have sinned.”

His expression remains unamused.

He takes 3 steps towards me to walk me to the table where he’ll open the bag and says. “How long since your last confession my son?”

“An hour. I do a lot of things wrong.”

He lets me drink the rest of the water in front of him (they’re supposed to throw it out), personally walks me back to the front of the security line (once again cutting in front of 40 people – they’re just supposed to expel you back outside the secure area) and makes sure I get on my way with only momentary delay.

This FBI empathy stuff works!

bflorey11 karma

"Hi Chris - huge fan of your book! I am interviewing for a few different companies and was wondering if you have any good questions/advice for salary negotiation?

Chris_Voss23 karma

2 questions you've GOT to ask.

1 - "What does it take to be successful here?"

2 - "How can I be guaranteed to involved in projects critical to the strategic future of the company?"

These are both "success" questions that set you up for more salary now, but even more importantly, in the future.

For #1 - You want to hear from the insiders (your interview panel) how to best get ahead. This will also recruit them as unofficial mentors as they will want to see you succeed as a result of their advice.

For #2 - The sets you apart as being a team player who want to make everyone succeed, therefore making you worth more, not just now but in the future. If you get this term it will also give you visibility at the highest levels of the company.

These both put you in a position to not only ask form more, but politely turn them down when they don't give you enough, and makes them waht to come up to your salary needs.

bflorey4 karma

Thank you. Great advice...if you have time, I've noticed companies always asking me what I currently make or what I am comfortable with - do you recommend "forcing" them to offer/describe compensation first? Curious on your thoughts.

Chris_Voss11 karma

Wow, that is THE question that everyone dreads in every salary negotiation.

There's an old saying in negotiation that "He or she who names price 1st loses" and salary is the price term in a job negotiation. The real saying is that "He or she who names price before gathering any information from the other side loses".

You've got to gather more information 1st. How? Several ways.

"Are you fishing or making me an offer?" "It sounds like you have a range in mind?" "Before I answer that, I'm sure you have criteria for determining salary ranges?" "How am I supposed to answer that?" "I can answer that, but before I do, that's not what I'm worth now and I would never switch jobs without a significant raise."

ALL of these need to be said with deference and respect. You can choose one or all of them depending on what suits your style and the context.

Please bear in mind the salary question is part of a larger test of how you handle pressure and may be intentionally low to see how you react.

It may also be immovable. It's still a test of whether or not you can respectfully explore an issue without cutting off the negotiation.

There is always space and time to clarify. You may need to name a number first, but not until after you're had a chance to ask more questions and gather more information, as long as you do it respectfully.

bflorey1 karma

Thanks Chris...are you still going at it?? If you could read/master only one other book on negotiation (besides yours) which one would it be and why?

Chris_Voss3 karma

"Start With No" by Jim Camp. Has a truly great chapter on open-ended questions (he calls them interrogatives). Several other great ideas, (3+, make them feel free to say "no", etc). He also sees negotiations as emotional and has a great layman's take on it all. Jim was a natural born assertive and he had en enlightened and insightful view of the process. (Jim died about 2 years ago).

I used to assign portions of it in the negotiations courses I taught. my company still collaborates with his company.

"Getting More" - Stuart Diamond. Stuart is an analytical guys deep down in his bones and it's a great book on how analyticals see and process things. He's very, very smart.

LawngIslandAccent11 karma

What are your thoughts on Trump?

Chris_Voss33 karma

Wow! That's a potentially "hot-button" question!

President Trump is the classic example of the openly aggressive and assertive negotiator.

He may be the best, if not the most well known example of this type.

There are 3 types (if my opinion as well as my colleagues in my company and most of my Harvard Law School teaching colleagues).

The other 2 types are Analyst (Harvard calls them "Avoiders") and Accommodators. These are essentially fight, flight or make friends.

The Assertives as a type tend to roll up a number of big successes and then people get worn out by being attacked all the time and feeling like everything is a fight, and stop making deals with them.

I'm a natural born assertive and have had this same problem.

It's been a very long time since Donald Trump did anything in New York City that rivals the scale of his successes from the 1980's and 1990's. He owned the westside rail yards in Manhattan for years and wanted to put of the world's tallest building there. It never happened.

Privately (as opposed to publicly) when he sits down with people, he seems to work things out. Currently the level of cooperation with the US & China regarding North Korea is unprecedented.

There are some real shortcomings in negotiation for all of us, not matter which one of the types we are naturally. Each type has attributes that are necessary t make great deals. If we can learn them, we've all got tremendous upside potential.

unforgivableness2 karma

A "what" question.

Chris_Voss3 karma

Ahhhh! Good observation grasshopper!

You think they wanted me to say President Trump is a big scardy-cat?

FTOW10 karma

Would you rather fight 1 horse sized duck or 100 duck sized horses?

Chris_Voss8 karma

Are you crackers?

Treesrule5 karma

Its a question everyone on reddit who does an ama gets asked

Chris_Voss16 karma

Then I should have said "Are you quackers?!?"

PortalGunHistory8 karma

What are one or two easy bits of negotiating advice you'd recommend everyone employ in their day-to-day interactions?

Chris_Voss22 karma

1 - Let the other person go 1st!

There's a decent chance they'll say something you like. If they don't they'll at least appreciate the chance to have their say.

Then, make sure you summarize what they've said back to them. You know you've said it right when they say "That's right". Don't try to make your points until after they've said "That's right".

If they say "You're right" - that's actually code for "Please stop talking & leave me alone". You're on the wrong track.

You get a "That's right" out of someone you will ALWAYS get something you want out of the deal. You may need to add in "What do you want to do?" or "How can we proceed from here?" but something good will always happen. You've just got to let the process work for you.

schoon157 karma

In a situation where you and your counterpart are aware there is no urgency to make a decision (specifically in sales when prices won't change) how do you create urgency to get your customer to make a decision?

Chris_Voss14 karma

That's a cool question! It speaks to not only what motivates people, but what holds them back when they're indecisive. People hold themselves back when they imagine outcomes of things not working out. They compare several possible "imagined" futures.

The real comparison if what will happen if they do nothing. That's what you use the negotiation skills, whether you use labels or calibrated questions (open-ended - usually "what" or "how") questions to get them to see the results of their inaction. And they need to see it over longer term and not just the immediate.

"What will happen if you don't do (or buy) this?" "Will the issue you're addressing go away or will in slowly increase?" "How will your inaction affect you long term?" "What will you lose by not doing (or buying) this?"

People are also much more motivated by loss avoidance, then by the prospect of gain (This is "Prospect Theory" and it won a Nobel Prize for Behavioral Economics it's so true). So they are more likely to buy something if it will keep them from a loss, as opposed to technically making them better off.

hlwroc7 karma

What negotiating tactics can I use to convince my girlfriend that having 5 house cats is enough, and we don't need to add anymore?

Bonus points if she will still talk to me after said negotiation.

Chris_Voss17 karma

My friend, the most dangerous negotiation is the one you don't know you're in!

This isn't about house cats. It's about her security and how she see's the world. There are things that are driving her that she is afraid to share with you (hidden) and there are things driving her that are so far in the past she may have forgotten them (blind).

You're dig into this with labels: "It seems like what the cats give you is important to you." "It seems you had cats growing up?" "It feels to you lke there's something missing in your life?" "It feels like having the cats helps you control things in the world that are otherwise out of control."

If you can dig into what's driving her, you may be able to diffuse it, or find another way to address it.

If you are really trying to understand, she won't only be speaking to you afterward, she's likely to feel much closer to you as well.

Good luck!

Chris_Voss22 karma

Where are my bonus points!?

krystynlo6 karma

How DO men and women negotiate differently? Do women need to approach negotiation differently? As a woman, I feel like I do.

Chris_Voss11 karma

Are you kidding me?!

I think women are naturally BETTER negotiators!!!

Men are perceived by the business world to be more willing to ask for what they want, to set limits on what they'll accept or to say "no" and walk away.

Women are perceived by they business world to be more relationship focused which tends to allow more tolerance for the sake of the relationship when the negotiation is perceive to be putting the relationship at stake.

I think all elements mentioned above are necessary and I think women show more inclination to the tactical empathy based negotiation I teach. I've got a number of very strong success stories of women being successful as a result of using what I and my company teaches and the success stories are in greater percentages that the percentage of women we've taught.

AstroZombie1385 karma

I loved the book. There is an audiobook format for those who are interested.


  • Does Al Pacino impersonate you, or do you impersonate him?
  • Which negotiation by you, or others went the most sideways? The airline hijacking in the book comes to mind, but I'm interested to hear others.

Chris_Voss5 karma

Al Pacino?! "Heat" was awesome right? What about Christopher Walken?

The Burnham/Sobero case in the Philippines (I talk about it in the book). 2 out of our 3 Americans and several Filipinos died. Terrible tragedy. But we didn't let any of those deaths be in vain. We learned, we got better. Lives were saved in later cases because of how we got better there.

We used the intel we gathered in the case to bring justice to the kidnappers. The US system of justice has a long memory. That's why we have indictments and that's what the FBI does best.

Ol_Musky_Elon5 karma

Cool, thanks for doing this.

In one of the finest movies to ever grace a screen, 1998's poignant 'The Negotiator', who was the better negotiator in your opinion: Keven Spacey or Samuel L Jackson?

Chris_Voss8 karma

The character as written overall for Kevin Spacey was better (with a couple of exceptions - negotiators are never in charge - decisions don't go through them). Samuel Jackson as a good guy backed into a corner was a better hostage taker!

We used to use several clips from that movie as teaching points. One we always loved was where the Samuel Jackson character is "schooling" the less talented hostage negotiator to not say "no" as an outright rejection. If you google it, it's hysterical!

anotheririshguy5 karma

Hey! I've seen a few great clips of you talking on YouTube. The "how am I supposed to do that?" technique has really helped me out o a number of occasions. Just wanted to say thanks & I owe you a couple of beers!

Chris_Voss5 karma

That's cool to hear!


LPatHD2 karma

Link to the video with that technique please?

Are_We_Related5 karma

Hi, Chris. Thanks for taking the time to do this AMA.

Has any of your knowledge in negotiation been adapted to the healthcare industry, specifically in patient-doctor interactions?

What negotiation tactics would you employ to make a person more likely to change a negative health behavior, such as smoking?

Chris_Voss3 karma

Interesting thought!

We (my company - The Black Swan Group) have done a lot of training in the healthcare industry, but mostly with people negotiating with doctors. Talk about hostage takers!

There's also a lot of research that shows if doctors get better at empathy (not sympathy), not only are they better at finding out what's wrong with a patient, even when they get it wrong they are less likely to be sued for malpractice.

Seems that people don't mind so much you're not perfect, they get a lot madder when you're a jerk about it too!

The application of the ideas of tactical empathy and Prospect Theory (fear of loss) do have a place as past of an overall solution. It can be harsh though. By a non-physician, a Tony Robbins coach helped a good friend of mind (Carolyn Rim) break her smoking addiction. Carolyn talks about it in her book "Awakening The Heart". The coach essentially held her pack of cigarettes up to her & said "Imagine a picture of yourself and your daughter on this pack of cigarettes. Now, rip yourself out of that picture." That's what your addiction to these will cost you.

Tough stuff. But effective. Empathy is understanding what drives people and then using it. Use your powers for good and not evil.

iwas99x5 karma

Chris, why do Fortune 500 companies need negotiating training?

Chris_Voss3 karma

Awesome question! You're going to get me started on a rant!

80% of mergers fail. Of the 20% that don't fail, half of those don't achieve the projected value. Are all these screw-ups because they didn't know how to run spreadsheets! Come on! That's pretty much the only thing that business schools make sure they repeatedly drill into students heads! If it was spreadsheets, they'd have mastered it by now.

Add it the interesting piece of data that 40-50% of the Fortune 500 companies from 10 years ago are not GONE. Extinct. Gone the way of the Dodo. Why? Hmmm. Remember the merger statistic?

What will the list look like in 10 more years. Most likely the same amount of extinctions.

Nearly every business person i encounter who's successful consider's themselves successful because of their negotiation skill. What nags at me is: "What if they're successful in spite of their negotiation skills?"

I'm sorry, but I'm afraid that across the board, my experience shows me (and my colleagues) they are successful in spite of negotiation skills.

I'd love for companies to get better across the board because then there'd be less waste. Just waste less time with bad negotiation which leads to ridiculous costs in fixing deals.

Fully 50% of the deals one of the largest telecom companies in the US signs never get implemented. How much more would that company be worth if they had a better implementation rate?

One of the biggest internet companies has their major deals go into the terms & conditions phase for 6 months after they are signed. What?! Why didn't they do the deal right in the 1st place? How much does that cost them?

What stops them from seeing the problem as I do? One of us is smoking something! What the title of Charles Barkley's book? "I may be wrong, but I doubt it."

avscupquest314 karma

How would you respond in a sales call if a customer refuses to consider a change even after you have offered better pricing and better service?

Chris_Voss5 karma

Here are some killer "closers" that could open things back up!

"It sound like there is nothing I can say to make this deal." "It seems like you really want to get this right." "It looks like you're powerless here."

Any of these are stand-alones. They have to be followed by silence on your part (effective pause). Count one-thousands to yourself if you have to (you won't get past "seven one-thousand").

These work if you've used a process leading up to it where you were listening closely. Using labels and calibrated questions (open-ended questions that are almost all "what?" and "how?" questions.

A good process puts you in a position to find deals and pull victory from the jaws of defeat at the end.

Good luck!

VirginiaMoo4 karma

Do you miss the hostage negotiation days with the FBI? I'm sure it was very rewarding although extremely stressful...

Chris_Voss3 karma

I don't miss it because I love this so much now. Putting this stuff to work in the business world and in people's everyday lives is awesome! I'm helping people make their lives better and helping them bring better lives to their families.

As far as the stress back then? I felt it was a privilege to do the work. It was my mission at the time. My purpose. Read Daniel Pink's book "Drive". He talks about that kind of thing.

Among the things I've been doing lately is working with real estate agents. They are doing so much more to support their clients in the sale of their homes, one of the most stressful things you can go through (short of a kidnapping). It's very cool. A new purpose for me.

pangolin883 karma

Chris - what do you do if you negotiating counterpart directly asks you how much profit you are making or similar questions that would give your bottom line away?

Chris_Voss1 karma

I like that question!

That kind of a move is pretty much the style of the typical "procurement" negotiator. Surprisingly enough (or maybe not so surprisingly) the stereotypical procurement negotiator is almost the same animal as an kidnapper negotiator. Same profile. We used to say "The hostage won't be released until the kidnappers feel they've gotten everything they can."

The procurement guy (generic) will push you until they feel that can't push you any farther. They push you until you say "no" and they'll make you say it at least 3 times. Asking you directly about profit is one of their 1st moves.

Deferential, smiling, soothing passive aggression is your best counter-measure.

1- Move #1 - "How am I supposed to answer that?"

Said calmly, with a likable smile and tone of voice. Not angrily. Not as an accusation. You may have to say it more than once.

2 - "I'm sorry, I'm afraid it just doesn't work for me to share that kind of confidential information."

3 - "It seems like you want me to share confidential information with you."

The person who is asking you this is really testing you. Most likely, if they are testing you this hard, they really want you. That's the good news. No one ever encounters procurement unless you are the preferred vendor.

Be polite. Don't give in. Use patience and respect as both swords and shields. You'll win.

pangolin881 karma

great advice, thanks! BTW, I loved the online course on your web site. It saved me 5x the cost of the course the first week.

Chris_Voss1 karma

That's great to hear! Well done!

FanOfGoodMovies3 karma

Can anybody learn to be a negotiator or are specific aptitudes required?

Chris_Voss6 karma

ANYBODY can learn it if they want to. The most important attribute is what's called "openness" just because you are more "open" to learning. But if you're working at it and trying, you're "open" right? At lease enough to put in the effort.

Great negotiation is about great emotional intelligence or EQ. We've all got it and the good news, unlike IQ, is that EQ can be built and improved on until your mid 80's at least.

IQ is like your height. There is only so tall you are ever going to get and not matter how much chess you play, or rubics cubes you spin around, you're never going to lift you IQ past a certain point. As a kid I wanted to be 6'7" tall and be a pro-basketball player. my dad was 5'10" (he lied to me when I was little and always told me he was 6'0 - he told my son the same story but I think he told him he was 6'2"). Not matter have many gallons of milk I drank (lots) I only got to 6'.

Anyway, with practice, effort and openness you can become a great negotiator. A real key is listening for motivations and one of the best ways to get really good at that is volunteering on a suicide hotline. You'll be amazed at the EQ you can pick up doing that!

Buy a couple of different negotiation books, besides mine, Stuart Diamond's book "Getting More" is really good and so is Jim Camp's book "Start With No".

Get some practice in lots of little day-to-day conversations and you can get really good.

Good luck!

VNaughtTCosTheta2 karma


I've never heard of this book before - I just ordered it.

I'm a sales engineer, and am curious on your thoughts on the relationship between sales and negotiation. I guess to clarify - specifically, I do not sell commodity items. I sell technically advanced process equipment and solutions.

Question 1

In my mind, the five buying decisions are:

  1. Sell yourself.

  2. Sell the company.

  3. Sell the product.

  4. Agree on a price.

  5. Agree on a timeline.

A lot of what you're talking about is focused on decision number 4 - agreeing on a price. But in my mind, if I haven't succeeded on decision number 1-3, then it is a mistake to move to decision number 4. And if I have succeeded on decision number 1-3, then I'm not going to lose on decision number 4 unless they really do not have the money to spend.

How do you see your advice being related to decisions 1-3?

Question 2

Going into any sort of communication - a sales call, a meeting, a phone call, etc - the number one thought going through my mind is, "what is my commitment objective, and what does commitment look like?"

When talking to someone, I don't want to hear them say, "that's right." What I want to hear them say is, "I agree this is the best path forward - I will do x"

Where x is my commitment objective. Examples may include:

  • Setting up an additional meeting in one week with the ultimate decision maker.

  • Submitting my proposal to the state for regulatory approval

  • Allowing me to demonstrate the equipment or process to the end user

  • etc

However, through your answers in this thread, you seem to prefer to leave things open, which is different than what I was expecting. Am I misinterpreting this?

Chris_Voss3 karma

Complex thinking there. Impressive.

Some of it has to do with definitions. i can best describe with an example.

A 12 year old boy is kidnapped in Haiti. He's an American citizen (dual national Haitian ethnicity born in the US). Bad guys don't know they've got an American. Dad (not an American) contacts the US Embassy. They tell him the FBI's going to help him.

I'm sure he expects ninja's rappelling from helicopters in about 10 minutes.

Instead, he's get's a call from me (I'm in Washington DC) about 15 minutes later. He literally says to me on the phone, "You're in Washington DC? How YOU gonna help me?"

I've probably got 3 seconds before he hangs up. Do I sell myself?

I say: "OK, so Haitian kidnappers aren't killing kidnap victims these days (this occurred before the big earthquake hit Haiti a number of years ago). I know that's stupid because they kill each other at the drop of a hat, but they're not killing kidnap victims.

"Now today is Thursday. And Haitian kidnappers LOVE to party on Saturday night. If you do what I ask, we'll have your son out by late Friday or early Saturday morning."

He says: "Tell me what you want me to do." We had his son out Saturday morning.

What did I sell?

I displayed an understanding of what he was faced with and instead of saying I understand, I showed him I understood. I also displayed insight into the dynamics.

I'd offer to you, that everyone you encounter as a potential customer is looking 1st for the same from you.

Regarding your commitments and commitment objectives - I am speculating based on your language choices you understand the fact that we exist in an asymmetric world. If you accept that's true, then it's not possible to have an accurate commitment objective without leaving money on the table.

This will sound harsh. If it's the number one thing on your mind, you've got blinders on.

Thank you for buying my book!

iwas99x2 karma

Chris, how do I get past a bouncer at a busy club?

Chris_Voss2 karma

Tip included. As you're walking up to him, say "I am so sorry. I found this."

You're either holding up a $20 or a $100, depending on the club. Tear it in half right in front of him. Hand him half. Don't say another word.

He feels respected and in control. It's his option to let you in, or fail to collaborate & you both lose equally. Given that amount of control, if he was EVER going to let you in, that will do it.


iwas99x2 karma

Chris, what items for sale and services can people negotiate the price for that 95% of people have no idea that those prices are negotiable and could you give us a short example on what to say to negotiate the price?

Chris_Voss5 karma

Nearly everything is negotiable, if the person you're dealing with just feels like it. Consider this phrase - "Never be mean to someone who could hurt you by doing nothing". That pretty much covers everyone you deal with right?

If everyone could hurt you, then by the same token, they can help you if they just feel like it. The trick is how to get them there? How to get them to give you the "employee" discount that they give to their friends ALL the time.

I (we) call this "The Chris Price". It the "(Your name) Price". Here some examples and what's behind it:

As a hostage negotiator, I know that getting a hostage taker to use the hostage’s name humanizes the hostage and makes it less likely they will come to harm. This process is what we in The Black Swan Group now refer to as “forced empathy.” It makes the other side see you, and see you as a person.

A few years ago I was in a bar in Kansas with a number of other FBI hostage negotiators. The bar is really packed with lots of people having a good time. There’s an empty chair at the bar. As I get ready to sit in there the guy next to it says “Don’t even think about it”.

So...I say “Why?” He says “Because I’ll kick your ass.” I hesitate a moment, sort of shrug and scratch my head and say “Well...I don’t need that.”

I hold out my hand to shake his. “My name is Chris.” He freezes.

The hostage negotiators with me quickly move in, pat him on the shoulders, greet him warmly and offer to buy him a drink.

Conversation ensues and we find out he’s a Vietnam veteran at a particularly low point in his life. He’s sitting there in misery while he “perceives” that everyone around him is having a wonderful time. The only thing he can think of is to fight someone.

When I was some unnamed person he was ready to hit me. As soon as I became “Chris” everything changed.

Getting a Discount in an Outlet Mall

Flash forward in time, I’m in an outlet mall. I pick out some shirts in one of the stores. I go to the front counter and the young lady behind the counter asks me if I want to join their frequent buyer program. (This is of course, I think, a way for them to get my e-mail address so they can spam my inbox.) I ask her if it costs me anything. She says “no”.

I ask her if I get a discount for joining. She says “no”. So I say in a friendly manner “My name is “Chris”. What’s the “Chris” discount?”

She says “I’ll have to ask my manager.” She turns to the other woman who’s been standing next to her the whole time and says “Kathy, he wants to know if there is a “Chris” discount.”

Kathy says “The best I can do is 10%.”

Another Discount

A couple of weeks later I’m in a clothing store shopping for a cummerbund (I know how it sounds, okay? I’m sorry but I needed one.) I also try on a bunch of shirts and don’t buy any of them (which always makes me feel guilty). I check out the price for the cummerbund and it looks a little high to my unsophisticated eye. So I tell the guy I’ll be back, and I walk out the front door. (I feel lame doing that, especially since I figure the sales guy thinks “That’s nonsense. That guy’s not coming back”.)

I shop every other store in the mall and find all prices higher than the first. I know I have to go back there. I hate it every step of the way, because I know soon as I walk in the front door they know they’ve got me. I walk in and both of the salesmen are standing right there and they say “Yes, we’ve got your cummerbund right here.”

Now of course there is a sign in front of this clothing store saying “Buy 1 Shirt, Suit or Sport coat and get 3 free!”. This tells my consumer mind that maybe there’s some leeway here in the pricing. I say “Hey, buy 1 get 3 free?”

They say “No, no, no, that’s not on cummerbunds, that’s shirts, suits and sport coats.” I say “Yeah, because what am I going to do with 3 cummerbunds?

So there’s no discount on cummerbunds?”

And they say, “No. No discounts on cummerbunds.” I then playfully say...“But I’m “Chris”, there has to be a “Chris” discount. What’s the “Chris” price?”

And the manager says... “The best I can do is 20%.”

Use your name to introduce yourself. Say it in a fun, friendly way. Let them enjoy the interaction too. Get the “Chris” price. Get the “(your name)” price.

report-zyther641 karma

What is your favourite dinosaur?

Chris_Voss1 karma


paulkelly5231 karma

Are you going to write any more books? If so, what would they cover?

Chris_Voss1 karma

Not yet but here are some ways to both get some free stuff and stay ahead of anything we publish!

My colleagues and I in The Black Swan Group (Derek Gaunt and Brandon Voss) keep putting out articles in our weekly newsletter "The Edge". Both Derek & Brandon write powerful stuff (and the newsletter is free).

At some point, both Derek and Brandon will probably publish e-books under our company's umbrella.

In a couple of years, we'll likely update "Never Split the Difference" but in the meantime, most of the ideas that would be in that update will come up in some way or another in our newsletter "The Edge". If you're interested you can find it on our website www.blackswanltd.com or you can text message the number 22828 with the message "FBIEmpathy" (all one word - don't let your autocorrect change it - under upper or lower case letters don't matter).

Much of the newer stuff we're writing about now focuses on what we refer to as "cold-reads", other aspects of tactical empathy and "proof-of-life of the deal" and it's not just proof-of-life of the deal, but proof-of-life of the deal with YOU. Not the same thing.

Zhiradu1 karma

How did find your career path, and how did you find the confidence to negotiate?

Chris_Voss2 karma

Cop - FBI Agent - FBI Agent Swat - FBI Terrorism Investigator - FBI Hostage Negotiator.

I had an old knee injury that was flaring back up when I was with FBI SWAT. I knew we had negotiators, I didn't really know what they did or how complex it might be, but I figured "I talk to people all the time. I can talk to terrorists!"

It ended up being more amazing than SWAT ever was. I was told if I wanted to to it, I needed to go volunteer at a suicide hotline. I did it. That was the best piece of advise I ever got for any kind of negotiation.

The training is great and your EQ if you pay attention of through-the-roof. It's also a perishable skill.

Once you know how this stuff works, you've got all the confidence you need. All you have to do is practice. And you can try it at home!

Zhiradu1 karma

Thank you so much for taking time to answer my question. Knee injuries seem like they are the career killer almost everywhere you go! I am happy for you, that you found something you enjoy. I noticed from your other stories that being kind, admit your mistakes, and using people's empathy will get you far. (EDIT general observation for every day life)

Chris_Voss1 karma

Well said!

Zhiradu1 karma

Bonus question, if you will allow me - Do you and your co workers play any negotiation "games/scenarios" with each other on a regular basis?

Chris_Voss3 karma

We do some practice. But the real skill builder is just using it in everyday interactions. There's a very fine line between everyday conversation and negotiation, so why not use it in the real world!

windycitykid1 karma

Hey Chris - I really enjoyed chatting with you at the Unleash event last week and look forward to our paths crossing again soon.

In your talks and your book, you relay a ton of information on how to use empathy to provide the other party the space to expand on their position and to also give the other party power - or the illusion of power in a negotiation (get them to 'no', "How am I supposed to do that?", etc.).

Let's assume a scenario where we have reached a point in a negotiation where the other party has hard limits set that are outside of my acceptable outcomes - i.e. we're at a complete impasse. What are some good ways forward to explain the reality of our impasse that also continue the conversation in a positive direction towards identifying new solutions?

Chris_Voss2 karma

Interesting question. So 1st, if they've set hard limits outside of your parameters, there's a really good chance you should politely thank them & move on.

"No-deal" is better than a "bad deal". Any deal there might be really bad for you.

You finish politely because you want to plant seeds for the next time you talk to them, and you will. The last impression is the lasting impression. Who knows? They might just come back to you later with some sort of concession.

The best LAST thing for you to say is "It sounds like there's nothing I can say to get you to make a deal". This is a great close and if you're done a good job in the process, if you've used empathy tactically and heard them out, if you've gotten several "that's rights" out of them and used several labels, if they can make the deal they will make a change or offer a change and make the deal.

If they offer nothing, you've ended with respect and set yourself up for a good interaction the next time you cross paths.

Good luck!

JoshBelanger1 karma

I learned a lot of from your book and it's one of my favorites.

In sales i'm given the objection "if you're so good, why don't you do it for free?" or "If this works so well, why are you sharing it with me?"

What is the thinking behind this in order to put a label on it?

Chris_Voss2 karma

These will get them!

"Sounds like you're skeptical." "Sound like your guard is up high." "Sounds like you're thinking I'm trying to hoodwink you." "Sounds like you've trusted in the past an been let down."

These objections are both skepticism based and based on feelings of insecurity, likely as result of being betrayed in the past. They were likely conned at some point and feel very stung by it. There's an old saying that someone who's been bitten by a snake is afraid of ropes.

Recognizing fears (an aspect of emotional intelligence) and then articulating it (street smarts, aka good people skills, aka tactical empathy) is the absolute best way to not just overcome objections, but make them dissolve.

iwas99x1 karma

Chris, so in non life and limb danger situations you do not believe in Arbitration?

Chris_Voss1 karma

Ah! The problem with Arbitration is that it's when communication has broken down. It's the equivalent of calling in not just a SWAT team, but threatening an air strike.

Do I recognize that since we're still human beings it might be necessary? Sure.

I guess that might be asking me if I don't believe in the fire department. I wish the house had never caught on fire, but once it does, if the blaze of emotion is out of control, people may not be able to put it out without outside help, which isn't going to leave them with a great result anyway.

weirdistheway1 karma

If you wanted to get to know as much as you can about someone (background, values, goals, etc) without being creepy, what are some of the first few questions you would ask?

Chris_Voss3 karma

Not just questions, but observations. We call these "labels" and when you start to put several together they can be "cold-reads" and amount to the tactical use of empathy. This stuff tends to unlock floodgates of talking.

Read the look on someone's face. Say "You look like you've really got something on your mind" or "You look happy" or "It looks like you're really trying to figure something out."

People start to really open up when you read them & feedback what you're seeing. They feel "seen" as opposed to overlooked. They want to engage if they feel you're actually noticing them.

You can even get this wrong and they will respond to correct you in a way that now the 2 of your are engaged anyway. Some of the people I coach have found this to be so effective they do it on purpose about half the time because people love to correct others.

"What?" or "How?" questions are often goo, but you're got to actually listen to the answers and feed back to them the observations of what you're hearing.

"How are you doing today?" is ok - versus "You look happy" if much better. People tend to really open up to insightful observations on your part.

Aminobutyric_acid1 karma

Hey Mr. Voss! I must have missed the memo on your book, but I'm glad I stumbled across this AMA. Your job and skillset sound really cool, and I'll be checking out your book when I get the chance.

I actually have two questions:

  1. Can you tell us about your career trajectory, and how you ended as an authority on complex negotiations?

  2. Can you tell us about the one accomplishment you're most proud of?

Chris_Voss1 karma

1 - I like Einstein's remark about this kind of thing (and I'm paraphrasing) "I spent so much time attacking authority as punishment the world made me one".

When you're really into what you do, there are a lot of "authorities" who will be skeptical because your new ideas threaten them. There will also be a lot of other people who like you, are really into it and are really fun to be around.

I hung out with the people who were into negotiation and communication and who were fun to be around. And we had a ball.

And when I thought those above me were wrong I told them so. I was also lucky enough to have had the head of the FBI Crisis Negotiation Unit, Gary Noesner, mentor me. Gary encouraged free thinkers and wasn't threatened when we didn't agree with him. It was great working for him and working with the band of misfits that he collected.

2 - Out of the blue I received a reward for Excellence in Teaching from Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business. That was a big surprise I AM honored by to this day.

I also received the FBI's Agent's Association Award for Distinguished and Exemplary Service (along with my partner John Liguori). Being awarded by my peers was probably the greatest honor.

LookARedHerring1 karma

How much can you give the person your negotiating with? What could you promise them in return for their cooperation?

Chris_Voss3 karma

As a hostage negotiator? Our currency was respect and understanding. Empathy.

As a business negotiator? Here's the crazy part, each of the 3 types (Assertive, Analyst and Accommodator) each have something on an emotional level more important that making a deal.

Assertive - They want to make sure you've heard what they've had to say. They can live with no deal as long as they've been heard out. Bonus emotional points if they feel like they were in control. These guys are very susceptible to deference and respect. Just look at how well H.R. McMaster, Paul Ryan and Jared Kushner all interact with President Trump.

Analyst - They want to know they found out all the information and had all the time they needed to make a decision. If they think there's information they didn't have they won't be able to sleep. They detest conflict but love comparisons of data. Don't say to them "I don't agree" say "I have different data."

Accommodator - the relationship is the objective. If you "like" them, they feel they've won. They are very vulnerable to being "disliked".

In nearly every negotiation, there is an emotional element that will either be a deal-breaker, or a deal-maker.

i love that!

LookARedHerring1 karma

Knowledge is power! That's really insightful, Thanks for the answer!

Chris_Voss1 karma

My pleasure!

chichmir1 karma

I love your concept of rephrasing "Yes" questions to "No" oriented questions. However, I struggle to create these sentences sometimes.

Do you have any other way of rephrasing questions other than "Is it a bad idea to.." or "Would it be ridiculous to..." and the other ones you've mentioned in your book?

Any new thoughts or examples of this?

Chris_Voss1 karma

How about:

"Are you completely against..."

You don't really need more than about 3. People won't notice the repetition because you should be labeling the mirroring the responses.

Add in a couple of "what?" and "How?" calibrated questions and you should be good!

iwas99x1 karma

Do you prefer Redditors address you as Chris or Mr. Voss?

Chris_Voss1 karma

I like "Chris"!

Thanks for asking!

MBuddah1 karma

Could you tell us about a negotiation you were involved in that had a bad outcome?

Chris_Voss3 karma

So, there's 2 kinds of bad outcomes: those you see coming & those you don't. Sometimes you have all the indicators that it's going to go bad regardless, but you know what, until it does you never stop trying and you never give up.

There were a series of kidnappings done by Al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan/Afghanistan in around the 2004 time frame. They were clearly set up as orchestrated murders around a fiction of negotiation by issuing demands that couldn't be met. We never gave up on any of them because to do so would have been to fail not just the victims who were kidnapped, but the victim families. The public response we orchestrated in the middle-eastern media as a result brought those cases to an end with the backlash. Please note I didn't say the target media was the western media.

In the Burnham/Sobero case in the Philippines, one hostage Guillermo Sobero was murdered by the kidnappers, Martin Burnham amd Deborah Yap (a Filipino) was killed by friendly fire in a botched Filipino military rescue attempt. Gracia Burnham was wounded and survived. Several other Filipino's were also murdered by the kidnappers. We didn't see that end coming and for us though it was like getting hit by a freight train, what we went through was nothing compared to what their families lost.

It was a privilege to have been able to try to save them at all. I'm grateful for all the courage and dignity those hostages and their families displayed.

Treesrule1 karma

Whats the best thing I can do to get a job with the FBI in the future?

Chris_Voss3 karma

There's a couple of simple things...DON'T GET ARRESTED! Don't use any drugs. (Maybe smoke a joint ONCE.) Stay clean, don't break the law.

It doesn't take any guts to break the law anyway. Outlaw?! Really. Boring. Going you own way legally, being totally your own person? That takes guts.

After that, you can give yourself an edge with military service (quick and easy way to already have a security clearance - shortens the time the FBI's got to do a background on you) go to law school, become an accountant or become fluent (reading and writing) in a couple of key languages (Arabic, Farsi, Spanish, Chinese, Russian to name some important ones).

The FBI is a cool job and it's got the perfect place for you somewhere no matter what type of person you are. Just work hard, show up and have fun!

windycitykid1 karma

Another question: How do you detach yourself from the outcome of a negotiation?

Even in business scenarios, I find that I tie a certain amount of self-worth to the outcome of a negotiation and that tends to hinder me more often than not. I imagine that feeling is much more amplified when the stakes are higher in hostage scenarios. How would you emotionally remove yourself from the scenario and free yourself to focus on only the best outcome for everyone?

Chris_Voss2 karma

Ah! Interesting question also!

Please allow me to shift your focus?

Focusing on the outcome gives you blinders. You'll miss better opportunities.

It's also a little like walking a tightrope. If the tightrope walker looks at her/his destination she/he falls off the rope. If they focus on each step they stay on.

Focus on the process. Have a "sense" of the outcome and then you will sense it as a better outcome begins to hint it's there.

Focus on how the other side is seeing things. There's an interesting thing that happens when you really turn your radar on to pick up where the other side is coming from. You get out of your own head and pick up their clues better. You read between the lines better. You "hack" their true meaning and motivators.

Then the deal emerges. Since it's impossible to know everything the other side is hiding (unless you discover it in the process) you can never know in advance what the best deal is.

Learn a great process, let yourself be imperfect and you'll make great deals.

windycitykid1 karma

Looking forward to playing with this idea and frame of mind!

Thank you for your thoughtful responses. Would be happy to spring for a cocktail the next time you find yourself in Chicago!

Chris_Voss1 karma

Thank you!

Korolev20151 karma

Hi Chris, I have read your book couple of times. I think its great. I have both audio copy and the paper copy, which I just give to my daughter to learn negotiations with the teachers. I want to ask: what do you think about using your methods on people you know well?

Chris_Voss2 karma


These tactics are about genuinely understanding others and establishing a legitimate collaboration with them. When you're good at this you can be incredibly influential.

Those close to you deserve genuine understanding as much as those not close to you. The problem can come from your intent, not from the skills.

If you're using it to manipulate them and not have a better relationship, but to only get what you want, I don't think it's good.

A female Silicon Valley executive friend of mine suddenly found she was really enjoying conversations with her fiance. She asked him about it & he admitted he was getting some training based on my book and the conversations were part of the exercises in the training.

She went out & bought copies of the book for all her best girlfriends husbands and boyfriends.

It's good stuff for your close relationships as long are you are really on their side!

Zan_H1 karma

Who is your favourite Beatle?

Chris_Voss5 karma


No seriously...Paul. Super cool guy. Pops up in LA now & then (where I'm at now). He pulled a super-cool "negotiation" move with a friend of mine.

My buddy (who's also a musician) see's Paul jogging in a park in the Hollywood Hills. My friend tries not to be a giddy fan, but can't help it & runs after him & catches up. My buddy is almost beside himself that he actually standing there talking to Paul McCartney. He's so excited he can't hardly speak & Paul reaches over to him & puts his hands on his shoulders. Then his says "Yeah, I say that TV show too. It was cool" My buddy had mentioned a Beatles related show that had just been on.

With that touch, Paul then turned & went back to his jog. Totally cool way to give a great fan an amazing moment with complete class & then get back to his day!

Scottler1 karma

Do you ever find yourself using your negotiation skills in your everyday life, like to return an item that was nonreturnable?

Chris_Voss9 karma

All the time. Stuff like that is great practice, because after all, what have you got to lose? And if you do it in a nice and friendly way, & still fail, you get a chance to make somebody else smile.

Start off by saying something like "This is going to sound INSANE..." or "You're not going to like this..." or "I'm so sorry, this is going to sound ridiculous and I am going to seem like the biggest jerk you ever met."

Stuff like this completely catches people off guard in a delightful and refreshing way and leans them towards wanting to help you. Smile when you say it. "Out-nice" them. If they work in returns they are used to being yelled at & threatened.

Never be mean to someone who can hurt you by doing nothing. Everyone you come into contact with could probably hurt you by doing nothing. The flip side of that is, literally everyone you come into contact with could help you, if they just feel like it.

Make them feel like it and some really good things tend to happen.

mtthree1 karma

Chris, I've never read your book, but now that I'm aware of it, I will now. I have just started a career as a Sales Rep for a large and reputable company. What is the best advice that you can give someone just starting in Sales? Thanks in advance.

Chris_Voss4 karma

Don't become a "Yes" addict! Don't try "Momentum selling" or the "Yes" momentum and any approach where you try to lead people down a path of confirmation "yeses" to try to get a commitment "yes". It's horrible and people hate it!

Everyday somebody tries to trap us (you too) by trying to get you to say "yes" to stuff. Usually it's ridiculous. "Would you like to make more money?" Really? Come on.

Practice reading people. Ask lots of "What?" & "How?" questions. Take you time. Help them see choices and sometimes even encourage them to buy something other than what your selling if it's better. That way when you recommend some thing you are selling, they will believe you & buy.

Take a look at another answer I gave about getting "that's right" out of people. You get a "that's right" out of someone, you're much more likely to make a sale than if you get a counterfeit "yes" which is what the vast majority of spoken "yeses" are.

iwas99x1 karma

Chris, what percentage of people actually negotiate using rational thoughts instead of pure emotion?

Chris_Voss2 karma

You're not going to like this.

Reason is what we make up after we decide based on what we care about. You make decisions based on what you care about, which makes decision making by definition an emotional process.

Daniel Kahneman won the Noble Prize for his work on Prospect Threory with Amos Tversky pointing this out.

If you believe this is true (I do) then all negotiation is an interplay of emotion followed by rational thought.

Maybe a way to think of it might be like a water molecule. 2 parts emotion and 1 part reason, or even vice versa. Either way, without emotion there is no molecule.