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Chris Voss is the Founder and CEO of the Black Swan Group Ltd. He has used his many years of experience in international crisis and high stakes negotiations to develop[…]

Emotional intelligence and tactical empathy are key to successful negotiating, says former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss. He highlights the value of understanding and addressing the other party’s emotional standpoint in both business and personal negotiations. By doing so, people can make better deals and foster long-term relationships. 

Voss emphasizes the importance of addressing people’s fears and practicing tactical empathy through labeling. This approach involves identifying and acknowledging the emotions involved in the negotiation. By listening carefully and discerning the underlying motivations and concerns, negotiators can guide discussions more effectively and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

Being nice to others can often lead to surprising results, proving the power of empathy and understanding in negotiations.

CHRIS VOSS: My negotiation background really started even before I became an FBI hostage negotiator because I needed to get some training. And that training was really intense, focused listening on a suicide hotline. Really learning about emotional intelligence and what drives people, and then how to navigate that in a way that calms people down, makes people make decisions.

- 'Gunmen burst into the Chase Manhattan Bank in Park Slope this morning. And ever since negotiators have been trying to get them to give up.'

- 'Hostage negotiators used a bullhorn to try and talk to the gunman.'

- 'Billy, we're on the same page.'

- 'What persuaded the gunman finally to come out?

- I think it was excellent hostage negotiating.'

VOSS: If you think that successful negotiations are successful because of logic or arguments or reason or compromise, you're losing money- you're leaving millions of dollars on the table. And over the course of a lifetime, that could be true for everybody. Tactically, emotional intelligent negotiation is the way you make great deals, and the way you have great long-term relationships.

And sometimes they miss that and they think that the problem is a person across the table. And that's why, oftentimes, that people think of it as conflict and actually treat it as conflict. Negotiation is really about what people are making decisions based on what they care about, what's your passions? Every decision you make, you make based on what you care about, which I'm afraid that by definition, that makes decision-making an emotional process.

First of all, understanding where the other side's coming from and especially emotionally, and then being able to feed it back to them in a way that they signal to you that you've got it right. Understand and demonstrate that understanding. There are a lot of negotiators that really will give in on a deal because being understood is more important than getting what they want. So once we completely understand where somebody's coming from, then with tactical empathy, we get a much better feel for exactly how they feel about things, how that drives them- and then how we can interact with the things that are driving them.

The reasons you won't make a deal are typically more important than the reasons you will make a deal. There's Nobel Prize-winning behavioral economics theory that says that people will put a value of losses on at least twice what an equivalent gain is. So losing $5 stings at least twice as much as gaining $5. Losing $5 feels like losing $10 or even $35- it's just a ridiculous skewing in our brains over loss. So knowing that fear of loss is probably going to drive someone's decision-making more than anything else, tactically, I want to diffuse those fears. I want to get them out of that fear-based thinking, and I want to get them really in a more rational, open frame of mind as quickly as I can, which is why, tactically and empathy, I wanna address their fears first.

Well, labeling is the best way to practice tactical empathy: In its strictest form, it's just saying, or writing, "it seems like, it sounds like, it looks like," putting a label on the dynamic. And science is showing us now, that if we label a negative, it diminishes it. I'll actually say to somebody ahead of time, "Look, this is gonna sound really harsh, and there's a really good chance that when I get done saying what I'm gonna say, you're not gonna like me at all." And then I'll say what I have to say, and they'll say, "Wow, that wasn't that bad." So I know I can take a very preemptive approach to negative thinking because I know what a barrier it is to decision-making in business. The type of listening-I practice it as I teach it- is really kind of beyond active listening all by itself. We even sort of refer to it sometimes as 'listeners judo' because we're listening very carefully for certain things. We're listening for different aspects of what people care about, and what they're against at the same time. People will reveal the negatives, very much, either between the lines, a little bit of the adjectives, and in also in every positive there's a flip side negative; every negative, there's a flip side positive. If I make it a point of talking about how I'm for integrity, then if you're making it a point to state that then you've been betrayed in the past, that's been a problem for you in the past. There's a yin and yang to everything. And as soon as you realize that, that there's a negative to every positive and a positive to every negative, and you're listening for it, you can kind of pick out how you want to guide a discussion knowing that those are the things that you're looking for. 

I remember one time I was on the phone with a customer service airlines person, and that's gotta be a tough job because those people get yelled at all day long every day. Nobody calls customer service unless they're unhappy. And this woman was one of those women that she clearly she'd been yelled at 50 times during the day, and she was not interested in staying on the phone with me a moment longer than she had to. And I remember when I was off the phone and she had me on hold, I remember saying, "You know, I guarantee you this woman right now is thinking, she's saying to her colleagues, 'You know, this guy's lucky I'm talking to him on a phone at all!'" So I was thinking about the negative of that, and then I was about the flip side. Well in her view, if she thinks I'm lucky to be talking to her on the phone, then the flip side of that is she's actually being generous in her mind and her world. She came back on the phone and I said to her, "You know what? I really appreciate how generous you've been with your time." And I could tell immediately her frame of mind changed. She put me back on hold for about a minute and a half after that. And when she came back on the phone, she'd given me a full refund on my ticket. Most people, if you're nice to them, can help you by doing a little bit if you give them a chance. If you're just nice to people, it's amazing what they'll do for you.

- That's awesome.

- That was great story.

- Thank you.

- Thank you for awesomeness.

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