What The FBI Can Teach Us About How To Negotiate

When it comes to negotiating, it’s always a good idea to find somebody who has done it before and learn from them. A good example of this would be Chris Voss. Chris worked for the FBI and was once the FBI’s chief international kidnapping negotiator, working on about 150 cases worldwide over his 24-year career. When it comes to negotiating in high pressure situations, Chris is the person who knows a great deal. Now the question is, what can he teach us?

The Behavioral Change Stairway Model

When you enter into a negotiation, you had better be showing up with a plan. Considering that the types of negotiations that Chris Voss was getting himself into more often than not involved people’s lives, he most defiantly needed to have a plan for how he was going to handle the negotiation.

The good news for Chris is that the FBI has created an approach to handling high stress negotiations. What makes the FBI approach unique is that they have built-in an approach that fully takes emotions into account. They believe that you can’t have a negotiation without emotions playing a role and so they’ve use them to influence the situation.

The FBI model for negotiating consists of 5 steps. The model is called the Behavioral Change Stairway Model. Here are the 5 steps:

  1. Listen actively: Listen to them-and make sure they know you’re listening.
  2. Empathize: Understand where they’re coming from.
  3. Establish rapport: When they return the feeling of empathy-and trust-your way.
  4. Influence: With trust established, you can work on solving the problem together.
  5. Change behavior: They act-positively.

Where Most People Go Wrong

Well there you go. You would think that with the FBI model in hand, you would now be all set to deal with any high-stress negotiation that comes your way, right? Well, actually no. It turns out that most people make a mistake.

Chris Voss says that what too many of us do even when we have the FBI model to work with is that we skip right to step #4 in the model. For some odd reason we decide that we are working to solve the problem together, but in reality we just come across as though we are trying to boss the other side around.

Chris says that our correct first step when entering into a high stress negotiation needs to be to hear the other side of the table out. You need to pay attention to the emotions that are at work here. Don’t show up looking for an argument, instead show up ready to listen.

What All Of This Means For You

In order to become better negotiators, we need to take the time to stop and listen to those who have been doing this stuff longer than we have. Chris Voss is one such person. Chris’ specialty is knowing how to negotiate in high pressure situations where lives may be at stake. Hopefully we won’t be in the same situation, but there is still much for us to learn here.

The FBI has developed a 5-step approach to negotiating in high stakes situations. What’s interesting about this approach is that it does away with much of the negotiation styles and negotiating techniques that we see in everyday negotiations and replaces it with active listening. All too often we negotiators rush into a negotiation wanting to get into an argument.

Take the time to listen to what the other side of the table is saying in your next principled negotiation. By doing this just like the FBI does, you’ll have a much better chance of disarming the other side. You don’t want to be picking a fight if you want to be able to reach a deal. Listen to what the FBI is telling you and do what they do!

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