In this 7 minute video, Chris Voss (Chief FBI negotiator) explains three tips on negotiations.
- Three Voices
- The “F Word” in negotiations = “FAIR”
There are essentially three voice tones available to negotiators:
- The late-night FM DJ voice
- The positive/ playful voice
- The direct or assertive voice.
Forget the assertive voice, except in very rare circumstances. You’re signaling dominance onto your counterpart, who will either aggressively, or passive-aggressively, push back against attempts to be controlled. Most of the time, you should be using the positive/ playful voice. It’s the voice of an easygoing, good-natured person. Your attitude is light and encouraging. The key here is to relax and smile while you’re talking. A smile, even while talking on the phone, has an impact tonally that the other person will pick up on.
When people are in a positive frame of mind, they think more quickly, and are more likely to collaborate and problem-solve (instead of fight and resist). It applies to the smile-er as much as to the smile-ee: a smile on your face, and in your voice, will increase your own mental agility.
Mirroring, (isopraxism) is essentially imitation. It’s another neurobehavior humans (and other animals) display in which we copy each other to comfort each other. It can be done with speech patterns, body language, vocabulary, tempo, and tone of voice. It’s generally an unconscious behavior—we are rarely aware of it when it’s happening—but it’s a sign that people are bonding, in sync, and establishing the kind of rapport that leads to trust. It’s a phenomenon (and now technique) that follows a very profound biological principle: We fear what’s different and are drawn to what’s similar.
It’s almost laughably simple: for the FBI, a “mirror” is when you repeat the critical one to three words of what someone has just said. Of the entirety of the FBI’s hostage negotiation skill set, mirroring is the closest one gets to a Jedi mind trick. Simple, and yet uncannily effective.
One group of waiters, using positive reinforcement, lavished praise and encouragement on patrons using words such as “great,” “no problem,” and “sure” in response to each order. The other group of waiters mirrored their customers simply by repeating their orders back to them. The results were stunning: the average tip of the waiters who mirrored was 70 percent more than of those who used positive reinforcement.
There are still people in positions of authority who arrived at that position through aggressive assertiveness, sometimes outright intimidation, with “old school” top-down, command-and-control assumptions that the boss is always right. Whatever the enlightened rules of the “new school,” in every environment (work or otherwise) you will always have to deal with forceful type A people who prefer consent to collaboration. If you take a pit bull approach with another pit bull, you generally end up with a messy scene and lots resentment. There’s another way without all the mess. It’s just four simple steps:
- Use the late-night FM DJ voice.
- Start with “I’m sorry . . .”
- Silence. At least four seconds, to let the mirror work its magic on your counterpart.
The intention behind most mirrors should be “Please, help me understand.” Every time you mirror someone, they will reword what they’ve said. They will never say it exactly the same way they said it the first time.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS FAIR
“If you approach a negotiation thinking that the other guy thinks like you, you’re wrong,” I say. “That’s not empathy; that’s projection.”
This rocks my students’ view of themselves as rational actors. But they’re not. None of us are. We’re all irrational, all emotional. Emotion is a necessary element to decision making that we ignore at our own peril. Realizing that hits people hard between the eyes.
Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio explained a groundbreaking discovery he made. Studying people who had damage in the part of the brain where emotions are generated, he found that they all had something peculiar in common: They couldn’t make decisions. They could describe what they should do in logical terms, but they found it impossible to make even the simplest choice. In other words, while we may use logic to reason ourselves toward a decision, the actual decision making is governed by emotion.
The most powerful word in negotiations is “Fair.” As human beings, we’re mightily swayed by how much we feel we have been respected. People comply with agreements if they feel they’ve been treated fairly and lash out if they don’t. Brain-imaging studies have shown that human neural activity, particularly in the emotion-regulating insular cortex, reflects the degree of unfairness in social interactions. Even nonhuman primates are hardwired to reject unfairness. In one famous study, two capuchin monkeys were set to perform the same task, but one was rewarded with sweet grapes while the other received cucumbers. In response to such blatant unfairness, the cucumber-fed monkey literally went bananas. In the Ultimatum Game, years of experience has shown me that most accepters will invariably reject any offer that is less than half of the proposer’s money. Once you get to a quarter of the proposer’s money you can forget it and the accepters are insulted. Most people make an irrational choice to let the dollar slip through their fingers rather than to accept a derisory offer, because the negative emotional value of unfairness outweighs the positive rational value of the money. This irrational reaction to unfairness extends all the way to serious economic deals.
“We just want what’s fair,” she said.
The best response either way is to take a deep breath and restrain your desire to concede. Then say, “Okay, I apologize. Let’s stop everything and go back to where I started treating you unfairly and we’ll fix it.”
In NFL players negotiation final deal they wanted the owners to open their books. The owners’ answer? “We’ve given the players a fair offer.” Notice the horrible genius of this: instead of opening their books or declining to do so, the owners shifted the focus to the NFLPA’s supposed lack of understanding of fairness. If you find yourself in this situation, the best reaction is to simply mirror the “F” that has just been lobbed at you. “Fair?” you’d respond, pausing to let the word’s power do to them as it was intended to do to you. Follow that with a label: “It seems like you’re ready to provide the evidence that supports that,” which alludes to opening their books or otherwise handing over information that will either contradict their claim to fairness or give you more data to work with than you had previously. Right away, you declaw the attack.
Here’s how I use it:
- Early on in a negotiation, I say, “I want you to feel like you are being treated fairly at all times. So please stop me at any time if you feel I’m being unfair, and we’ll address it.”
- It’s simple and clear and sets me up as an honest dealer. With that statement, I let people know it is okay to use that word with me if they use it honestly.
- As a negotiator, you should strive for a reputation of being fair. Your reputation precedes you. Let it precede you in a way that paves success.
Give it a shot in your next negotiation.
Onward and Upward,