FBI Hostage Negotiation Tactics You Can Use Every Day
A 24-year veteran of the Bureau shares the 'Jedi Mind Trick' that works every time.
Where are we ordering takeout from? What new series are we going to binge watch tonight?
Everything in life is a negotiation. Sometimes, as in the aforementioned examples, the stakes are quite low. Bad results, at worst, are heartburn and boredom. But other times negotiations have much more on the line. Life and death, to be exact. These are the kinds of negotiations Chris Voss has dealt with for the better part of his professional career.
Voss is a 24-year veteran of the FBI, where in part he served as the burea's lead international kidnapping negotiator. Recently Voss, now CEO of The Black Swan Group, sat down with The Science of Success Podcast with Matt Bodnar and producer Austin Fabel to share some of the amazingly effective negotiation strategies, techniques and tactics that the FBI uses in the field that can be translated to the business world. Read some of the takeaways and listen to the full episode embedded below.
Try the mirroring technique.
When in a negotiation it's crucial to get as much information out of the other side as possible. Voss explains that by "mirroring" them and simply repeating three to five keywords in their last sentence, people are forced by nature to repeat themselves in a way that gives more information and clarifies their points. An example:
Person 1: To get someone to tip their hand and clarify, simply repeat the last three to five keywords in their sentence.
Person 2: You repeat the last keywords?
Person 1: Yeah, pretty crazy right? What that does is it causes me to explain my point again from a different angle, revealing more information that could be extremely valuable and also it helps you decipher my true desired outcomes and motivations.
Voss notes it feels extremely awkward when you are doing the mirroring, but insists that the other person almost never notices and actually feels listened to. Voss refers to this as the negotiation "Jedi Mind trick" as he says it works every time and no one knows you're doing it.
Why you should ask “what?” and “how?”
Voss explains that these two interrogatives can be extremely powerful in negotiating, as they encourage the other side to keep talking, to clarify and to eventually reveal their true intentions and motives. "You'd like to settle on these terms? What is it about that this 30-day window that works for you?”
Likewise, with "how?” if someone demands $1 million in ransom, Voss's response might be, “I understand, but I need you to take a look at the whole context here. Tell me, how am I supposed to do that?” This causes the other side to actually put themselves in your shoes. It forces them to be on your side for a moment, and in hearing them think out a plan, it can reveal hidden motivations.
Get past gatekeepers by including them.
Voss says that during hostage negotiations you're often not speaking directly to the boss. Typically someone will be assigned to deal with law enforcement to simply give demands.
There’s a parallel in business as many times there are layers of gatekeepers, assistants and people who are not actually in charge before you get to the decisionmaker. In business and in hostage negotiations, trying to simply blow by these people is looking for trouble. If you talk down to an assistant, they’re not going to patch you through to the boss. Their inaction takes zero effort for them but provides a crushing blow to you.
Similarly, if you belittle the terrorist handling the phone he may freak and hang up on you. Voss recommends instead bringing them into the conversation. "How does what I'm proposing fit in with what you are trying to accomplish?" This creates a conversation and puts them in a position where they feel respected, and also feel the need to connect you to the decisionmaker.
Never lie to anyone you don't plan to kill.
Voss says that there are long-term negative effects of lying. In a hostage negotiation, if you lie to someone, he says, you’d better kill them because if word gets out that the FBI will lie, the next group who takes hostages won't even try to negotiate a compromise. Voss calls lying a "seductive trap."
In any situation, it can be an easy way to get what we want right now, but if word gets out that you lie, you've lost all your leverage in the long run. So rather than killing someone, maybe don't lie in the first place.