7 negotiation techniques from former FBI agent to help you survive any conversation

Time-tested toolkit based on New York Times bestseller “Never Split The Difference”

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Imagine this scenario: You’re stranded on an island with only one means of escape — a one-person kayak, and there are two of you. How do you convince the other person you’re stuck with to allow you to take the kayak instead of them? Negotiation!

Often, we find ourselves in situations where our only chance of survival is to wriggle our way out through negotiation. At this point, our survival instincts kick-start, and the need to reach a compromise becomes paramount. But what do you do if your negotiation skills are so poor you don’t even know what to say to start? In this article, we’ll share a timeless gem that answers this question — “Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As if Your Life Depended on It” by Chris Voss & Tahl Raz. This ground-breaking book teaches about the tactics and techniques of expert negotiation. 

Chris Voss is a former FBI agent and a member of the New York City joint terrorist task force. At the same time, Tahl Raz is an award-winning journalist, an editorial consultant in many firms, and a coach specializing in teaching editorial courses. Their years of experience in mastering and putting the skill of negotiation to use make them the right fit in bringing us the importance and techniques of negotiating the right way.

Key techniques to become a master negotiator

Everything is negotiable, whether or not the negotiation is easy, is another thing. –

Carrie Fisher

How do you negotiate effectively? The authors tell us that we can achieve a desirable result with the right approach and dedication. Many are eager to learn how to negotiate, but the main problem is, are we ready to put in the time and effort that it requires? Here are 7 crucial techniques that will give you an edge over the other party while negotiating:

Study your negotiators 

You need to study your negotiator so that you can know what they want, why they want it, and how they want it during the negotiation process. This is because humans, not just your negotiators, want to know that you listen to them and understand them. Listening reassures them that their opinion is important to you, and so is whatever they have to say. In turn, it would give you relevant leads on how to respond to the situation to get the desired results.

Learn the other party’s body language and use it to your advantage. Adequate knowledge about their tone of voice and gestures can give you further insight into carrying out your negotiation plans. The 7-28-55% rule postulated by Prof. Albert Mehrabian of UCLA says that 7% of a message is based on voice. Next, 28% of the message is deduced from the tone of voice, and 55% comes from their style and body gestures. Bearing this in mind, look out for all three during a negotiation to see whether a negotiator’s words match his actions and gestures. 

Never assume 

This one is hazardous. It is essential to never present yourself as a ‘know-it-all’ who doesn’t need any other party information. You need all the information you can get, so never assume that you know anything. Assumptions can easily close your mind off to opportunities that can help you gain the upper hand during a negotiation. Go for the hypothesis instead of assumptions. Ask yourself, “What are the variables involved in this situation?”, “What can be the possible result of each variable?” Never go into a negotiation feeling too confident, or as though you own the place. Be level-headed and aware of all the variables. This way, you can handle unpleasant surprises that may be thrown at you even better. 

Control your mind — “Calm the Schizophrenic” 

The essential part of any negotiation is that you gain enough information. You can’t do that with a distracted mind. The human mind can only consciously handle as few as 7 pieces of information at a time. It means that distractions come to us quickly. An expert negotiator must know not to get involved in distracting arguments during a negotiation. Negotiation is not about arguing, but gathering tons of information that can help you floor your opponent. Try as much as possible to keep calm, control yourself, and focus on the negotiation.

Slow it down

Provide a calm environment where the negotiation process occurs. It will help the other party feel like you want to hear what they have to say. 

Never be in haste to make any decisions during a negotiation. It can be a fatal mistake. Pace yourself, be sure that you are on the right track before you do so. Also, slowing it down is essential because it enables a trusting environment to negotiate effectively. Your negotiator starts to feel interested in actually hearing you out.

Watch your voice

Never show frustration in your voice. The other party can most likely tell what mood you are in through your voice, just the same way you can tell what mood they are in by their manner of speaking. Make use of the various voice tactics, including the Late Night FM-DJ voice, the playful/positive voice, and the direct/assertive voice. The most used of these voices is the FM-DJ voice. When properly used, it shows the negotiator that you know what you’re doing, and you have things under control. The police usually use this voice when negotiating with criminals. Learn to keep your voice in check and speak calmly, but don’t be too confident or superior. Your negotiator is listening.

Know the true meanings of “Yes” and “No”

Not always does Yes mean positive, and No, negative. As an expert negotiator, you must know the difference. “No” can mean many things, and there are three kinds of “Yes”: Counterfeit, Confirmation, and Commitment. A real negotiator must be able to differentiate between all of them. The rule of three can help to identify a fake “Yes.” If your negotiator agrees to the same thing three times, there is a likelihood that they are telling the truth. 

Again, an expert negotiator must never push his negotiator to give a “Yes” answer. It can frighten or deter them from letting go of vital information to your negotiation. In fact, a “No” answer is only the beginning of your negotiation. It should serve as a means of removing the irrelevant pieces from your negotiation so you can zero on the important areas. 

Control the conversation

Control the negotiation covertly, but don’t be too obvious. It’s very natural to want to prove that you are on top of the negotiation situation. Still, a show of power during an unfriendly negotiation may yield undesirable results. During such a case, a negotiator should make use of what is called calibrated questions. These types of questions help you to reduce the doubt from the unfriendly side. Then they see you as one who is interested in a win-win situation and not an enemy. 

One of the authors, Chris Voss, shared a story of a negotiation he had with one of his FBI bosses about attending a Harvard executive program. His boss has already approved the travel expenditure, but he was about to renege on his decision. Knowing his boss well, Chris decided to ask him, “When you originally approved this trip, what did you have in mind?” By asking a question calibrated to acknowledge his power, his boss became visibly relaxed and had the illusion of control. And thus, Chris got what he wanted.

Calibrated questions require your opponent to answer your questions in an explanatory manner, instead of the usual “yes” or “no” style. An example of this is, “How would you like  me to proceed?” This way, you are not only getting the answers you desire. You have also secretly taken charge of the situation while giving them the illusion that they are the ones in control. 

You flourish when you practice

So much of life is a negotiation, so even if you’re not in business, you have opportunities to practice all around you.

Kevin O’Leary

The highlighted techniques can only be mastered through constant practice. Start small; become a better negotiator by adopting negotiation habits in your lifestyle. You must be ready to bend or adapt to the situation so you can get a desirable outcome. 

Instead of getting angry at the salesman’s outrageous price, try to say, “This is a little high, how about a price that works for both of us?” In professional settings, such as demanding higher pay at work, you can start your negotiation by presenting to the hiring manager how you would like to add value to the company. You can say, “Before we speak about compensation, I’d like to show you something I put together.” Then go ahead to show a proposal of the values you would like to add. Do not feel intimidated, and apologize for negotiating your pay. It may be a sign that you are willing to back down easily. 

Every time you practice negotiation, you sharpen the blade. Negotiation takes you out of your comfort zone. You learn something new from your negotiator and the situation itself. 

The trick to negotiation is to hold all the cards going in, and, even if you didn’t, try to look as though you did. –

Eoin Colfer

It is essential to know that no negotiation technique is one-size-fits-all.  Every one is peculiar to different situations, so you should treat each situation as new. Combining these techniques in the right way will ensure impressive results in your negotiations.

Want to  know more?  

For further reading on Negotiation, check out the summary of this bestseller.  

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