Mastering Negotiation Tactics: Lessons from FBI Hostage Negotiator Chris Voss

Negotiations are an integral part of our daily lives, whether we’re trying to convince a friend to go to a different restaurant or negotiating a business deal. However, many people approach negotiations as a battle of arguments, often leading to unfavorable outcomes for both parties. In his bestselling book, “Never Split the Difference,” Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, shares invaluable insights and negotiation tactics that he learned from his experience dealing with kidnappers, bank robbers, and terrorists.

The Art of Understanding

The foundation of successful negotiations lies in understanding the other party’s perspective. Chris Voss emphasizes the importance of active listening, as people want to be understood and accepted before anything else. By listening intently, you demonstrate empathy and a sincere desire to comprehend the other side’s experience, which can effectively defuse tense situations and pave the way for productive negotiations.

Mirroring is a powerful tactic that involves repeating the last three or most critical words of what the other person has said. This technique encourages the person to reveal more information, as it creates a smooth conversational flow and makes them feel heard. Additionally, remaining silent for at least four seconds after mirroring can work like magic, allowing the other party to continue sharing their thoughts and feelings.

Tactical Empathy: The Key to Emotional Intelligence

Tactical empathy involves understanding the feelings and mindset of the other person, particularly identifying the emotional obstacles that hinder agreement. Labeling is an effective method of demonstrating empathy, where you summarize what the other person has said and give it back to them, starting with phrases like “it seems like” or “it sounds like.”

By labeling emotions, you not only confirm that you’ve identified the correct emotion but also signal to the other party that you truly understand them, creating a stronger bond and increasing the likelihood of reaching a deal. Empathy brings two minds together, enabling collaborative problem-solving.

Defusing Negatives and Embracing “No”

Chris Voss recommends defusing negatives with labels, especially when you know your opponent is angry or has negative feelings toward you. Before a negotiation, identify the potential negative statements your opponent might make, and label them upfront. This approach helps diffuse negative emotions and shifts the focus towards finding solutions.

Contrary to popular belief, Voss advises starting negotiations with “no” rather than pushing for an immediate “yes.” When people say “yes,” they often feel committed or trapped, leading to distractions and a desire to end the negotiation quickly. However, starting with “no” gives the other party a sense of control and creates a safe environment for further discussion.

The Power of “That’s Right”

One of the most powerful phrases in negotiation is “that’s right.” To elicit this response, you simply repeat back your opponent’s words, demonstrating that you’ve fully understood them. When someone says “that’s right,” it signifies that they feel completely heard and believe that you comprehend their perspective, which is a crucial step towards reaching an agreement.

However, be cautious if you hear “you’re right,” as it often means the other party is trying to end the conversation or disengage from the negotiation.


Negotiation is a complex art that requires a deep understanding of human psychology and effective communication strategies. By implementing the lessons learned from Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, you can become a more skilled negotiator in both personal and professional settings. From active listening and tactical empathy to defusing negatives and embracing the power of “no,” these techniques can help you navigate difficult conversations, build rapport, and find mutually beneficial solutions. Ultimately, mastering negotiation tactics is not only about getting what you want but also about fostering understanding and creating a win-win scenario for all parties involved.