A Real-World Jedi Mind Trick From FBI Negotiator Chris Voss

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Would you like to learn how to talk anyone into anything?

Whether trying to convince your boss to give you a raise, or bargaining with suppliers, partners, and investors, all of us are negotiating, every single day. But what if your negotiation skills were a matter of life and death?

Chris Voss is a 24-year veteran of the FBI, who retired as the Bureau’s lead international kidnapping negotiator. Today, his company specializes in solving business communication problems with hostage negotiation solutions. He's the CEO of The Black Swan Group and the author of the national bestseller (and my pick for book of the year), Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It.

I recently interviewed Chris to get just a few highlights from his superb and extremely practical negotiation tips. (The transcript below has been edited lightly for space and clarity).

Kevin Kruse: You call the practice of mirroring the closest thing out there to a “Jedi mind trick.” What is it?

Chris Voss: Mirroring is simply repeating what someone just said. It creates more reception from the other side, it focuses attention, and it gives them an opportunity to dial in more with you and you to dial in more with them. It causes an almost completely unconscious response for the person to want to go on. I did it in a bank robbery with hostages, and we got the bank robber to make confessions about the crime before he even realized what he was saying.

One of my clients likes to do it; he just repeats the last three words of what someone has just said, and it makes people more receptive; it makes them want to go on. In every bargaining situation, he mirrors the other side's position because their response tells him how solid they are or whether or not there's any softness in their position.

It's one of the great and simplest things to do, but also one of the most awkward. I was teaching my clients at USC, and I started them out mirroring because the barrier to learning is not complexity. The barrier is awkwardness. Once you get over the awkwardness, it’s so effective in getting people to talk.

Kruse: You say, “Getting the other side to say the words ‘That's right' can transform the entire negotiation.” What do you mean?

Voss: That is the single biggest breakthrough moment, and more people have just crashed through more barriers by getting their counterpart to look at him and say, “That's right.” It's what people say when they believe what they've just heard is a complete truth, and you've got to say it from the other side's perspective. You've got to be able to say the things to them that you're actually afraid of.

People watching the presidential debates, Hillary and Trump. Whoever you were for, when they said something you thoroughly believed in, you don’t look at the screen and say, “You’re right.” You say, “That's right.” That's an epiphany moment that you trigger in the other side. It establishes a bond.

Kruse: Is this something that you would echo back verbatim so they know you've heard them?

Voss: You want to paraphrase them, and then you want to say something that's at the heart of what's driving them. You almost sound like you're talking them into it.

An example I use in the book is a woman who was selling pharmaceuticals to a doctor. He wouldn't buy a new product that she had, and she said, “You're just not going to buy from some pharmaceutical sales rep because your patients are more than just patients. They're people to you, and you feel responsible for their entire lives.”

She said that, and she almost sounded like she was trying to talk him out of the sale. But everything that was driving him, that made him reluctant, she said it. And she said it from his perspective. She says that when she articulated it to him like that, he turned and looked at her as if he'd never seen her before and said, “That's right.” And she made the sale.

It's a fearless thing. It's a very fearless approach.

Kruse: You write a lot about giving the other side the illusion of control when they make repeated demands. How do you do that?

Voss: A lot of people are very uptight about whether or not they're in control. They want to talk. They want to feel good. I have a tremendous amount of respect for President-Elect Trump, but he’s this demanding sort of negotiator, and you notice that his son-in-law Jared has tremendous influence on him. Jared's a quiet guy, and I can promise you that he gives President-Elect Trump the illusion of control a lot of times by asking carefully-selected what-and-how questions.

There's great power in deference. You ask somebody what or how questions. People love to be asked how to do something. They feel powerful, and from a deferential position, you've actually granted that power, and you're the one that now actually has the upper hand in the conversation.

It's listener's judo, if you will. That was one of the contributions from my co-author, Tahl, to the book. It's listener's judo. It's a very strong way to proceed with a lot of confidence.

Kruse: What advice do you give to people who are negotiating a new compensation package?

Voss: Well, price doesn't make deals, and salary doesn't control your career.

You used a great word: It's package. There's a good friend of mine who's a phenomenally successful executive, and he hit on exactly what hostage negotiators do: A hostage negotiator negotiates the future. How do you negotiate your future in business?

Every job that you take, the term that you should always include is, “How can I be involved in the strategic projects that are critical to the future of the company?” You ask that question. It's a great “how” question. It's very deferential, and instantly, you transform yourself to your boss and to your employer as someone who wants to guarantee their future. Two things happen. They love that. They want to pay you more because they want to retain you around. You're not just there to get a paycheck and do your minimums and go home until you find another job. You're there looking out for the entire team. It’s an incredibly strong message.

The other thing that does is, first of all, if you've asked and you don't get it, they remember you very favorably. Secondly, as you continue to ask, you will get involved in strategic projects, which then gives you immediate visibility with the highest levels of the company. Now you become someone that is a go-to person that they trust, and your career will move forward faster, consistently and steadily. It sets you up, not only for success now, but your negotiation is designed for your next year's review because then you've been involved in these projects that have impacted the entire company.

This [technique] transforms you from self-centered to we-centered, to us-centered. That is instant subconscious triggering in the people that you work for that is ridiculously powerful.

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CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE demo of the LEADx platform at https://leadx.org/preview.