Negotiation is a vital skill to master.  Whether it’s your job salary, a business deal you’re working on or just trying to get an extra 10% off your next shoe purchase, everything in life can be a negotiation.  There’s likely nobody that knows more about negotiation than Chris Voss.

Prior to 2008, Voss was the lead international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI. He dealt with over 150 kidnappings in his 24-year FBI career. In other words: when a bad guy captured an American, Chris was the first person called to safely handle the situation.

Now, Voss runs the Black Swan Consulting Group and teaches negotiation at USC & Georgetown University.  He also wrote the bestselling book: “Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It”.

I got to sit down and talk with Voss about his top negotiating tips for salespeople and entrepreneurs.  You can listen to the full interview here.

Kicking Off

The first goal of every negotiation, according to Voss, should be to make the other side feel comfortable.  No matter how tense the situation is, make sure they feel at ease and can trust having this conversation with you.

So, how do you actually kick things off?  Voss suggests that you let them go first. Not only does this make them comfortable, but it also gives the other side the illusion of control.  Only once they believe they have control can you gain the upper hand in the negotiation.

Take advantage of the situation

Sometimes, there are external factors that affect your negotiation.  For example, you may absolutely need this deal to get done by month’s end for it to be beneficial for your company.  To the average negotiator, the issue of time would seem like a massive disadvantage.

Voss says “where the weak negotiator sees a disadvantage, the shrewd negotiator sees an advantage.”

In this situation, Voss would recommend you use your timeline as a sense of power by letting them know “If we can’t figure this out by month’s end, I’m going to have to walk from the deal.”  That’s a drastic change in communication and helps to set expectations on your timeline without putting you in a vulnerable position.

Walk away from bad deals

Selling bad deals that cause more pain than good: we’ve all been there.  Voss has struggled with this firsthand and pleads that salespeople and entrepreneurs pass on these deals.

Taking a bad deal hurts you more than passing on a deal every time because of the time, energy and resources required to maintain it.  Exhibit discipline when choosing every deal you work on.

“Chasing bad deals kills businesses,” says Voss.

Find common ground

Voss spent most of his career dealing with terrorist hostage situations – some of the tensest negotiations with innocent lives on the line.  I asked him for his secret in dealing with such harsh people. His answer surprised me: “All terrorists have moms.”

After laughing, he explained further.  In some negotiations, especially when the stakes are high, we can get caught up in the deal and the tension around it.  But it’s really important to remember: we’re all people, we have common threads, at some point we all had/have a mom.

So while you’re likely not dealing with terrorists in your sales deal, remember the common threads.  Make it a human connection to break down some of their walls.

Tone of voice

Your tone is massively important in negotiation.  Voss suggests reading the situation to understand which tone/attitude will be most effective.  

For example, if it’s a tense scenario and the other side is angry, he’ll use his “late night FM DJ voice” and talk…very…slowly…and…quietly.  His change of pace can literally affect the mood of the other side.

On the flip side, in an everyday negotiation like getting a discount at a store or restaurant, Voss says nothing works quite as well as a smile and positive attitude.

Have understanding & empathy

Voss believes the two true keys to a successful negotiation are understanding and empathy.

This means that you are able to see where they are coming from regardless if you agree with anything they’re saying.  This allows you to negotiate regardless if you agree or disagree with the principles on the other side.  

When you master this, “you can be a black belt negotiator,” says Voss.

The last impression is a lasting impression

It doesn’t matter how good of a negotiator you are, you won’t win every deal, and that’s okay.  It’s important to have discipline with how you lose deals – with respect, kindness and never burning a bridge.  You never know when that prospect will be back.

“Your last impression is a lasting impression.”

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