Negotiating the FBI way: Q&A with Chris Voss

Chris Voss is a former FBI hostage negotiator and co-author of the book Never Split the Difference. He talks to Michael Jones about his Symposium keynote

What can FCSI members expect to learn from your symposium session ‘FBI negotiation secrets for breaking bad communication habits’? 
If you feel stress, you’ve been taken hostage on some level. Imagine how we feel when a vendor or a contractor makes a demand on us while we’re trying to deliver a product for a client, let alone what we feel when a client wants to expand on what they’re receiving without paying any more? People make decisions based on what they care about. If you’re willing to accept that, then the crazy proposition that follows is every decision someone makes is based on what they care about, or is driven by emotion. Business people like to say they have a passionate purpose. Well, “passion” is a synonym for “emotion”.

How do negotiators use that?
Hostage negotiators start with a set of skills that recognizes people are driven by passions (or emotions) and then navigate these effectively to create phenomenal outcomes. Hostage negotiators want everyone to cooperate with them willingly. And then be willing to cooperate with them or any other hostage negotiator if they ever meet again. We have repeat customers and we don’t lie to get what we want. We also don’t compromise. How can you compromise with four hostages? We want them all alive and we want the hostage taker to be happy about giving them to us.

Why does the FBI lead the way in terms of communicating effectively?
The FBI created the National Academy as a place where all the best and brightest in law enforcement throughout the world could come to exchange ideas. Because of this Quantico, as the FBI Academy is known, has come to be a very special place. That’s where I worked as the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator.

Why is it important for professionals to break bad communication habits? 
Bad communication habits are probably the biggest thieves of our time. It’s why many people often feel they’re on a hamster wheel every day. They work harder, and try to go faster, yet find themselves seemingly confronting the same problems each day. This is due to the “counterfeit yes” and its insidious partner in crime “you’re right”.

Why is communication so much more important in foodservice? 
In the hospitality industry, if you don’t get it right the first time, you’re unlikely to get a second opportunity. Business is kidnapped silently.

What is the worst communication in foodservice you have witnessed?
The worst instance is also the most common. It’s the number of times teamwork is sabotaged due to the words “you’re right”. The second-worst instance happens almost as much. It’s what we call “proof of life of the deal”. People knock themselves out providing proposals to potential clients who never really wanted to make the deal. They were just fishing for a competitive price so they could go with another vendor who has the inside track all along.

What are the challenges employers face with Millennials?
Millennials, like any new generation, like to follow their own rules and have a certain amount of disdain for the status quo. Then, 10 years later, they find out the hard way that the status quo is there for good reason. Hacking through the noise of information coming at people from all directions, in a generation that only has patience for extremely small bites of information, is the challenge. Getting their attention in a way where they don’t feel taken hostage is the path.

Chris Voss is the CEO of the Black Swan Group.

Michael Jones

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