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John: A lot of business is about negotiation, heck, life is about negotiation. We’re going to talk with Christopher Voss, former FBI negotiator and you’re going to learn some incredible negotiation skills.
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Hello and welcome to another episode of the Ducttape Marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch and my guest today is Christopher Voss. He is a founder and principle of Black Swan Group, a former FBI top hostage negotiator and the author of a book we’re going to talk about today called Never Split the Different; negotiating as if your life depended on it. So thanks for joining me.
Chris: John it’s my pleasure, thanks for having me in and just a little small correction if I may. It’s the Black Swan Group as opposed to black swan. Black swan almost sounds like we’re black water or something like that, we’re The Black Swan Group.
John: It’s on my piece of paper here but I didn’t get it out then. While we’re on it —
Chris: That’s alright.
John: While we’re correcting this is it Voss or Voss?
Chris: Voss. It’s Voss. Like the water.
John: Great so let’s talk about negotiating. Obviously, the book is filled with stories from your FBI past and I think a big thing you do in the book is to apply those to everyday skills. So really is anyone in business ever taught how to negotiate.
Chris: You know I think there’s this thing that everyone expects people to be great negotiators and I don’t know if people are afraid to get better or whether it’s low on their priority list or what it is, but I mean there’s just such minor tweaks people could make to take such huge leaps forward.
John: Well in your view is it something that — I mean you’re suggesting of course it can be learned. But is there also — do some people just have it as a street skill?
Chris: Umm no, I think some people might pick it up faster than others. But it’s a little like emotional intelligence which is E.Q vs. I.Q. Like your IQ is fixed you know you got a fixed IQ, it’s like your height. You’re only going to get so tall. I drank as much milk as I possibly could my whole life growing up and I’m just barely taller than my dad. I ended up six inches shorter than where I hoped to be, I wanted to be 6,7. So there’s nothing you can do about that, but your E.Q, as soon as you start making an effort to build it, that’s almost limitless. And the data shows us we can continue to build our emotional intelligent, which is what great negotiation is, applied emotional intelligent through our mid-80’s.
John: So obviously this book uses some very dramatic situations. I mean I don’t know that many of us find ourselves in truly life or death situations in business, I mean it may feel like that at times, but you know is negotiation really just human negotiation? Does it really matter where you’re doing it?
Chris: Great question. How could this possibly — how can high stakes, life and death negotiations, how could it possibly apply to what we do everyday. And the short answer is yeah it applies because it is human negotiations, it’s human interactions. And just because we’re upset doesn’t mean the other side is. Or maybe the other side are upset and we’re not. So the level of intensity varies wildly and certainly, some people treat some negotiations as if it’s a life and death deal.
John: One of the most interesting elements for me at least in the book is you like to think, I think a lot of people do think that negotiation is sort of rational, if I let them know what the facts are and I let them know why this is good for them they’ll take it, they’ll understand. And what you talk about is it’s not rational but extremely predictable.
Chris: Yeah and that’s a great distinction I’m really impressed that you picked that up because if negotiation was rational then we’d always make the deal, right? If it was simply rational there would never be anything to disagree about because we’d all be reasoned. But yeah, people are predictable, people repeat their behavior and make the decisions in patterned ways. So the other side may seem completely irrational but you know they’re going to have the tendency to do things to same, they’re going to be driving by what they care about and that’s going to affect what kind of deals they make. Or they’ll get mad at you and tank a deal that they should have taken because they were mad at you. I mean the F bomb in a negotiation and if you’ve read the book you’ll know what the F bomb is right?
Chris: And “fair” comes up in every negotiation and boy that is a highly charged emotional word, if I say to you, look man, I just want what’s fair, which is really common.
Chris: I just levelled a huge accusation against you and the negotiation is going to knock you off balance.
John: Because you’re essentially saying you’re not being fair.
Chris: Exactly. Right I’m implying it, it’s what the NFL owners did to the NFL players in the last lockout. And clearly they came out on top.
John: So in some ways that predictability I mean especially if we’re thinking — and again you may differ on this but you know, if sometimes negotiation is looked at as I win what I want and maybe that means you lose I don’t know. But if people are predictable, and especially if we can learn what their predictable behavior is, doesn’t that become their weakness?
Chris: Certainly it’s a weakness you can exploit if you’re about that. That’s a really great point, Adam Grant, who’s a brilliant guy, I read his stuff, he wrote a book called Originals, he also wrote a piece not that long ago, it was the dark side of emotional intelligent. Because these are powers for good and not evil. The really bad guys, the sociopaths are using this stuff because it works, it’s tremendously powerful stuff once you start to wrap your mind around this and get your ego out of the way. It’s amazing the amount of influence you can have on somebody because yeah, you get to understand what drives them and helps you understand their weaknesses, you make deals, it’s enormously powerful stuff.
John: And it’s really not that — I mean that’s what’s so funny about this. When I read some of the techniques you know, we’re calling it negotiation but a lot of people have realised hey I can sell more if I appeal to people’s egos, things that come out as techniques they’re kind of really how people influence people all the time, or they’ve learned how to.
Chris: Yeah, exactly right. It has a very broad application. It’s not just negotiation. It’s for better interpersonal relationships, it’s for leaders, it’s across the board yeah.
John: And I think a lot of people now — I actually had this as a question, what is negotiation? Because I do think that a negotiate might be talking your wife into having something different for dinner then maybe what she wanted to plan. I mean we probably underestimate how often we’re negotiating.
Chris: Yeah I agree 1000%. The most dangerous negotiation is the one you don’t know you’re in. And anytime somebody’s trying to get somebody to say yes you’re in a negotiate. And the vast majority of them don’t involve money just exactly like the one you pointed out. They want something different for dinner, that’s a negotiation.
John: So in business, there seems to be quite often the negotiate is over price and there are people that seem wired to “I don’t care if that’s the best deal in the world, I don’t care if that’s good for me, I don’t care anything, I want a deal.” Is there a way to negotiate so to speak with that person so you get to a mutual benefit.
Chris: Yeah that’s the easiest guy in the world. Somebody who’s just complete focused on one term and typically it’s the price term. I can make any deal, either a great deal or a lousy deal based on the other terms you know and the really cut-throat negotiators on the planet, Carl Icahn is a famous guy for doing this. He’d be happy to give you his price because he’s going to kill you with the terms and he knows it’s your price focus that you’re really vulnerable, you think you got a deal from Carl Icahn and then you wonder what happened afterwards because he’s just destroyed you. So yeah I mean people think I’ve got to have a deal, that guy’s vulnerable to me. I’ll give you your money and you’re not going to pay any attention to the stuff I’ve put in there that I’m going to walk away with truckloads of value on that I’ll then monetize some other way.
John: Do you find or is your experience and maybe you don’t study lots of negotiators but you’ve certainly encountered other people on the other side of the table when you were negotiating. Do you find that there are men better than women at it? Are there personality types of people that just seem to be better at it, is there any kind of pattern there?
Chris: Well really the quieter people are better at it. I mean you’ve got to shut up to listen, as a hostage negotiator we used to say what’s it going to take to get the other side to come out, he’ll tell you what’s it going to take to make a great deal, he’ll tell you, the other side will tell you. A friend of mine here in Los Angeles when he was negotiating with sports agent he used to always say in the two-hour conversation it’s going to be 90 seconds of solid gold. Well, you’ve got to shut up and listen to get that 90 seconds of solid gold. So the quieter people are the ones who’re predisposed to actually listening for the solid gold. Now in terms of gender base, we actually see women pick this tactical application of empathy much faster than men do.
John: They sort of come to the table sometimes don’t they?
Chris: Yeah. I think the socialization you know, but then they need to assertiveness that men — men are socialized to be assertive and woman are less socialized in that direction. But women are more socialized to listen more. I’m not sure what the gender differences are, I know what the environmental differences are that make it — you know men are less socialized to listen so maybe, I don’t know that men are worse than listening, they’re less socialized to do so. But what it really boils down to the innate talent for being good or bad is not wired into gender.
John: Yeah so there maybe just socially have different things to learn if they’re going to pick up on this? So would you say there is a one killer skill, maybe you’ve already mentioned it. Maybe it’s listening, maybe it’s empathy, is there kind of one bass-line skill that you have to be able to master?
Chris: Yeah you’ve got to be able to shut up.
John: You know it’s funny that’s hard for people right?
Chris: Some people find that utterly impossible. I mean in order to get that point across one time I was working with a woman attorney. And she was the type of person that felt like in order to be in control which of course makes her very vulnerable because the secret to gaining the upper hand in a negotiation is giving the other side the illusion of control, that means she’s vulnerable to feeling she’s in control. She’s got to be in control she’s got to be talking. And I once literally said to her, “Did it ever occur to you to not talk?” And she went dead silent and then she said, “No.” But I needed her to see the distinction because she felt utterly out of control, she wasn’t speaking. And you walk right by great solutions doing that, you’ve got to shut up and open your eyes and ears to find a better deal.
John: I’ve actually seen salespeople talk themselves out of business doing what you just described, the client was agreed, said great and the person kept talking and eventually the deal fell apart.
Chris: Yeah because then they showed the client that even if they agreed they’re not going to listen to them and no one wants to work with someone who won’t listen to them.
John: So there are probably the most — at least the one I’m the most familiar with I don’t know if it’s the most famous or not or the most popular, a book on negotiation that so many sales people have read is called getting the yes and I know you’re familiar with it, I’ve seen you talking about it. What are the intrinsic differences between never split the difference and getting the yes?
Chris: Well getting to yes is intellectually sound, you know you can’t question the intellectual and academic rigor of the book. And it really doesn’t factor emotional intelligence into it. You know I haven’t seen or heard anybody say wow, five pages into getting to yes I immediately turn around and made a great deal based on what I read. What people will say is I read it and a lot of it made sense, that’s what they’ll say. They won’t say I made a deal because of what I read, my book never split the difference people typically people are out making deals 10 pages into the book.
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So let’s talk about another book. As I was — and this is a two part question I’m asking if you think this particular person is a great negotiator from what you’ve seen. As I was researching your book I found really there was only one book right now that’s ahead of you in sales on Amazon and it is a book called the art of the deal by Donald Trump. Is Donald Trump a good negotiator?
Chris: You know I think I’ve heard of him, I’m trying to place exactly who that guy is…
John: I have kept my show non-political so this is a question about negotiation only.
Chris: Okay if you will, Donald Trump is the best of his type and there are three basic types and if you never adapt, there’s fight, flight and make friends, those are the caveman responses. When we’re walking down a jungle path in the caveman days and we saw something that startled us we thought you know, do I got to run from it because it’s going to kill me, do I kill it make a rug out of it, or do I make friends with it and it becomes either a pet or an ally, fight, flight or make friends. Now the most evolved negotiators learn the strengths of all three types. Donald Trump is in my view the best of his class as a fight negotiator, the aggressive negotiator. He’s always attacking and of that type which can be very — can be enormously effective for short periods of time and if you look at Mr. Trump’s impressive history he put up a bunch of — a number of the greatest construction feats in New York city in the 80’s and hasn’t built anything in New York that comes anywhere near it since. So a very aggressive negotiator will go in a rack up spectacular wins, a number of them in a row and then people will get tired of constantly being in a fight with that person and they’ll just stop cooperating and freeze them out. And Mr. Trump hasn’t put up a building to rival Trump tower in New York in 30 years. He has a building in Chicago, he goes a building here, he has a goal course, he has buildings scattered all over the planet, but he doesn’t have consistent successes in the same environment over a long period of time. I happen to be a natural born assertive and I had to learn to get out of that pattern and then that’s also the prototype of the international kidnapper too. They’re aggressive, assertive, they make threats, they threaten you and that was what I had to learn how to beat as a hostage negotiator. So my tools started out being tailor made to gain the upper hand on that guy and still keep a relationship going with them also you know so they’re happy to deal with you again. The other unfortunate thing about Mr. Trump’s success are after a while people get tired of being punched in the nose and don’t want to deal with him anymore.
John: So let’s dip into a couple of the techniques, tactics. One that I find really interesting and as soon as I read it I was like yeah I can see why that has power and that is the email subject line of have you given up on this project and again you use it in a lot of instances but just that sort of reigning engagement again and talk about the power of that.
Chris: Well you know that’s a killer line and one line communication. Nothing more in of itself for two reasons. First of all, people feel safe when they say no, it protects them you know so we’ve designed an entire strategy around that emotional really that if someone says no, it’s not a word to be overcome it’s just a word to be leveraged in a different fashion. We don’t believe I need 99 no’s to get to my one yes, that looks at no as a word to be avoided or to be overcome, that’s a word to be leveraged and it starts out by leveraging that word, you get somebody to feel safe and they let themselves in for nothing when they say no, they made no commitment whatsoever which calms them down and makes them in a position willing to talk to you because they’ve just protected themselves. Second thing that that does is it triggers the fear of loss and the fear of missing out which is a driving dynamic in today’s society. So much so that there’s actually an entire Nobel prize winning behavioral economic theory called prospect theory, because it’s the way people are driven, the avoidance of loss or the avoidance, fear of missing out is a common term in social media today, FOMO. So that ticks that in, you know that one line email actually punches two really important portions of the emotions in the brain that contribute to decision making and it spurs people and it moves them forward. It’s a really powerful thing it’s one of those things that you know it’s a great stealth weapon to get people to move forward.
John: So my second one and we’ll end on this one because again as you said 10 pages into this book you will find some things that are going to have you really scratching your head and thinking — not necessarily negotiate even, just present yourself I think from the beginner so it’s not — a lot of people look at negotiation and they think okay now I’m in this adversarial position but you put yourself in a better position I think by using some of these techniques before you ever get to that point. Getting people like that first bridge or that first trigger is getting somebody to say that’s right, or maybe it’s stronger and more emotional than that, but talk about that, those two words.
Chris: Yeah well when somebody believes what they just heard is the complete and utter truth they say that’s right, you know whatever side of the isle you’re on, the last presidential debate of the recent election, whichever candidate you like, when the say something you completely believed in you didn’t look at the TV and say you’re right! You said that’s right. So that’s right what we say when we believe something we’ve heard is complete truth and it’s the marker that we’re looking for when we’re everybody in the planet was advised by Steven Cubby to seek first to understand and then be understood. It’s a sequence. It’s knowing when the other side feels heard which then when somebody says that’s right to you, it’s also a signal that now their brain is open to listen and before they said that’s right they’re you know they were closed for business in terms of listening and every time you try and get them to listen to you at that point you were wasting your time because the listening part of their brain was closed for business. You just got him to turn the lights on and unlock the door when you got them to say that’s right. And at that point, that’s when you can begin to sway, that’s your marker that says the other side is ready to listen. And it’s not your right, you have to be able to listen and distinguish because you’re right is what we say to people when we want them to stop talking to us, that’s how we get them to shut up.
John: So I have seen — and that’s what’s interesting about this. Again when I read through the book I was thinking negotiation, negotiation but when I listen to you talk about that when I read about that in the book I’m thinking I’m a public speaker. When I get up there into he first 10 minutes I’ve got to get people saying that’s right about whatever it is I’m presenting or they’re not going to hear me.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. Yep.
John: So many powerful applications. Great so talking with Christopher Voss the author of never split the difference negotiating as if your life depended on it. You want to tell — obviously the books available everywhere it’s been highly reviewed, tremendous best seller, you want to talk about where people can find out more information about you and your work and the black swan group? Because I know you have some products and services that you offer as well.
Chris: Yeah man I mean I’d love to thank you. The easiest way is for people to send a text message and send the words that right with no punctuation and no spaces, no apostrophe, no spaces, just write it out as if it were all one word, that’s right that right to the number 22828 and again that number’s 22828 and that will sign you up for a complementary AKA also known as free once a month negotiation advisory newsletter plus tell you about where to find other free things that we have and where we’re doing training where they might want to sign up for and also I help you understand where you can get the best price for the book.
John: Awesome. Thanks, Christopher so much and we’ll have that information in the show notes as well. So really great read, really great spending time with you and appreciate you appearing on the Ducttape Marketing podcast.
Chris: Thanks John it was absolutely my pleasure.
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