Episode 16
Chris Voss, former hostage negotiator, CEO & authorLearn the art of influence from a former hostage negotiator who uses a variety of concepts to persuade almost anyone to keep talking.

Dealing with a rent increase at your brick-and-mortar? Haggling with a vendor about terms and conditions? Running a small business is hard, and most how-to books for entrepreneurs don’t cover the art of negotiation.

Luckily, former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss joined our podcast to share tips and guidance to help you win deals and reach settlements with confidence. Hear six concepts (and much more) designed to help you close more contracts, overcome objections and establish rapport with employees, landlords and others.

In a previous episode with Chris Voss, who worked for the FBI in the Crisis Negotiation Unit, he shares the framework for a successful negotiation that entrepreneurs like you can use.

Today, Chris shares in-depth lessons he’s learned throughout his decades-long career in law enforcement and hostage negotiation, giving practical advice that both individual business owners and business organizations can implement to win almost any exchange.

As Chris demonstrates, the language you use matters — but staying quiet can be impactful, too. If his tips and tools work on cunning criminals, they’re sure to be powerful in your day-to-day duties as an entrepreneur, too.

Whether you want to better understand your employees or persuade your landlord to reconsider the latest rent hike, give this episode a listen for guidance to effectively run your business and navigate the best deals with compelling confidence.

Below is an edited transcript of the conversation. In the episode, you'll hear:

  1. The negotiation concept of mirroring — and how it encourages a conversation to continue
  2. During negotiation, what role does staying silent play?
  3. How can labeling, a style of verbal observation, win someone over?
  4. Often, asking “What?” or “How?” is more effective than asking “Why?”
  5. How a concept called “That’s right” creates a powerful bond built on understanding
  6. A bold tactic: Outlast your competition by simply refusing to give up
  7. If you’re the sum of the five people you spend time with, make it count

The negotiation concept of mirroring — and how it encourages a conversation to continue

Chris Allen: Well, welcome back. Hopefully we're not tuckering you out too bad. You being a morning person and everything. I'm on my second glass of coffee here.

Chris Voss: Caffeine — it's a jet fuel.

C. Allen: Yeah. Well, one of the things that we were talking about is systems and frameworks. And I have a deep appreciation for those because if you have a library of them and you have a situation in life, it helps you think about a problem without you having to sort of master the details of everything and process all the details. You have a framework for thinking through it.

C. Allen: And that is one of the things that is like, I'd say substantive, but also super impressive about what you've been able to do. And how you've expressed this art of negotiation, the athleticism — if you will — the intellectual athleticism that it takes, that it's like a muscle. But I want to talk through some of the techniques that you use in some situations that would have a lot of applicability to entrepreneurs and give them your library of some of the frameworks and situations that they'll likely encounter that you already have the information on.

Chris Voss: OK.

C. Allen: So one of them is mirroring. Seems so simple.

Chris Voss: Right. Mirroring is repeating the last one to three words of what somebody's just said. It's not the body language mirror, and it's not mimicking the other person. It's repeating the last one to three-ish words, could be just one word, could be no more than five. Now, when you get really good at mirroring or you get used to it, you get your results reps in. And does it have to be the last one to three words? No, you can move it around. You could selectively mirror. But mirroring is a great reflex to build because when you're caught off guard, you could always mirror. And it gives you an opportunity to get your feet back under you, intellectually and mentally. And it also gets the other person to continue talking.

Chris Voss: People who are high IQ and high EQ love mirrors. I don't know why that is, but anytime somebody's really into mirrors, only as a skill, I'll find out that they have both high IQ and high EQ. And many high IQ people rely on it so much that they don't bother with their EQ. They think their IQ is enough. There's a phrase [that says] “IQ will get you hired, EQ will get you fired.” You can't keep a job and do well at a job without EQ. You can get in the door with an impressive resume and be a complete and utter failure, because you don't have any people skills. But the mirror is a great reflex tool for any given moment. It will bail you out. Or it's a great substitute to get to say to someone, "Can you please go on? What do you mean by that?" It's a great connector of thoughts.

C. Allen: So it's almost like an invitation. If you mirror somebody in the last couple of things, they're like, “Oh, I should keep talking.”

Chris Voss: I like that a lot. Yeah, that's right. It feels like an invitation to continue to talk, which people are more likely to respond to and expand on because they don't feel like they're being interrogated or cornered. And no matter how well intentioned, what do you mean by that is, there's an element of interrogation to that regardless. So the mirror's a great skill. I do it automatically because I know that the person hearing it, as you said, they feel the invitation, they feel encouraged. They want to go on. And most importantly, they'll expand or change the words. You could say something to me and if I say “What do you mean by that?” you might repeat it exactly the way you just said it, word for word.

Chris Voss: Maybe even louder. Like an American overseas, "Where is the train? Where is the train?" What do you mean? The train. But if you mirror somebody, there's something that kicks in their brain where they're going to expand, reword, they're going to change. And that's another reason why it's better than saying, “What do you mean by that?” Because you're going to change what you just said. Because if I mirror you, part of what you hear is “OK, I got the words, but they weren't enough.” And I need you to reword it because I'm having trouble catching on. And that message comes across really subtly and gently and it lands well.

During negotiation, what role does staying silent play?

C. Allen: Yeah. The other thing that I thought was interesting is the use of silence. Because if you pair that mirroring with the use of silence people are like, “I'm going to give you more.” And the thing that I really like about all of the things [we’re about to discuss] is that authenticity and trust building happens by doing some of these techniques. And how that’s the basis for opening up this world of more information. Which is where you start to identify sort of what we were talking about earlier, which is those black swans.

Chris Voss: Right. So before I comment on the authenticity and trust building, I'm going to go back to something you said just a second ago, about silence. And two out of three people are uncomfortable with silence for two completely different reasons. So, the world splits evenly into thirds: fight, flight or make friends. It's that way in China, Pakistan, India, South America, the Middle East and the United States. Fight, flight or make friends. Silence is uncomfortable for the make friends type because for the make friends type, the worst thing they could do to somebody is give them the silent treatment.

Chris Voss: So if they go silent, they're horrified that the other person thinks they're angry. So their instinctive reaction to silence is “I can't use dynamic silence because they're going to think I'm angry.” Not the case. Because the one type that likes silence, the flight — also known as the analyst — loves to think. They're grateful when you shut up, because they want to think.

Chris Voss: So you imagine the analyst talking to the accommodator, and the analyst is like, "I just need some time to think. I'm going to go silent for a second." And the accommodator's thinking, "Oh my God, he's angry. I got to talk. I got to talk. I got to break the silence." It's an impasse due to type mismatch. Now the other person, the fight type, the assertive — I'm a natural-born assertive, Donald Trump's an assertive, I'm an assertive — we think if you go silent that's because you want to hear more. You want me to explain something to you? You shut up because you want to listen. Again, imagine the analytical type who shuts up because he wants to think. And I go, "Oh, you want to hear more?" And I start yakking away at you.

C. Allen: It's another mismatch.

Chris Voss: Yeah. Another mismatch. But I feel in control when I'm talking. So I don't want to go silent. But silence is typically the opportunity to think or the opportunity to react. I'll go silent on you if you're assertive because I want you to talk yourself into my deal. And so with the assertive, it's easy to talk them into your deal if you're willing to let him talk. So silence is a great advantage.

Chris Voss: Or if you're a relationship-oriented person, I'll go silent on you because you're going to want to talk. And you're going to want to build on the relationship and you're going to want to discover what makes a great relationship. So I'm going to let you talk about it. And if you're an analytical person, I'm going to go silent with you because you're going to want to think. And so I increase trust and rapport with you, which was the other thing you were just talking about, if I shut up and let you think. You're not going to feel backed into a corner, you're not going to feel that you're trying to overwhelm me with facts or you're trying to learn everything about me personally. Which if you're an analyst, you don't want to give up all that personal information. You don't want to tell me if your kids played little league baseball.

C. Allen: Yeah. There's going to be some withholding there.

Chris Voss: You're not comfortable.

Chris V: So silence, as a tool, is tremendously powerful in diagnosing who I'm dealing with.

C. Allen: See, that's a big one. I like that framework. One of the things we were talking about is that there is a threshold that crosses over from sales and into negotiation. You see that threshold when an expression is “I want” or “I need.” And when you don't know you've crossed over that threshold, that's a tough one. But one of the things that you were just saying is that in preparation for that threshold, you need to understand sort of one of the three types that you're dealing with. The assertive, the accommodator and the analyst.

C. Allen: That is an important thing because the use of the framework matters to the type.

Chris Voss: Yeah.

C. Allen: What I’m understanding you're saying about negotiation is [that it’s] being able to understand who you're dealing with and how to use these tools.

Chris Voss: Right. And you may need to use the tools to diagnose who you're dealing with. Because you might not know in advance.

C. Allen: What's a way to figure out which type you're dealing with once you've crossed over that threshold?

Chris Voss: Well, the other two types will often make accommodations because they've learned the advantage of being friendly. Analysts pick it up sooner than assertives do. My daughter-in-law is an analyst, and people that meet her are convinced she's an accommodator. Because she laughs and she giggles and she's super friendly and she likes to talk about stuff she's excited about. But she's very analytical and she's really, really smart. And as an analyst, her analytical brain kicked into gear and said, “I get better deals if I'm friendly.”

Chris Voss: And so she's friendly. Like, for a while, she worked in my company and she ran a marketing operation for a while. Phenomenal marketer. And one of our vendors was re-upping our annual rate. Every time they pitched her on the price, she would just laugh and laugh and they dropped their price and then she'd just respond by laughing some more, and they’d drop the price again. So the other two types, they're going to make better deals by being friendlier.

C. Allen: Yeah.

Chris Voss: So the assertive is direct and honest and blunt and harsh. And as an assertive, one of my colleagues in the FBI once said to me, "Dealing with you is like getting hit in the face with a brick.” Because I wasn't [using] the late-night FM DJ voice with my colleagues. I wasn't being soothing and calming and reassuring when I wanted something from them. I was myself, which is assertive. It's like getting hit in the face with a brick. So the other two types were never going to make you feel like you got hit in a face with a brick. That's always going to be an assertive type.

C. Allen: I'm familiar with that one.

Chris Voss: So neither of the other two types will ever give you that. So if you think somebody's an assertive, because they've been beating you with a baseball bat, they are. And now the analyst. The analyst is extremely thoughtful and will often come off as cold and distant. The only people that ever come off cold and distant are the analysts.

Chris Voss: Now they're not cold and distant, but they're very guarded. They're no less or no more warm than anybody else. Everybody has friends. Everybody else is warm with people who are their friends. Analysts had the same capacity for that. Everybody does. But they have a tendency to come off as cold and distant. It's like the late-night FM DJ voice with no emotion, no reassurance, nothing. Just cold. The analyst will only come off as that. Knowing each one, assertives like making decisions. Time is money. Analysts will make a great decision, but they need 36 hours. There was an analyst CEO at a company we were training, and before we got up to train, he had given his people some advice on how to conduct themselves. And he said, “Never respond to any email sooner than 36 hours.” When you send an email, you want an answer that day.

C. Allen: The assertive was like, “What are we waiting on?”

Chris Voss: Yeah, they're sitting there tapping their feet. But understand that the analyst, they look like they avoid decisions. And one of the frameworks calls them avoiders, which is a misnomer. They're analytical. But they avoid instantaneous decisions. So give them 36 hours. Again, my daughter-in-law, my son told me that one boss that she used to work for, she'd just lay out the data and leave and expect the decision the next day and get it the next day. An accommodator, they're open to any decision as long as you're still friends, which means as a general rule, they get pushed around as salespeople and as negotiators.

How can labeling, a style of verbal observation, win someone over?

C. Allen: Yeah, yeah. That is true. But understanding who you're dealing with is important. And building trust with that person's important. So you're trying to do both of those things, understand who they are in order to build trust. [Can we] talk about maybe labeling and bringing in some of the tactical empathy stuff? I like the accusation audit, some of those techniques that you have are kind of progressing into that trust building, that aspect. How do you use those once you've identified who you're working with?

Chris Voss: Well, they're also great for diagnosing who you're dealing with. And if we had this data on the three types, which we do, what we always did was [group people into types and] give them a very specific test. Then we ask each group, “What negotiation skills would you like to have used on you to make a great deal with you?”

Chris Voss: And all three types liked labels and mirrors; it may not be their number one, but it's always in their top three. So early on, you're very safe, it's your best bet to label and mirror when you're still trying to get a feel for the other side. Because everybody likes it. Now, the label's just a verbal observation. On a hotline, the FBI would call it emotion labeling. It’s a self-defining skill in the black swan method, but we just call it labels. Because we're labeling dynamics, your body language. You look like you're having a bad day, would be a pretty good label if you saw somebody that looked tense [whose] thoughts are far away. Or maybe it looks like you're preoccupied but having a neutral day. Those are labels of affects.

Chris Voss: It's just [putting] a label on it. Now people love it because it makes them feel seen, paid attention to, and it lands really well. Plus your observation can be wrong, but it's your observation. So it's a safe thing to do. "Looks like you're having a bad day." "No, I'm having a fine day." "Alright, well, it's just how it looks." I'm not saying you are, I'm just saying it looks like or sounds like.

C. Allen: Or seems like.

Chris Voss: Or it seems like [you are]. Those are basically the precursors for the labels. So then to dig deeper into it, you can label positives or negatives. We talked earlier that people are principally in a default mode, their wiring is negative. Survival wiring, which is the wiring that you wake up with, is your default wiring and it can be largely negative. That was required when we were getting chased by saber-toothed tigers. "Well, I'm positive. That's a saber-toothed tiger. I bet I could go up and pet it." You know what? That guy got eaten.

C. Allen: How hard could it be?

Chris Voss: How hard could it be? So those guys got eaten. The pessimists were all descendants of pessimists. So our default wiring is negative.

C. Allen: Because that's where we're comfortable.

Chris Voss: You feel safe. You feel like the 50 things that could go wrong, [you’re] going to plan for all of them, so [you] feel safe. So then neuroscience comes along and tells us that the best way to deactivate the negatives is to label them, hang a label on it. That was a great thing about hostage negotiation. They just told us to label the tone of voice. Tone of voice was almost always going to be negative. It was almost always going to be angry. You’re trapped in a bank [with a] terrorist who has a kidknap victim, [you’re] going to sound angry.

Chris Voss: We didn't realize that it was sound from a neuroscience perspective, in that labeling negatives is the most effective way to diffuse them. Not the only way — just the most effective way. Doesn't work 100% of the time. Nothing works 100% of the time. It just works more than anything else does. We live in a Las Vegas world, which means you got to play the odds. We do not live in an ivory tower world, which is something that's perfect. That works all the time. You got to play the odds. There are some ways to deactivate negatives that work on a very low percentage basis.

Chris Voss: You got to get off the 10% win table at Vegas and you got to move to the 80% win table. That's how you make money. You go to your best chance of success. And labeling negatives is the best chance. Sometimes [it’s]: "You're from Iowa. I'm from Iowa.” Now [they] feel better. That's a low-percentage win. You win occasionally. Just not as much as you should. “Oh, I went through the same thing as you.” That's an extremely low-percentage win, stop doing it. Go to the high-percentage win. “It sounds like this really hurts you.” Suicide hotline. How am I going to have the same loss that somebody else had? At the time I was volunteering, I hadn't lost anybody in my family. Somebody's devastated over the loss of a parent. What am I going to say? “I lost my dog.” No, I can't have a similar loss.

Chris Voss: It's a low-percentage move. Sounds like it tore your heart out. That's a label. And adding in a description. “Sounds like you’re sad.” You raised the level of your game. What does this sadness do to you? What does the loss do to you? Makes you feel like your heart got ripped out. That's a label. That's empathy. I never said it happened to me. I never said I agreed. I never said I understood. I demonstrated I understood. And the rest flows out of that. So the labels are really the demonstration of understanding, which tends to have a phenomenally positive impact on the receiver.

C. Allen: Yeah. That's incredible. I wonder [how] the calibrated questions [come into play]. These are some of the things that I looked at as maybe more advanced moves, because if you understand mirroring and you understand labeling, you can sort of practice those. Those [tactics] seem easier. The calibrated questions seem like a more advanced move.

Often, asking “What?” or “How?” is more effective than asking “Why?”

Chris Voss: Yeah, they can be. But you can lay a framework to make it easier for yourself. And the first framework is [to] take open-ended questions and just knock most of them out and just go “what” and “how” only. Rarely “why.” Why is a tactical empathy, a surgical strike. “Why” makes people defensive, and the vast majority of time it's against your interests to make them defensive. Now, if you get them to defend you, then that works for you, but they have to be defending you in order to make “why” work. So other than that, “what” and “how.” People love to be asked “what,” people love to be asked “how.” They feel very deferential. So if you limit it to “what” and “how,” you're probably in pretty good shape. It’s the very first story in “Never Split the Difference.”

Chris Voss: How am I supposed to do that? It's a “how” question. It feels deferential to the other side. Now, to add a little bit to your thinking, to give you a framework, “how” is designed to reveal implementation. Either the difficulty of implementation or guidance for implementation. If you are in a negotiation and you're asking me to do something, I can't just do it. But if you say, “How am I supposed to do that?” then that’s designed to [help you] see how difficult implementation is going to be for me. That works a lot of the time.

Chris Voss: Now, there's never a time that it doesn't work. There's a time you get different answers. “How am I supposed to do that?” is so powerful that when it gets a different answer, people’s brains lock up. They don't know what to do. They don't know what to say. They haven't practiced mirroring. Earlier we talked about mirroring. Mirroring is a skill that you use when you're completely flummoxed.

C. Allen: You're disoriented. That's what we were talking about, yeah.

Chris Voss: So “How am I supposed to do that?” is so effective that only one in 10 times it doesn't work. And if you use it, you're going to use it 10, 15 or 20 times. Because it works so well you're going to do it again. People we've coached have gotten so reliant on it. They’ve said, "It didn't work. It failed me." And I said, "No, it didn't fail you. It gave you a different answer that [caught you off-guard]." If I'm trying to tell you the implementation is impossible and you fire back at me right away, "That's your problem,” what you've just told me is you don't care about me.

Chris Voss: Now that's good information to have if I realize that that's what I'm getting, the skill didn't fail. It gave me a different answer.

C. Allen: Different information.

Chris Voss: I'm dealing with someone who doesn't care about me. I'm smarter. I don't like that information. But every time I go from wondering to knowing, I'm always smarter [and can] recalibrate or change my battle plan. So, “how” is about implementation. “What” is about uncovering problems. Now you can see how they go hand in hand. Use “what” to uncover a problem, use “how” to figure out how to overcome the problem. What's the biggest challenge you face? Is it about me and you figuring out what the problems are? What are the problems? How are we going to overcome those? So then the two become complementary, if you understand what they're primarily designed for.

C. Allen: Yeah. And if you've established trust and you understand who the individual is that you're dealing with [from] the dialogue [you’ve had], that's when you start to find the black swans.

Chris Voss: Either you'll tell me something that you've been holding back because the use of labels makes you trust me. You develop a rapport, you feel listened to. If I really am listening to labels, I'm going deep into the surface. If you're angry — anger is a resultant emotion — it results from a sense of loss or personal hurt.

Chris Voss: So if you're angry and I know it results from loss, instead of saying “You sound angry,” I may say, “You sound hurt.” You're going to feel like I've really caught onto something there. You're really going to feel that I'm seeing something in you. It's going to build trust. It's going to incline you to reveal stuff. Again I'll quote Huberman, because all this stuff is designed to trigger oxytocin. We're going to get to the “That’s right” moment [soon]. “That's right” is the oxytocin moment. Oxytocin is a neurochemical, the bonding drug. If you get a hit of oxytocin, you're going to feel bonded to me. I'm not going to feel bonded to you, but you're going to feel bonded to me. Every time you feel understood, you're going to get a hit of oxytocin. You're going to trust me more. And then the kicker is that oxytocin inclines you towards the truth. I didn't know that until last year.

C. Allen: Wow. Wait, so when you feel understood, you get a hit of oxytocin? Wow, that is unbelievable.

Chris Voss: It's mind boggling.

C. Allen: So it’s an orientation towards the truth. What was the last thing you said?

Chris Voss: Yeah. You're more inclined to be honest with me.

C. Allen: Oh, wow.

Chris Voss: If I figure out a way to get you to start getting hits of oxytocin, you're going to bond to me and you're going to be more honest with me. What more do you want in a negotiation? Because now if you're going to be inclined to tell the truth [especially where] you've been holding back. Now the innocuous stuff is where the real gold is. Because since you don't know what I'm holding back.

C. Allen: Your personal context. I don't know it.

Chris Voss: There's going to be some stuff that's truly important that you're just not going to mention. Because you don't know what's important. And again, those are black swans. You had no way of knowing it was important because I'm holding stuff back, too. And so as the conversation flows and you start to throw something out, the chances increase that you'll throw something out that’s like, “Holy cow.” And I'll give you an example: a woman in Hollywood, she's a filmmaker and she makes these action films where women are superheroes. Mostly martial arts stuff, not like X-Men or mutant stuff. But she's trying to secure funding for one of her films from an investor, another woman. And she's having trouble getting the money, but she's mirroring and labeling the woman. And just out of the blue, the woman that's the investor reveals that she owns a castle in France.

Chris Voss: This is going to be the perfect setting for the second film. You're going to go from being a producer to executive producer. [So she’s thinking], “I thought [we were] talking about a single picture deal, and now we're talking about two or three pictures.”

C. Allen: Changes the game.

Chris Voss: And she was just mirroring and labeling. And the woman who's trying to invest in a movie in Hollywood, that's going to be filmed in Hollywood with a budget limited to Hollywood. She has no reason to think that this castle she owns in France is going to have any impact on a deal at all. She did not mention it because she didn't think it's important, but it comes out. And the woman that's studying the black swan method is like, “What? How did she know to ask for that?” [It’s like,] "Oh, by the way, you don't happen to own any castles in France, do you?" You're not going to bring that up. So it was a great example of a black swan that fell out of the sky based on labels and mirrors. And then somebody brings up something innocuous inadvertently, and it's a game-changing moment.

C. Allen: Yeah. Well, we talked about being comfortable with no and getting to “That's right” which I thought was a pivotal moment in the book.

Chris Voss: I originally thought the “That’s right” chapter was going to be the opening chapter. It was a chapter that sold the book to the publisher. Because he said nobody ever wrote a book before that wasn't about getting the yes. And you were saying like—

C. Allen: It's counterintuitive to what everyone else is doing.

How a concept called “That’s right” creates a powerful bond built on understanding

Chris Voss: Completely different idea. The best part is this is not theoretical. You got example after example after example where it was a massively transformative negotiation, whether it was with a terrorist or a lawyer and a client or a landlord and a tenant when the “That’s right” moment became a game-changer moment. [My son] Brandon likes to say the Jeff Schilling case in the Philippines was the birth of the “That’s right” moment, but at the time I had no idea how important it was. I mean, to me it was just Empathy 101. Make the other person feel heard, completely heard, and make them feel heard by repeating back everything that they've said so that you leave them with nothing to say other than “That’s right.”

Chris Voss: Just that. And I meant it as a reset moment, but I didn't think it was going to be a massive reset. We got a very specific framework for teaching people how to do it now, [where] you list the facts and circumstances they had mentioned. Their facts. Not your facts, their facts. “So far, you've told me…” and “As a result, you feel…” which is essentially an inventory of the emotions: hurt, anger, [satisfaction], happ[iness], betray[al]. Whatever it is, whatever they've expressed.

Chris Voss: If you do it in that formula, you've [learned how they] feel and you're very close to getting [the] “That's right” moment. They get a hit of oxytocin, they feel understood.

C. Allen: They feel understood.

Chris Voss: Ideally, a truth is revealed to them. “That's right” is what people say when what they've heard is the complete truth. And we don't have the neuroscience to back it up yet, but we think it's the — I mean it both literally and figuratively — it's the Trump chemical. Donald Trump is only one example of charismatic leaders that have devoted followers who will follow them come what may. History is littered with these people. Then there are people who are not their followers who are thinking, “How are these people so devoted?”

Chris Voss: The devotion is there, and is unshakeable. And Donald Trump is simply the most recent example. He stood up in front of people and expressed ideas and [people] looked at the TV screen and said, “That's right.” And they're bonded. I mean, no one can argue the degree of bonding with the people that are following Donald Trump. Or if you were a Barack Obama fan on the other side, Obama stands up in front of people and expresses how [his followers] feel and they say, “That's right.” They bond. So this bonding moment, it’s an incredibly durable bond and it's a one-way bond. Because for a whole variety of reasons, you don't have the ability to bond with all these people. It's a one-way bond, and it's ridiculously powerful.

Chris Voss: So we first got onto oxytocin because we knew “That's right” was big. Didn't know how big it was. But we had all of the qualitative data from game-changing moments. And we're writing it with Tahl Raz. And Tahl’s a researcher. He says, “I think what happens when somebody says ‘That’s right’ is they've experienced an epiphany of some sort, a subtle epiphany or major epiphany, but they've experienced an epiphany.” So I'm like, “Alright, let me Google epiphany — the neurochemicals of epiphany. On the list of epiphany neurochemicals is oxytocin, the bonding drug. I'm like, “Bang, that's why it's so huge.”

C. Allen: Yeah. That ratified it.

Chris Voss: And then five years later, Huberman says, “And people tell the truth.” It's like, no wonder it's a game-changing moment.

C. Allen: What a discovery. It's an amazing discovery. I think it's important for entrepreneurs to really remember that this is... like working out, this is a muscle. This whole sort of thing is a muscle. And [to deeply understand it] requires practice, experience and research of new information. [It’s an] orientation will help entrepreneurs in a big way.

A bold tactic: Outlast your competition by simply refusing to give up

Chris Voss: Yeah. And let me put a caveat on it, because there are a number of different people that have said the only sustainable competitive advantage is to learn faster than your competition. First attributed to a Shell executive 50 years ago, Jack Welch added another fine point: learn faster than your competition and [put the information into action]. Now here's how I would change that. You don't have to learn fast. You just have to keep learning.

Chris Voss: We teach people to learn a little bit every day, get 1% smarter. You don't have to learn fast; everybody else puts the emphasis on learning faster than your competition. I am here to tell you and your audience that your competition's going to quit. A friend of mine, Molly Bloom, likes to say “You can’t lose if you don’t quit.” Your competition's going to quit. You know the old saying “There is no finish line?” I never liked it because my reaction was like, “Ah, geez.”

C. Allen: Can I just run another race?

Chris Voss: Yeah. Can I take a break? There is no finish line. That's overwhelming. Well, your competition's going to quit. So if you're comfortable with your competition quitting, then you only have to learn a little bit at a time, and you have to not give up. And as long as you do those two things, as long as you're willing to just learn slowly, you're going to win. Because you didn't quit. They did. And you keep getting smarter, which accumulates over one year, two years, three years — then you are massively smarter than they are.

C. Allen: Yes. Never stop. Never stop. I love it. Well I have some rapid fire questions for you. You ready?

Chris Voss: Alright.

C. Allen: Do you ever feel guilty when you win an argument? Because you have a brutally unfair advantage.

Chris Voss: You can't win arguments. There's a phrase. And many phrases that are gender- or age-based are inaccurate because they're about human beings, and it has nothing to do with gender or age. So the inaccurate phrase is “There's two rules for arguing with women, and both of them are wrong.” The true phrase is: “There's two rules for arguing with people, and both of them are wrong.” Nobody wins an argument.

Chris Voss: So I don't argue. Now societally, we're taught the opposite by movies and TV. And lawyers love to make arguments. And in the movies and on TV, somebody makes an argument and then it's a transformative moment. And the angels appear and the birds chirp and the heavens part. And that's wrong. Nobody wins an argument. There are people who lose less, but you still lose. So yeah, I don't win arguments.

Chris Voss: And if I take a different position from somebody else, for me to want to have the arrogance that I might be completely right, I also have to recognize the other person might be completely right. And that's why you don't split the difference. They could be right. I’ve got to be open-minded enough to be smarter today than I was yesterday. You could be right. So if we have a difference of opinion, you might be right. And if I'm open to that, it increases my outcomes.

C. Allen: That's powerful. Well, with these negotiation techniques, what's the most common mistake or misuse that you've seen people make?

Chris Voss: A no-oriented question, using it out of context. Probably the most famous no-oriented question is “Have you given up on X?” Designed to be used when somebody's ghosting you. You're trying to revitalize a project. They've stopped responding to your emails and all that. If it's an opening line, it's manipulation.

Chris Voss: And I get emails and texts all the time, "Have you given up on hiring my company for your social media?" Well, since I never started, I couldn't have given up. Now, anytime I sense it's a manipulative use of one of my skills, I'll either block them or, occasionally, just to verify my instinct, I'll engage back and forth with this person a couple of times to verify my initial data. And I've never been proven wrong. Anytime somebody starts with, "Have you given up on…?" then they're a manipulative person using my method against me, in which case I simply stop talking to them. Or every now and then I'll say yes.

C. Allen: You ghost them and see if they say it again.

Chris Voss: Yeah. And then I'll say yes.

C. Allen: Well, do you have a favorite law or crime TV series?

Chris Voss: Wow. No.

C. Allen: Well, have you ever thought about acting? You'd kind of play a good hostage negotiator on TV.

Chris Voss: Yeah. Well the problem is the entertainment industry, unfortunately, is an industry where most of the core values don't match up with mine. So I choose not to make deals in the entertainment industry.

C. Allen: OK. Wow. That's good to know. Well, what actor would you have play Chris Voss?

Chris Voss: Idris Elba.

If you’re the sum of the five people you spend time with, make it count

C. Allen: Oh, that's a great answer. That would be a ridiculously good one. You have so many good stories. Who's an entrepreneur who has really inspired you and why?

Chris Voss: I'm around a lot of people on a regular basis — I get coached on how to be a better business executive by an organization called Strategic Coach, run by a guy named Dan Sullivan and his wife, Babs Smith — and everybody [within the organization] is a successful entrepreneur who has built businesses that are way bigger and way more successful than mine. So, you try to be the average of the five people you hang out with. I'm always trying to elevate my game by hanging around superstar entrepreneurs. Of the more visible guys, I like Mark Cuban. I like him a lot. He's a decent, supportive guy. I know people that do business with him. I interviewed him on a social media platform, Fireside, and I like what he's about.

Chris Voss: And when I talk to him, too, I think he's mischaracterized on Shark Tank. Because other Sharks like to portray him as a bully occasionally. He's not a bully. But he tests you. You got to have your “A” game if you're going to do business with him because you are his ambassador and you can't get pushed around. So he is going to push around to see whether or not you can stand up for yourself. But in the interview I was talking with him and he said he's a big believer in trust and integrity as a means of making deals faster. He said he'll spend a lot of time with people up front to let him know that they can trust him, because he wants to make subsequent deals and he wants the timeframes to accelerate. And so the more you can rely on him, the quicker you can make a deal. And that's a great philosophy.

C. Allen: Yeah, it is. That's incredible. Well, it's been a huge honor to sit and chat with you. Hopefully you could tell I'm a huge fan.

Chris Voss: Thank you.

C. Allen: I have an appreciation for your work. What's next for Chris Voss?

Chris Voss: Well, we got a book. There are three things: There's a documentary film that's been made [about] my company. It's going to premiere in Los Angeles on September 26th. I haven't seen it yet. Nick Nanton and DNA Films [worked on it]. Nick has 22 Emmys. He's got a good track record. He's a good person. He says it's good. He says it's gritty. He said it turned out a little grittier than [he] expected.

C. Allen: Yeah. Imagine that.

Chris Voss: Yeah, exactly. And that's pretty cool. And it's going to put a little bit more of a spotlight on my son, Brandon, who's a super talented guy. We've got a book for real estate, residential real estate agents. Should be out in about six months, and the “Tactical Empathy Operations Manual” will be out in about a year.

C. Allen: That sounds so good. Wow. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming out and spending time in the studio.

Chris Voss: Yeah, tell people about the newsletter.

C. Allen: OK.

Chris Voss: Yeah. The newsletter is free, but that's not why it's valuable. It's actionable and it's concise. That's what makes something valuable. Is it concise, and can you use it? The best way to get there is the Black Swan website, [which] is blackswanltd.com. Upper right hand corner is a tab for the blog. The blog is The Negotiation Edge. You sign up for it. You [receive it in your inbox] on Tuesday morning. It's free. But again, stuff that's free can be useless.

C. Allen: Yeah, it's true.

Chris Voss: It's actionable. We [have] a lot of free stuff, and you really need to get a good grounding in all the stuff that we have. [The content that’s] free in the newsletter and the free stuff on a website will take you a long, long way. We have training that we charge a lot for, but you're not going to be ready for it.

Chris Voss: If you haven't filled out the baseline on the free stuff, the newsletter's a great starting point. It's a gateway to the gold mine.

C. Allen: That's powerful. Hey, thanks for sharing with us. Appreciate you, Chris.

Chris Voss: My pleasure.

C. Allen: Absolutely. Thank you for coming to the studio.


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