Become a better negotiator with these two words

Negotiation tips
  • Summarize your counterpart’s position from their perspective.
  • “Yes” is not an objective or an end
  • Approach the negotiation expecting to learn something new
  • Always be willing to get something better than your original objective
  • Practice getting a “That’s right” out of someone in regular conversation

If you want to be a great negotiator, stop trying to get people to say “yes.” So says Chris Voss, who spent 24 years with the FBI Crisis Negotiation Unit as lead international kidnapping interrogator and is now CEO of The Black Swan Group and author of “Never Split the Difference.” Speaking to an audience of retail loss prevention professionals gathered in Washington, D.C., for NRF PROTECT Loss Prevention Conference and EXPO,  Voss outlined a key problem with the way most approach negotiation — the addiction to hearing yes.

The problem with “yes” as an objective is that people see you’re trying to get them to agree and perceive it as a trap. Instead, Voss encouraged LP leaders to consider a tactic that many might dismiss as warm and fuzzy: empathy.

Emotional intelligence isn’t something to minimize in negotiations — whether you’re dealing with threats to company assets, people or general business dealings. “Empathy’s a mercenary’s tool,” Voss said. Listening and being able to understand your counterpart’s point of view allows you to connect with them and change their mindset.

Rather than “yes,” Voss argues that your goal should be a “that’s right.” 

"When somebody’s talking, and you believe what they’ve said is the unequivocal truth, you say, "that’s right"."

Chris Voss

“Those are the magic words,” he said. “When somebody’s talking, and you believe what they’ve said is the unequivocal truth, you say, ‘that’s right.’”

If you can understand someone’s perspective so well that you can summarize it back to them to the point where they say “That’s right,” you’ve set the foundation for a successful negotiation. Voss illustrated his point with a life-and-death level example of how the technique helped hostage negotiations with a terrorist in the Philippines. When the negotiator demonstrated his complete understanding of the other perspective, “it changed our guy’s mindset so dramatically that we were in a completely different negotiation,” Voss said. While loss prevention professionals may not deal with hostage situations every day, approaching a situation with empathy and respect can go a long way.

“The people you work with all deserve to be treated in a way that even if they got nothing, they felt connected to you,” he said. “They felt respected.”

The technique of saying something from another person’s perspective is tricky to get the hang of. It becomes easier with practice, though, so Voss closed with this advice:

“Let the other side go first,” he said. “Get a ‘That’s right.’ It takes a little bit of practice, but do it for an hour, do it over lunch, and don’t try to get anywhere except talking with someone enough so that they look at you and say, ‘That’s right.’ Practice it in your conversations, and I think you’ll be so delighted by it that you’ll start using it when you’ve got skin in the game.”