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Podcast Episode 048: Listen like FBI negotiator Chris Voss

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Chris Voss is a global corporate negotiation expert; a former FBI hostage negotiator, CEO of the Black Swan Group and author of the national best-seller: “Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It”. His company specialises in solving business communication problems, using hostage negotiation solutions.

Chris says the cost of not listening in the corporate world amounts to 70% of opportunities missed.

Chris points out the ‘Yes addiction’ our society has in its communication, intent on extracting a yes from the other person in the conversation. The single biggest force in decision making is avoiding a loss or rejection, not to accomplish again – simply considering the phrasing of a question can make for more productive conversation.

Chris shares dramatic stories of how listening between the lines saved the day in dangerous negotiations. His bite-sized pieces of wisdom based on years of experience are truly valuable.

Transcript

Episode 48: Deep Listening with Chris Voss

 

Chris Voss:    

                   

70% of your opportunities is the cost of not listening. If I want to know what you’re really thinking about instead of saying what are you thinking about, I’m going to get a lot more in depth answer out of you by saying like, “Seems like you’ve given us a lot of thought.” That’s an appreciation of your thought process. You’re much more likely to say, “Yeah. I have. Here’s what I’ve been thinking about. I’m thinking about this this and I’ve been thinking about this. I’ve been thinking about this.”

I mean that observation of your thought process is much more encouraging you’re going to tell me an awful lot more.

Oscar Trimboli:       

Hi. I’m Oscar Trimboli. This is the Deep Listening Podcast Series designed to move you from an unconscious listener to a deep and productive listener. Did you know you spend 55% of your day listening? Yeah. Only 2% of us have had any listening training whatsoever. Frustration, misunderstanding, wasted time and opportunity along with creating poor relationships are just some of the cost of not listening.

Each episode of the series is designed to provide you with practical, actionable, and impactful tips to move you through the five levels of listening. I invite you to visit oscartrimboli.com/facebook to learn about the five levels of listening and how others are making an impact beyond words.

Oscar Trimboli:            

In this episode of Deep Listening: Impact Beyond Words, we hear from Chris, a global expert in the field of negotiation and well, he should be. He’s a former FBI hostage negotiator. Chris outlines the commercial impact of not listening. He says 70% of the opportunity is missed. That’s the cost of not listening. He also asks a great question. When you’re in a negotiation, who’s actually the fool in the game? Explore the impact of society’s yes addiction when it comes to communication and understand the influence and power of exploring the negatives, the nos.

Listen for the Nobel prize-winning research that talks about the importance of loss aversion. He also talks about who do you think is in control of the conversation, the speaker or the listener. Chris explains why controlling any conversation is a complete myth. Listen carefully as he explains the mindset of Judo to maintain to manage a manoeuvre energy in any conversation. He does a great job of explaining level one. Listen to yourself and the role of breathing and how to be connected not just with your own breathing, but also the breathing of the speaker.

Oscar Trimboli:            

There’s a really powerful story in here where Chris talks about a very high-profile negotiation he did in Washington DC. Listen out for level-five listening with the Dwight, the tobacco farmer. Listen carefully as they explore the meaning around the 82nd Airborne Division and how this helps a very tense situation where Dwight has a sniper’s green light on him and ready to shoot. Let’s listen to Chris.

Oscar Trimboli:            

What do you think the cost of not listening for clients is?

Chris Voss:                   

70% of your opportunities is the cost the not listening. One of the companies that we were coaching recently, they’ve been pursuing a deal for 18 months. They’re having trouble landing it. They hired us to help them land the deal. We almost immediately assess that they were the fool in the game. One conversation they got the client that they were pursuing to admit that they were never going to get the deal. They pursued that for 18 months.

Chris Voss:                   

Now, interestingly enough to see where their company recently came through a training that we gave in New York and he was so grateful that we helped him get out of that deal and move on. I said, “Oh, by the way …” because he had had some land that he was trying to sell in Europe. He said, “Since you got me out of that, I actually subdivided the land and sold it in total for more than I was asking for it from the first person that I was hoping to sell to.” To try and calculate how much it costs to pursue deals that you’re never going to get is just is this monstrous. It’s huge.

Oscar Trimboli:            

What do you think it was that they weren’t listening to or for?

Chris Voss:                   

They weren’t listening to the client sending them signals that there was a bad fit. They weren’t listening to how much they were trying to trap the other person with yes. I mean yes is … Trying to get somebody to say yes is probably the most damaging thing to rapport and business relationships because we’re also … So many people are desperate to hear yes only. They don’t want to hear anything else. It’s such an addiction. We’re all so uncomfortable by being made to say yes. It’s one of the craziest dynamics that I think that we’ve seen in human communication like if I say to you do you have a few minutes to talk, you’re immediately going to get defensive like how long is this going to last, what’s the hook, where is this going, what am I not hearing, what are you trying to trap me into.

Chris Voss:                   

I know as soon as you start trying to get me to say yes, you’re going to try to get me to say yes, the more stuff you’re going to try to leave me down the path. I mean we all hate that. Nobody likes a question have you got a few minutes to talk. We all immediately become defensive. It’s the biggest thing in not hearing what the other side is really saying, not being willing to hear rejection.

Oscar Trimboli:            

One of the things you talked about in your book was it’s okay to get a no and that loss aversion is a bigger motivator than a positive incentive.

Chris Voss:                   

Well, it’s not only okay to get a no, but in many cases, it’s preferreable. People will just get … They’re so addicted to yes they become horrified as they thought of being told no.

Let’s just go back to the question I brought up a few minutes ago; have you got a few minutes to talk. It sounds stupid, but you get a vastly different effect if you call somebody and say is now bad time to talk. It’s uncomfortable yes makes us, no makes us feel safe and protected. We ask people instead of do you agree, we say do you disagree. Would you like to do this instead of now we say are you against doing this. Just the mere act of flipping out of yes isn’t going to nos makes a massive difference in how people communicate.

Oscar Trimboli:            

When you’re listening, how important is it for what the other person’s going to lose rather than what they’re going to gain?

Chris Voss:                   

The single biggest motivator of human decision-making is avoiding the loss. Daniel Kahneman won Nobel Prize in behavioural economics and he and Amos Tversky developed a theory, the prospect theory, which has lost things twice as much as an equivalent game. Losing $5 hurts twice as much as gaining $5 feels good.

Actually, Daniel Kahneman actually gave an interview where he said that’s not accurate. It’s not twice as much. It’s actually five to seven times as much it. He and his partner, Amos, he lured the number to twice as much just because they wanted fewer arguments from their academic college. It’s this outsized influence on our decision-making. Their sales that are out that says it’s 70% of my decisions are made to avoid a loss, not to accomplish a gain which then pretty much gets to this two in one ratio.         

I know that there are sales training out there that says that you have to display nine times value to achieve the sale which then means there’s a nine-X difference between the value of loss and gain game because what they’re going to gain has to be worth nine times what they’re giving up. I mean it’s just outside distorting impact on people’s decision-making. There are a lot of people out there. They’ll say, “Well, like I make deals all the time just by pitching game, only by pitching benefit.”

Of course, you make deals all the time. You’re making a third as many as you should be. You’re killing yourself because people were looking for how do I alleviate my problems first before they’re looking for how to accomplish gains. It completely changes the entire value proposition approach.

The reasons you won’t make deals with me are more important than the reasons that you will make deals with me. We’re finding on a regular basis we make deals faster because if I can eliminate the negatives, if I can eliminate the barriers that’s standing in your way from doing business with me, then the positives may well take over and I won’t have to do the work at all.

If you’re lazy, if you want to get things done faster, if you want to make more deals, you address the reasons why people won’t deal with you. You address the reasons of what’s standing in the way of their thinking first before you address the value proposition which is the opposite of what they teach us in business school.

Oscar Trimboli:            

Chris, when you listen deeply, one of those big causes, the cost of the status quo have you helped the other person understand the cost of the status quo when they may not even be conscious of it themselves?

Chris Voss:                   

Well, you make them understand that you get out of them what they’re seeing in their own mind, what the comparison is that they’re making in their own mind. Most people are not comparing what’s actually happening. They’re more comparing what they hope that have happened, but you have to understand what’s going on in somebody’s brain. You do that with the application of empathy.

Once you understand what’s going on in their head, then you have to use calibrated questions or observations to get them to make a different comparison. What do I mean by that? If we give a negotiation strategy, someone is saying like, “Wow, if I do that, I can really see how that might go bad.” Well, they’re imagining a worst-case scenario in their head no matter what is the reality.

Our question is, all right, you can see it going bad this way. The real issue is what’s going to happen to you if you don’t do anything. Well, I don’t do anything. Here’s probably what’s going to happen. That’s how you get them to change the comparison on what question, what do you see happening versus what is actually happening. You have to begin to explore that with people to get them to now start taking different looks at what they’re comparing in their head.

Oscar Trimboli:            

I’d like you to take us back to your work when you volunteered on a crisis hotline and how did that inform you about questions like what and how versus why.

Chris Voss:                   

I really learned the value of observations which isn’t or did not question at all the value of observations in human interaction which we called it reflection back then, hostage negotiation. We called it emotional labeling. Now, we just call it labeling. An observation would be like you sound angry or you sound certain or you seem upset. These are just observations of dynamics. That’s a really powerful way to get through to people really quickly. It’s not a question.

If I want to know what you’re really thinking about instead of saying what are you thinking about, I’m going to get a lot more in-depth answer out of you by saying like seems like you’ve given us a lot of thought. That’s an appreciation of your thought process. You’re much more likely to say, “Yeah. I have. Here’s what I’ve been thinking about. I’m thinking about this. I’ve been thinking about this. I’ve been thinking about this.”

Chris Voss:                   

I mean that observation of your thought process is much more encouraging. You’re going to tell me an awful lot more. In a hotline, we learn mostly what and how questions most as a device to get to actually confront people with, but we don’t like to work confrontation. We call the pitch. A confronting question is going to be what’s going to happen if you don’t do anything. What’s going to happen if you don’t change your behaviour? I mean that’s a great use of what question actually confront someone without it making them feel attacked.

As we went further through what I learned on the hotline and what I learned from Jim Camp’s book, Start with No, and then the stuff that I learned as a hostage negotiator, we found out what and how questions were the best questions to ask if you were going to ask questions at all which you might not always want to. I also learned the hard way that why questions make people feel accused and makes people feel defensive. I say to you why did you do that, you’re going to feel like I think you did something wrong versus if I say what made you do that, then you’re going to feel less accused and you’re going to be more likely to answer. That gets us into this whole other category of the problematic nature of asking people why questions to begin with.

There’s certain rare instances where a why question might be most appropriate. This is all kind of driven by context.

Oscar Trimboli:            

In chapter seven of Never Split The Difference, you make reference to like questions or observations that are actually questions. Could you give us a couple of examples of that?

Chris Voss:                   

The funny thing is it makes the biggest difference as to how you construct the sentence or the thought both at the beginning and the end. I mean the beginning I think what you’re referring to as like questions or gets back to our labels or our observations, I can say it seems like this bothers you.

Now, that’s constructed as an observation and a downward inflexion at the end is it’s a feeling of a statement or on observation. If I say, “Seems like this bothers you,” I mean it’s the exact same word construction. Now, the inflexion at the end makes it feel more like a question, but if I just said does this bother you. The fact that I started that with verbs causes your brain to react in a completely different way both in word choice and inflexion. It’s not just a question, but it’s a closed-ended question.

There’s a completely different way that it hits the brain if I say does this bother you versus it seems like this bothers you. It’s going to cause a completely different response on your part. We are very definitely steering away from verb-led sentences that are questions because I’m going to get a much more unguarded response from you if I get away from that construction in power.

Testimony:                  

What Oscar does is he eloquently outlined strategies to manage that struggle between feeling right we should be leading when we’d actually probably achieve more from listening. It’s relevant. It’s practical, insightful. I think, most of all, it makes you reconsider what listening actually is.

Oscar Trimboli:            

You talk about listening Judo. You make some really powerful points there, some of those you’ve already touched on how and what questions versus why questions, but the most powerful point you made for me was the person in control of the conversation is actually the listener. You have some examples of that?

Chris Voss:                   

Yeah. If they listen, they choose who to be in control. We’re trying different ways to make the idea come alive in people’s brains. It’s a lot more than what used to be described as active listening. People were so active listening. Does that mean I nod my head a lot and smile a lot? No. What is it to be active or what is it to be proactive or to know what I’m looking for or the term listeners Judo. One of my listening for that’s going to change your energy maybe I want to use your energy against you. Maybe I want to use it with you. Maybe, I want to use your energy to wear you out.

I mean one of my strategic choices that give me the upper hand and the negotiation versus having an obsession or an addiction to in the feel like I’m in control, but I’m definitely trying to use your energy for both of our benefit. Now, if you’re attacking me, I’m going to use your energy to wear you down. That’s kind of what judo is about, using the other person the opponent’s energy against them. If I’m good at judo and you come running at me try and tackle me, I’m just going to give myself a great stance and great leverage so that your energy ultimately defeats you.

Now, in a negotiation, am I trying to defeat you? Not only if you’re attacking. What I’d rather do is I’d rather have a great relationship with you and collaborate with you for a long period of time. I’m going to try and educate you did that affect that attacking me isn’t going to do you any good. That’s this whole idea of Judo or the analogy is some people like Tai Chi’s analogy.

I mean in a hostage negotiation, we learned to say you get proof of life instead of saying can you prove to me the victim is alive. We’d want to say how do I know the victim is alive, how do I know the kidnapper is alive. That changes the entire dynamic. I learned that specifically negotiation that I listen to between two drug dealers in Pittsburgh back in the early 2000. The drug dealer victims said to the drug dealer kidnapper how do I even know my girlfriend’s alive. We then knew that all right so we got to use how question to do a better job in a business view.

We switched that into business negotiations. Somebody wants more than I can give instead of me saying I can’t give that or me saying no. I’m going to say how am I supposed to do that in an instance after instance after instance. The counterpart on the other side has dropped the price or soften the terms or indicated some sort of greater collaboration.

Oscar Trimboli:            

In March of 2003, you talked about some work that you did with the tobacco farmer where you and the negotiation team were listening much more deeply to what Dwight Watson was saying.

Chris Voss:                   

We got a guy that has taken Washington DC hostage. This poor guy, Dwight Watson, his family lost a tobacco farm as a result of the tobacco settlement between the restrictions and the quotas and everything else that happened. His family, they were tobacco farmers and just a change in the environment caused them to lose a farm. It drives this tractor into Washington DC and says, “I got four bombs with me and I scattered four bombs around the metro area. I’m going to blow it all up if you guys don’t talk.”

We start talking to Dwight Watsons. He’s just a poor guy at the end of his rope. We realised that we’re going to get him out, but he keeps talking about the 82nd airborne being behind enemy lines for 72 hours. Then, they can retreat with honour if they don’t get reinforcements, if they drop behind enemy lines and come out after 72 hours which is his way of telling us he’s going to come out after 72 hours. That’s not a bad thing he’s agreed to come out, but the bad thing about it is there’s still a green light on Dwight.

In a hostage negotiation terms, a green light is snipers can shoot him and kill him if he does the wrong thing. We don’t want Dwight to get killed because we still don’t know for sure that he doesn’t have four bombs. We think there’s a possibility his bombs are located at this one location that the green light is if he goes back over this location with this tractor, you got to shoot him because we don’t know if he have bomb. He doesn’t have bombs.

We’re trying to get Dwight out of there before he makes a mistake, gets himself killed. He’s talking about 82nd airborne, 82nd airborne, but into his conversation, there are different Christian references. We’re getting a sense that his religion, if you will, is really important to him. We’re brainstorming about how we’re going to get him out in early. One of our negotiators say, “Tell him tomorrow’s a dawn of the third day.”

Technically speaking from the Christian religion, Jesus rose from the dead 48 hours after he was crucified. He was crucified on Friday. He comes back to life on that Sunday morning. That’s not three days. Monday’s three days. It’s about 48 hours, but said dawned on the third day. We get the sense that this is a bigger issue with Dwight. We get him back on a farm. We ask him if he’s going to come out the next day. He says, “No.” Our negotiator says, “Yeah. But Dwight, tomorrow’s dawn on a third day.”

He goes dead silent. Then, then he says, “I got to come out in the morning.” Listening between the lines, what matters on a larger level and everybody has a religion. Everybody has things in a given moment that are more important to them than the deal themselves, things that they died for us, things that they’d sacrificed the rest of their life for and live for.

Boy, if you can hear those things in any negotiation, you can really change somebody’s mind.

Testimony:                  

What struck home with me is that the ability to listen to really listen just need to. There is real leadership strength and paying attention and responding appropriately. If nothing else, it’s just more efficient.

Oscar Trimboli:            

One of my favourite quotes from your book is that listening is the cheapest and most effective concession you can make.

Chris Voss:                   

If it’s even a concession, I mean that’s a crazy thing. I mean it’s this incredible gesture. It’s generous. It’s costless to actually listen to the other side. I don’t know it’s fair even to say that it’s a confession because what are you actually conceding when you actually listen to the other side, but the benefits are huge, the upside. Like I don’t know how many deals that I have made by hearing. I hear in the other side out and then having them give in after having just been heard out.

But I know those percentages are much, much higher than when I didn’t listen at all. I can tell you, people have lost lots of deals by not listening that they would have made otherwise by listening. It’s one of those strategies that in reality it has no downside.

Oscar Trimboli:            

When was the first time you noticed that listening was this big step forward in a concession that would help the other party?

Chris Voss:                   

My son, Brandon, is a director of operation to my company and an enormously talented negotiator. We talked about the birth of the that’s right moment and when you’ve totally heard the other side out, the other side will say that’s right. I remember originally just thinking that that was just basic 101 listening when in fact it’s a lot of basics 101 listening is really an advanced skill. It’s a blackbelt skill if you can.   

If you can get somebody to say that’s right, you are an enormously talented negotiator, not you’re right, but that’s right. I had done this in coaching a negotiation in the Philippines where the kidnappers were demanding $10 million in war damage. It’s not ransom payments for war then. It’s for 500 years of oppression which is pretty brilliant move because if you can stretch out economic harm out of 500 years, it makes $10 million seem like you’re not asking for that much.     

 

We got on the phone with the bad guys. My coach, my negotiator, get the guy to say that’s right. Summarise everything he said from his point of view and only from his point of view, not ours, and not whether or not his point of view is accurate or the truth, but strictly, strictly, strictly from their point of view.

At the end of the summary which seemed like it went on forever, but couldn’t have taken that long. Certainly took less time than we invested in the negotiations up to that point. The sociopaths on the other end of the line said that’s right and the ransom demand went away. The $10 million went away. Again, I just took that for granted at the time. We have looked back on that. Brandon and I have looked back on that and realised that was the birth of the that’s right moment.

We’re cutting deals right and left, but getting the other side can see massive amounts of the points of what they want having just gotten them to say that’s right. It’s insane. It makes no sense. It’s just as effective as it can be.

Oscar Trimboli:            

What happened to resolve that situation?

Chris Voss:                   

The terrorists dropped their demand for money. Then, our negotiator and the terrorist negotiator on the other side that they then suddenly had this great working relationship where the terrorists kind of got lost and lost their focus. We continue to negotiate back and forth. They tried to get a variety of intermediaries involved in order to resolve it peacefully. At that point of time, we just went into basically a stalling approach with them.

A couple of months later, our hostage walked away. They lost their focus. They lost their discipline. They lost their organisation. Hostages lost walked away. A military found out that he was out wandering around the jungle all by himself. They flew down, picked him up the Philippine military, not the American military. We flew him out. We went back to the US. He was back in the Philippines about three weeks after our hostage walked away and the negotiator that I coached through the original negotiation with the terrorists said you’re never going to believe who called. I said to [inaudible] calls. He said the terrorists, a sociopath we negotiated with in a previous case.

I said, “No kidding. What he say?” The terrorists called their negotiators and said, “Have you been promoted yet? You’re really, really, really talented. Whatever happens they should promote.” What he was really saying when he called and said that was like, “Man, I just called to pay my respects. I want to know if we ever talk, I deal with you again in the future.” That’s the power of getting somebody to say that’s right even when they lose, they still respect it. They let you know they’d deal with you in the future which is a pretty good way to leave everybody in any negotiation you’re in.

Oscar Trimboli:            

What role do you think breathing implies in helping you find that space where you can be centred and listening?

Chris Voss:                   

You make an interesting observation is there’s a lot of parallels over just affect the behaviour whether you’re engaged in a sporting event or whether or not you’re engaged in negotiations with Jim Camp who I learned a lot from, he wrote the book Start With No. He used to talk about negotiations and called a human performance event.

A good solid breathing pattern, of course, let’s keep our system under control. Deep breaths provide more oxygen to the bloodstream which fuels the brain. I mean there’s a lot of physiological reasons that add into that make us think better that keep us in a positive frame of mind. They keep our wiring open as much as possible and certainly making sure that you breathe well is a great way to keep your brain fully supplied with oxygen and also to keep your heart rate under control.

Oscar Trimboli:            

Then, coming back to work on the crisis hotline, how were you able to listen to how they were breathing?

Chris Voss:                   

Yeah. I would. If I could hear somebody breathing in a hyperventilated fashion, then I picked that up. My next job is how do I respond and the best way for me to respond to that interestingly enough would be for me to say, “Sounds like you’re upset. It sounds like your heart’s probably racing right now.” I can even say, “It sounds like you’re gasping for air.” My observation in that fashion and that conversation will help my counterpart sufficiently soft aware to help them get their automatic pilot back on in a really good way and help get themselves under control.

It’s a great way to immediately create a collaborative environment where I’m helping you, but you’re taking that help at your option which actually increases the likelihood that you’re going to take that help.

Oscar Trimboli:            

Chris, everybody wants to know more. How did they stay in touch with you so they can get regular tips and tricks to understand how to be a better negotiator?

Chris Voss:                   

The best way to get lots of free content, go to our website blackswanltd.com. B-L-A-C-K-S-W-A-N-L-T-D.com. Then, find our blog, The Edge. Sign up. Have it sent to you via email. It comes out every Tuesday. It’s short sweet articles, very digestible tips every week, not a lot to read through. This stuff comes with practise, not that much practise, but you can get good at this really quickly without a tremendous amount of effort.

Chris Voss:                   

It might be a little awkward at first. If it’s awkward, great. If it’s awkward, the great upside of that is there’s a lot of capacity that you can add. Awkwardness is proportional to how much better you can get. If it’s really awkward, then you got of upside. The awkwardness will get over quickly. You get good at this really fast if you put in the time. It’s not that much time, three weeks max.

Oscar Trimboli:            

What an amazing privilege it was to listen to Chris deconstruct his craft as a listener. He expanded my understanding of what it means to be a deep listener rather than do listening. Chris reinforced the importance of what and how questions. We’ve heard this before from people like Allen Stokes and Allen Parker and both of them as did Chris talked about how people get defensive when you ask them why-based questions.

Oscar Trimboli:            

I had to listen a couple of times to wrap my mind around verb-led questions. I did this a few times during the interview. To be honest, I had to listen to it a couple of times after the interview as well, but Chris did it so skillfully by explaining the importance of tone and inflexion with questions. I love that moment where he talked about the birth of the that’s right moment. I hear this in the workplace all the time. I also hear it as the what I really mean is moment or what I’m really thinking moment or now that I’ve had a bit more time to think about it the most important thing is moment.

Oscar Trimboli:            

That moment when you ask that question where you can simply say it seems like you’ve given this a lot of thought. I love that question from Chris. I wonder what you listened for. I know when I explore my own self-talk, it’s usually not exploring the costs, the negatives, the losses, the loss aversion, but more the positives. What Chris has done a great job for me in this interview is help to expand the number of possibilities when it comes to listening.

 

Oscar Trimboli:            

A big thank you to the team that listens to me, to Johnny, to Nell and to June. Thanks for letting me think out aloud and create great podcasts for every one of you who listens. Thanks for listening.

 

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