Want to be a top negotiator? Let the Feds show you how

US blog Barking Up the Wrong Tree discovers the FBI’s powerful methods of persuasion that have been used many times to great effect in countless hostage negotiations. Tony McDonough reports.

Learning to become an effective negotiator can pay huge dividends

Are you nervous about an upcoming business negotiation or perhaps a difficult conversation with someone in your life about a stick personal issue.

Well US intelligence agency, the FBI, may be able to help you.

Hostage negotiation techniques developed by ‘the Feds’ can be applied to difficult situations in our everyday lives.

The US-based Barking Up the Wrong Tree blog spoke to former head of FBI international hostage negotiation, Chris Voss, about the Behavioural Change Stairway Model.

He outlines five steps to getting someone else to see an issue from your point of view – and maybe even persuade them to change their minds. They are:

  • Active listening: Listening can be one of the most difficult skills – and one of the most valuable and well worth developing. Convince the person on the other side of the table you are listening to what they have to say and you are in the door.
  • Empathy: Walk in their shoes. Make a conscious effort to understand the issues through their eyes – and make sure they are aware you understand even if you disagree.
  • Rapport: When you make that empathy connection they may then start to be more open to seeing things through your eyes. Mutual understanding is a key component of trust.
  • Influence: Now trust is established you can then work together to find solutions to the issues at hand.
  • Behavioural Change: The final crucial step. They are prepared to act, or at least compromise.

One of the reasons so many negotiations go wrong, according to the FBI, is because people disregard the first three steps and got straight to the last two – with failure likely.

Any attempt to tell someone “I am right and you are wrong” is likely to fall on deaf ears.

In the interview with the blog, Mr Voss said: “Business negotiations try to pretend that emotions don’t exist. What’s your best alternative to a negotiated agreement?

“That’s to try to be completely unemotional and rational, which is a fiction about negotiation.

“Human beings are incapable of being rational, regardless. So instead of pretending emotions don’t exist in negotiations, hostage negotiators have actually designed an approach that takes emotions fully into account and uses them to influence situations, which is the reality of the way all negotiations go.”

A negotiation can quickly deteriorate if crucial steps are missed

Further to the five steps Mr Voss offers six techniques the FBI have found effective in negotiations: Ask open-ended questions; Remain silent during ‘effective pauses’; Us ‘minimal encouragers – brief statements to let them know you are listening; Mirror them by repeating words or phrases they have just used; Paraphrase by repeating back things they have said in your own words; Use labels for their emotions rather than questioning their validity – show them you understand.

To read the full article on effective negotiating on Barking Up the Wrong Tree, click here.

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