An FBI Hostage Negotiator Teaches You the “F” Word in Negotiations

    

Bang. That’s it. When the “F” bomb – “fair” – gets thrown in a negotiation things have just gotten emotional.

“Wait...haven’t they always been emotional?”

Ok, true. In reality, it’s impossible to make a decision without your own personal interplay of what you value. You value things based on what you care about and that makes “value” by definition an emotional concept. If you follow that line of reasoning then every decision requires emotion.

Where we’re taking the discussion now is when this has spilled over and emotions are showing themselves in a way where your decision making gets skewed.

You see the “f-bomb” in 3 situations:

#1 – The f-bomb, “fair” gets thrown in conjunction to an offer in order to get you to give in. I’m always on the lookout for this tactic. “We’ve given you a fair offer” is a tactic often used by someone you need to watch very closely.

Remember the last NFL lockout? The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) was trying to get the NFL Owners to open their books before the final agreement was reached. In the process of declining to open their books, the NFL Owners response to this request was – “We’ve given the players a fair offer”.

When I heard this I couldn’t help but remember the scene in the 2nd Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law. A sniper had an unarmed Dr. Watson (Jude Law) pinned down and was trying to kill him. Dr. Watson discovered that what he was hiding behind as a large cannon and turned it on the sniper to blow him up with it. The sniper said “That’s not fair” and ran. How was it “fair” before?

“Fair?” Really? If so open the books.

What’s the best response to “I’ve given you a fair offer”?

“Ok, I’m willing for you to walk me through this and show me everything as long as you’re willing to change the offer if the evidence shows otherwise.”

#2 – The other side may not be a counter-part whom you should view with suspicion, but the bottom line is they are still trying to get your $$$$. They may just feel backed into a corner and overwhelmed by the circumstances. They may not know what else to say, but definitely know they are facing a loss and see you as the way to fix it by giving in.

Them – “I just want what’s fair.”

The best response?

“Ok, I apologize. If you’re saying this now, this has probably been going on for a while. Let’s stop everything and go back to where I started treating you unfairly and we’ll fix it.”

#3 – The good use of the “f-word”. Proactively to create a more collaborative environment.

You say – “I want to make sure you feel treated fairly. Please stop me at any time if you feel I’m being unfair and we’ll address it.”

As a negotiator, you should strive for a reputation of being fair. Your reputation precedes you. Let it precede you in a way that paves success.

Get more prepared for your next negotiation.

Chris Voss

About The Author

Christopher Voss is the CEO of The Black Swan Group, a firm that solves business negotiation problems with hostage negotiation strategies. Chris founded the Black Swan Group, in 2008 upon his retirement from the FBI where he was the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator. Chris is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Southern California (USC) Marshall School of Business and Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business where he teaches business negotiation in both M.B.A. programs.