Negotiation Training: 3 Steps to Find Out If You've Left Anything On The Table


One of the most common questions I get asked is “How do I know I’ve gotten everything that I could have gotten?” That’s a great question and one that nags at all of us.  It’s simple process and requires very little, but it’s more than just asking. Patience is a strategic device. Here are the three steps to this negotiation training:

  1. Create the environment.
  2. Produce empathy.
  3. Provoke the response with the killer label.

negotiation training

1. Create The Environment – Positive (Even Playful)

We know that people are 6x more likely to make a deal with someone they like. The great Tom Girardi (known as the top trial attorney in California and of Erin Brokovich fame) told my USC negotiation class last spring that the key to negotiation is to be “nice and gentle”. Tom knows that to get what he wants, he needs to create an environment that immediately begins to lean the other side in his direction. This attitude is another version of the saying “never be mean to someone who can hurt you by doing nothing”.   

Your ultimate goal is to find out if they can help you even more than what they’ve done already.  You’re looking for every inch of the latitude they have in this situation.  You also need to see far enough ahead to understand how you want to leave them for your next interaction. And how you want to leave them is in a positive place. People don’t remember things as they happened. Gallup data shows us that people remember the most intense moment and how things ended. We have to orchestrate the interaction so we control the end – and that end has to be positive.

The flip side of this is we also know that our brains will work up to 31% more effectively in a positive frame of mind.  The flat out truth is we are smarter in a positive frame of mind.  It doesn’t hurt us to make our counterpart smarter too because we want them to come up with their best ideas to help us and enjoy doing it! 

2. Produce Empathy

Start with an apology.  Nothing gets someone’s attention faster that an unexpected apology.  They wonder to themselves “What in the heck is this person apologizing for?”  This has the phenomenal effect of totally breaking their train of thought (in a nice way) and riveting them to the next few words you say.

Introduce yourself (or reintroduce yourself) to get your name out there.  Make yourself a person.   Getting your name back out there if it’s someone you’ve been dealing with for a while is always a good refresher. Self-effacing humility is a form of empathy as well as it elevates the other person in a way they appreciate.

Then use their name (sparingly).  Don’t overuse use it.  

Get a “that’s right”. After recently giving a session on negotiation at the annual Association of Financial Professionals (AFP) conference in Denver, one of the attendees gave me a brilliant insight I hadn’t seen yet.  He said that when your counterpart tells you “that’s right” – they are confirming for you that you’ve hit the empathy bull’s-eye with them.  This bull’s-eye is the trigger that clears you for the next step.

(AFP, by the way, absolutely rocks! They are a great organization.  Their CEO Jim Kaitz has a phenomenal team.  If you’re a financial professional AFP is the store that holds the keys to great resources.)

3. Provoke The Response With The Killer Label

  • “It sounds like there’s nothing more you can do.”
  • “It sounds like this is out of your hands.”
  • “It sounds like you’re powerless here.”
  • “It sounds like there is nothing I can say to get you to make this deal.”

Use one of these labels as appropriate.  Do not ask a question here.  Say the label gently.  Then go silent (keeping a supportive/approachable look on your face – remember 7:38:55?).  Let them respond.  If they do have any latitude, this is the moment you’ve orchestrated to find out.  The first deadly sin of negotiation is taking yourself hostage.  One way you take yourself hostage is by not finding out.   

This is how you both find out and work to leave them in a positive frame of mind about the interaction.  If they can't do anything more, you’ve at least made a deposit in the karma bank and you never know how this will pay a dividend in the future.

People hate being powerless.  I’ve had customer service people offer me a concession I hadn’t even considered as a response to “It sounds like you’re powerless here.”  And doing so made them feel better.  

Thank them for their generosity.  Leave them with a smile.


  1. Create the environment.
  2. Produce empathy.
  3. Provoke the response with the killer label

Make it rain!

negotiating contracts

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.