Fine-Tune Your Business Negotiation Skills in 6 Steps

By Chris Voss | July 31, 2018

To be a compelling and consistent negotiator, it’s important to keep learning new skills and evolving your approach as you grow. Even veteran negotiators can benefit from some expert tips. We’ve laid out six tried-and-true methods to help you fine-tune your negotiation skills and improve your effectiveness in business dealings.

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How to Gain Leverage During a Negotiation

By Derek Gaunt | July 17, 2018

In a negotiation, having leverage means that you hold a perceived advantage that could give you the upper hand in achieving the agreement you desire.

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The True Power of “Yes”

By Chris Voss | August 28, 2017

A flat-out “yes” is a scary thing to say.

“Yes” is commitment. People are constantly trying to use it to trap you. That’s why when someone asks you the set-up “yes” question, your gut tightens and you ask yourself, “Where is this going? If I say ‘yes’, then what have I let myself in for?”

So let’s recognize that and use it.

I was coaching a film-maker here in LA. She’s got a deal-killing attorney on the other side who is trying to insert terms to “protect” her client. What’s she’s really trying to do is kill the deal. (Unfortunately, all too common with attorneys advising on any negotiation they weren’t involved in crafting.)

So when in doubt, they ask for a term that will kill the deal. It’s a way to kill the deal without taking responsibility for doing so.

What’s your countermove? Pretty simple actually, a little tactical empathy, followed by a question they would love to say “yes” to, but never will.

 Here’s what we did here (and PS: there’s been some name-calling by the attorney at my client that had come unexpectedly during a phone call):

In the email:

“Just so I am clear, you feel that I am being dishonest with you.
… you're absolutely determined to kill this deal.”

Another great thing about this in an email is your counterpart attorney will NEVER put a “yes” to this in writing. And since the answer is going to be a “no” – and “no” tends to trigger, clarity and feelings of safety – you increase the chances to a ridiculously high level that you will break the logjam productively.

The answer:

“I have no desire to “kill the deal” but I am keen on protecting my client.
Nor do I think that you were dishonest with me – to the contrary, you honestly told me…”

The attorney then went on to propose a solution (which was do-able) and actually solved the problem.

Empathy precedes assertion. You want to be more effective? Use it.

I know some people might say to themselves, “But wait, I can see how this could go wrong. What if she’d said ‘yes’?”

Don’t do that to yourself, because that’s not the comparison for decision, though we do this to ourselves all the time.

The comparison is not “What if this goes wrong?”, the comparison is “What happens if I don’t smoke this out? What happens if I do nothing?”

The answer to that is “Look at what’s happening now.”

Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting things to change.

Great negotiation calls for great emotional intelligence. Lasting deals and lasting business relationships call for tactical empathy. Empathy gives you the ability to assert. Quite often in very direct ways.

As the iconic insurance company advertisement once said: “Don’t leave home without it.”

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Like Seeing A Unicorn

By Derek Gaunt | August 21, 2017

Sebastian had spent most of the late morning into the early afternoon, one day in July, being exposed to the Black Swan method of labels and mirrors. Having already read “Never Split the Difference,” he was anxious to see and hear the practical application of the skills. Turns out, Sebastian was a quick study. As soon as the class concluded, he was chomping at the bit to see if the skills would bear fruit. That afternoon, he scheduled a phone call to negotiate the acquisition of a domain name. The seller anchored high with a five figure number. Rather than balk and counter, Sebastian used labels and mirrors to discover that it was most important to the seller for the domain to be used for a purpose in which he believed. Unbeknownst to the seller, this was Sebastian’s plan all along. Sebastian’s use of labels and mirrors uncovered other Black Swans as well:

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Do You Get It?

By Derek Gaunt | July 24, 2017

At the Black Swan Group, our instructors have been spreading the gospel of empathy and the techniques used to demonstrate it for years. We have trained thousands of people all over the globe on how to apply techniques developed in the world of hostage negotiations to business and other personal interactions. Of those thousands, as an instructor, I wonder at times how many don’t get it? 

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How to Negotiate A Higher Salary

By Chris Voss | May 29, 2017

What happens when you trigger “That’s right” several times in a salary negotiation?

How about getting a salary offer 41% higher than you expected? Read More >

How to Use a Cold Read and Accusation Audit to Achieve Success

By Derek Gaunt | April 17, 2017

In September 2016, I attended a meeting where I was the lone hostage negotiator in a room full of SWAT guys. The meeting is held quarterly for SWAT guys by SWAT guys. I was an interloper in hostile territory. The purpose for my attendance was to request a piece of their pie. The SWAT group had a training operations cache of about $78,000.00. Since they had spent none of the money on several years, I was requesting about $9,000 annually for the training of negotiators.

Reading The Room

Historically, the relationship between SWAT and negotiators has been tenuous at best. Some in my profession view them as knuckle-dragging, Neanderthals who have a penchant for destroying things. Some in their profession view us as touchy-feely, mouth-Marines who want to talk all problems away. It is through this prism that I saw the group. As I walked in the room, I noticed several leaning to their right or left to whisper to the guy sitting next to them. Some just stared. Others looked my way with an air of ambivalence. I suspected that most of them probably winced and grumbled when they saw my name on the agenda. Bottom line… they either did not care or were not thrilled I was there. Having not spoken to anyone but the chairman of the group, this was my Cold Read.
A Cold Read is where you assess the environment, history, present circumstances and people before driving for your “yes.” 

Making The Ask

When my turn to speak came, I explained to the group that what I was about to ask was probably going to be a difficult pill to swallow because it would involve them ceding some of their territory. In addition, I told them that many in the group might question my audacity in asking for the handout. This was my Accusations Audit; a technique used to identify and label the negative sentiments likely harbored by your counterpart. I then gave them my reasons for requesting the funding and gently outlined the consequences if they did not acquiesce.

Accusations Audit -  a technique used to identify and label the negative sentiments likely harbored by your counterpart. 

The Cold Read + The Accusation Audit = Success

After my presentation, there was much discussion about the pros and cons of the request. Some clearly felt threatened. Others recognized that if they did not “play ball” they risked losing their present autonomy as it pertained to the training funds. After the discussion, I felt pretty good about my chances, but no decision was made at that point.

A few days later I was contacted by the chairman of the SWAT committee. The vote was unanimous. We were getting the money. Cold Reading and Accusations Audits prior to my presentation defused the negative emotions and led to success.

As you prepare for your next driving-for-a-yes conversation, review the situation as you know it to that point. Your experience and knowledge of how the land lays will enhance your discerning observations. Next, consider the predictable positive and negative sentiment your counterpart is likely to bring to the table. Prepare 3-5 labels in advance to preemptively mitigate negative sentiments and reveal what may be driving their aversion. Once at the table, assess the mood, atmosphere, and environment. Cold Reading just before engagement will allow you to make adjustments to your labels as necessary.

To Sum Up:

When entering a driving-for-a-yes conversation:

  • Consider the predictable positve and negative feelings and thoughts your counterpart will have.
  • Prepare 3-5 labels
    • Labels to diffuse the negatives and labels that will enhance the postives, if they exist
  • Once you're at the table, do a cold read of the mood. Use this to fine-tune your labels for success!

The cold read added on top of your accusations audit is the formula for success. 

negotiating contracts

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Bargaining vs Negotiation: Do you really know the difference?

By Derek Gaunt | February 20, 2017

Two weeks ago, I attended the SaaStr 2017 conference in San Francisco.  It was a collection of Software- As-A-Service start-up CEOs, CFOs, COOs as well as marketing and sales geniuses.  They meet once a year to network, listen to speakers and view/sell the latest products.  These attendees, by my limited observations were all 30 to early 40-somethings; all wicked smart and extremely successful.  I was clearly one of the dumbest guys in the room.

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How You Can Handle The #1 Most Common Lie in Negotiations

By Chris Voss | January 16, 2017


I remember hearing a few years ago a businessman saying he started moving his business forward much more successfully when he started treating every “maybe” as if it were a “no”.

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The #1 Negotiating Rule For Getting The Most Out Of The Holidays

By Chris Voss | December 05, 2016



This rule will make this an even better holiday season for you and everyone your words touch.  

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