Lessons Learned from Chris Voss’s Masterclass Session on the Art of Negotiation.

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The adversary is not the person across the table; the adversary is the situation.

While many believe that negotiation is a battle, Chris sees successful negotiation as a collaboration rooted in empathy. Chris is the CEO & Founder of the Black Swan Group, he is the author of Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It. He is a former FBI lead international kidnapping negotiator.

Here are my favourite takeaways from viewing the

Negotiation is not a zero-sum game:

The situation is the adversary, and the person across the table is actually your negotiating partner—a partner who is to be worked with, not against, in pursuit of a mutually beneficial outcome. In short, effective negotiation is collaborative. In the spirit of collaboration, Chris says your over-arching goals in a negotiation should include: 

  • Doing all you own to show the other side that you are negotiating in good faith.
  • Becoming genuinely interested in what drives the other side
  • Building trust-based influence through the use of tactical empathy, or deliberately influencing the other side’s feeling

Understanding Emotions

  • Work to deactivate negative emotions—fear, suspicion, anger, aggression, and distrust. From a neurological standpoint, this means trying to defuse activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain that houses those feelings. 
  • Aim to magnify positive positive emotions – People are actually smarter when they’re in a positive frame of mind. Building trust, comfort, and rapport will help you accomplish your goals. 

Needed Skill Sets

In the negotiating room, there are three main tones of voice: 

  • Assertive
    This voice is declarative, straight up, and delivered like a punch in the nose. (Always counterproductive.) 
  • Playful/accommodating
    This voice is a bearer of truths delivered gently. It promotes collaboration. This should be your go-to voice in negotiations. (Use it approximately 80 percent of the time.) 
  • Late-night FM DJ
    This voice is straightforward with a soothing, downward lilt. It’s best employed when establishing points of negotiation that are immovable. (Use it approximately 10 to 20 percent of the time.) 


  • Mirroring, or the repetition of key words used by your negotiating partner, is another essential negotiating tool. Mirroring lets the other side know you’re paying attention to what they’re saying and treating their views with the close consideration they believe they deserve. 

Mirroring can also be used to gather intel. Using it with the inquisitive inflection will lead your counterpart to not only repeat themselves but to elaborate and offer additional details. This expands what you know about them and their position. 


Labeling is used to give voice to the other side’s feelings. Good labels take the form of: 

  • “It seems like…” 
  • “It looks like…” 
  • “You look like…” 

To label effectively, you must avoid all use of the first-person pronoun, as in, “What I’m hearing…” or “I think…” First-person phrases signal that you are your number one priority and everyone else in the room is an afterthought. At its core, labeling is designed to let the other side know that you understand their feelings, to help build relationships, and to gather information. 

Calibrated Questions

Calibrated questions are how and what questions structured for maximum effect. They are designed to change the power dynamic of the negotiation and force consideration of your position into the equation. In other words, they allow the other side to see things from your side of the table and allow everyone to keep their sense of autonomy in tact.

Calibrated questions often sound like this: 

  • “How am I supposed to do that?” 
  • “What’s going to happen if I do that?” 

Yes and No Question:

When it comes to a line of questioning, there are three types of yes answers : 

  • Yes as a commitment (used to agree) 
  • Yes as a confirmation (used to affirm commitment) 
  • Yes as counterfeit (used tactically by someone who doesn’t trust you, feels trapped, or wants you to go away) 


When negotiating, it’s always best to steer clear of a bargaining situation. But sometimes it’s unavoidable. Below are the stages of the Ackerman system. It’s paramount to employ tactical empathy between each round: 

  • Establish a target price for the goods you want to buy. 
  • Make an initial offer at 65 percent of your target price. 
  • Assuming no deal, raise your price by 20 percent. 
  • Assuming no deal, raise your price by 10 percent. 
  • If still no deal, raise by another 5 percent. 
  • Your final offer should be an odd number, and you should be prepared to include some non-monetary compensation to show them you’re committing all of your available resources. 

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Chris Voss Teaches the Art of Negotiation

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