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Chris Voss’s top 10 negotiation tips for successful deal-making

June 17, 2021
Devin Reed

Devin Reed

Selling Skills

What do sales and hostage negotiations have in common? 

Turns out, a lot more than you’d think.

The stakes in a sales deal may not literally be life or death. But success in any negotiation depends on knowing what you’re doing every step of the way. 

Know who’s top dog in that realm? Chris Voss

Chris was the lead international kidnapping negotiator for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and has years of experience in international crisis and high-stakes negotiations.

His best-selling book, Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, shares proven negotiation techniques that can be directly applied to any sales situation.

We were pumped when Chris joined us recently as a guest on the Reveal podcast.

Here are the top 10 insights he shared during that conversation:

1. Focus on training 

Some people have a natural talent for negotiation. But it’s training that sets the superstars apart from the rest of the pack. 

In Daniel Coyle’s book, The Talent Code, he contends that other than height, everything is trained. Everything. And if there’s one thing Chris knows about himself, it’s that he’s coachable

“I want to learn how to do something better. How to keep a problem from recurring.”

As he puts it, you can deal with the problems that might happen, or you can deal with the problems that are happening. And if they are happening, they’ll happen again. So get proactive and double down on training.

There’s no such thing as good. There’s only trained and untrained.

2. Take responsibility for your own development

Don’t leave it up to your company or managers to provide access to the right training opportunities. Nobody will ever be as invested in your success as you are. 

Chris pointed out that only 6% of corporate executives actually know their company’s core values. Horrifying. 

What does that mean? Most companies don’t live their values, which often include employee development. Most of them don’t do what’s needed to help their people grow.

”Their internal cultures are mediocre at best, which makes them poor clients… unless they define their culture as a learning culture AND walk the talk.”

There are plenty of companies ready to put the onus on the employee to improve their skill set and value. They view their executive or CEO as having “gotten there” on their own merits, and figure everyone else should too. 

3. Go for no

Get comfortable with the word “no.” Your addiction to “yes” is keeping you trapped.

“Most people are yes addicts. Everybody thinks yes is success. And if you think yes is success, then no means failure. That’s a problem for 70% of the people out there. They’re yes addicts.”

Momentum selling is a trap — according to Chris.

Here’s why: As a seller, you lob something pretty benign at the start of a call. “Hey, we got a few minutes to talk?” It’s a simple, respectful, yes-oriented question. But nine times out of 10, everybody’s gut instinct is to act as if they’re being led into a trap, and say no. 

However! Once they’ve said no, they’re willing to listen because they feel safer. They think “I’ve put barriers up, so I can’t be trapped now.” 

Great. Now start selling. 

The negotiation begins once they say no.

4. Be real

Sales isn’t about convincing or coercing. It’s about aligning with the buyer. And to do that, you need to be clear about your real motives.

Don’t teach your people to exploit. You want your reps building toward long-term collaboration. They should never be afraid to reveal their motives to the other side. 

“If you’re afraid to reveal your motives to buyers, they’re going to eventually find them out. And you’re going to pay with interest.”

5. Pay attention to the little things

Be present. Listen closely and watch for subtle clues that can make or break your deal.

Why? What’s the impact of the little things, the impact of the highly improbable things, you ask? Here’s what Chris had to say on that: He was inspired by Nassim Taleb’s book, The Black Swan: The impact of the highly improbable. It’s about the extreme impact of rare and unpredictable outlier events; pieces of information that change everything, or shifts in your behavior that change everything.

“Deference is a black swan. There’s great power in deference. It’s a tiny little change in your behavior that could change the entire outcome of the negotiation.”

6. Practice empathy every day

Most people mistakenly think that empathy means feeling sympathy. It doesn’t.  

Empathy is the ability to demonstrate a complete understanding of the other side’s position. You know you’ve done it well when the other side feels understood. 

Empathy doesn’t come naturally. We all need to practice it every chance we get. 

That means moving away from the tendency to argue your point, and moving toward truly understanding the other person’s point of view. It sounds simple, but it’s so hard to do, and there isn’t a ton of societal reinforcement to do it. 

“Practice it. Experiment with it in small-stakes conversations. …You need that small-stakes practice before you step into the big game.”

The secret sauce in negotiations is being truly empathetic and showing your buyer that they’re understood.

7. Watch your tone

You’ve heard the expression “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” In any negotiation, your tone of voice can make all the difference.

Tone is a very big deal when it comes to negotiating. It impacts the mirror neurons. There’s a limbic system in every human being’s brain, and neurochemicals move from there into the bloodstream. 

As long as you’re seen or heard by a buyer, you can trigger mirror neurons and positive a neurochemical reaction.

“When I use a ‘late night FM DJ voice,’ it hits your mirror neurons. It physically slows your brain and slows your emotional response, which creates a calming effect. You can fight it, but you can’t stop me from initiating it. It’s an involuntary neurochemical response.”

8. Be positively smarter

Your mood directly impacts your mental game. To bring your best to any negotiation, you need to manage your own emotional state and know how to influence your buyer’s mood as well.

When you walk down the street and you smile at somebody, they smile back. It’s a neurochemical response. You’ve triggered them into a more positive frame of mind. You want to do the same with buyers.

“You’re 31% smarter in a positive frame of mind. The flip side is, you’re at least 31% dumber in a negative frame of mind.”

You can override your own system. You can force a hit of dopamine into your system by forcing a smile onto your face.

9. Calibrate your senses

To succeed in our new remote selling, Zoom-driven world, you need to extract the most insight possible from your customers’ visual and verbal cues.

For about 60% of us, our primary sense—the information our brain takes data from first—is our vision. For about 30% of us, it’s our hearing. About 10% of us are touch-oriented.

So if your principal source of data for assessing other people’s reactions is vision, Zoom feels awkward because you can’t see a lot of the person’s body language.

If you’re touch-oriented, that’s gone completely and bound to throw you off. 

But the verbal data? The tone-of voice-data? It’s still there. Use it.

“If you start dialing into tone of voice, it’s a ridiculously rich source of assessment data that’s still there. And it gives you the opportunity to add to your skills on Zoom.”

10. Learn when and how to say ‘uncle’

The toughest, most aggressive negotiators are trained to get the best deal possible. To win with them, you need to make them feel like they’ve won first.

We’re talking about hard-nosed negotiators here. People who lowball or are really aggressive communicators. They’re the ones who need to feel like they got the best deal. 

As Chris points out, they often need to feel like they worked really hard to get something. So how do you make them feel that sooner so it’s over quicker? 

“The tough, hard-nosed bargainers have actually been trained to continue to pound you until you say no—and mean it emotionally—two times. They view it as squealing. You’ve got to squeal twice. Make them feel “no” twice sooner. So in a deferential way, in a polite way, say no in a way that they feel it. But you’ve got to say no.”

Great negotiating is really just being proactive in your conversations, and getting everybody to a better place sooner.

Read this before your next call

If you want to try these approaches out in your sales process, you’ll need more than this post. 

There are 10 world-class negotiation techniques that everyone can put into practice. Elite sellers use them daily, and you can add them to your roster, one by one.

There’s no heavy lifting here, just one straightforward cheat sheet with 10 tactics you can start using immediately. They come straight from the Voss man himself. 

Why not put a top negotiator’s favorite tactics in your back pocket? (I did. Loving the results.)

Download. Use. Win.

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