Chris Voss: How to Succeed at Hard Conversations | Huberman Lab Podcast

Chris Voss: How to Succeed at Hard Conversations | Huberman Lab Podcast

Chris Voss (00:00:00)

  • Chris Voss is a former FBI agent with over two decades of experience in crisis negotiation and terrorism task force.
  • He authored the best-seller book "Never Split The Difference" and has taught negotiation at several universities.
  • Voss talks about the importance of understanding emotions, both of yourself and others, in having hard conversations.
  • In understanding whether you're processing information accurately and also if you are being heard right in discussions.
  • He emphasizes on the role of physical and mental stamina in difficult conversations, negotiations and decision making in real-world situations.
  • Voss highlights how to detect deception and probe if needed in negotiations.
  • By the end of the episode, one will have a thorough understanding of what the negotiation process is about and how to better perform these negotiations.

Negotiation Mindset, Playfulness (00:04:59)

  • Voss expresses how figuring out what’s really going on is fundamental in preparing for a negotiation.
  • Determining whether a deal exists or if it's a bad deal is his first focus because it is wasteful to invest time in a bad deal.
  • He is more inclined to deal with difficult people, as long as he does not yield to them.
  • Being in a playful and curious mood can lead to successful negotiations.
  • Outstanding negotiations are not exciting but astonishing and outcomes can be unexpected.
  • Voss shares an anecdote about losing his luggage and dealing with the situation playfully which led to a successful outcome.
  • Being playful and jovial could lead to surprising results.

Calm Voice, Emotional Shift, Music (00:11:41)

  • When things get tense in negotiations, maintaining a calm demeanor and tone can go a long way in ensuring a successful outcome.
  • Voss uses a technique he calls the 'late night FM DJ voice' to calm both himself and the person he's negotiating with.
  • Being cognizant of how emotions influence cognitive abilities and choices, Voss emphasizes the importance of controlling emotions, from halting escalating anger to shifting to a more positive or constructive mindset.
  • The emotional transition process can follow a pattern: sadness can transition to anger, and then calm, then to a positive state.
  • There is neuroscience backing to the impact of low-frequency voices on the brain. These sounds can stimulate neurons in the brain to fire at a similar low frequency, leading to a state of calm.
  • Using high-frequency sounds or music as a disruptive tactic in negotiation or conflict situations, such as during the Waco siege or in Panama, is generally considered counterproductive by hostage negotiators.

“Win-Win”?, Benevolent Negotiations, Hypothesis Testing (00:18:59)

  • The phrase "win-win" is often used in negotiation scenarios, but can be misleading if not fully understood. It is all about perception; both parties should feel positive about the outcome, but this is more about their overall satisfaction than the actual agreement reached.
  • In benign negotiations among friends, the important aspect is often simply ensuring everyone feels heard, as this strengthens the relationship.
  • The best way to facilitate this is to start by guessing or hypothesizing the other person's perspective. This encourages them to correct you if you're wrong and thus opens up a dialog which can lead to further collaboration and a better overall outcome.
  • This approach can speed up the negotiation process as it combines information gathering and relationship building. This method of "hypothesis testing" is similar to the scientific process of forming and testing hypotheses to arrive at a core truth or consensus.
  • Words like "win-win" can sometimes flag up a lack of authenticity or trustworthiness. The phrase seems to correlate strongly with people who are trying to take advantage of the situation.

Generosity (00:28:38)

  • Openers demonstrating generosity can be effective in establishing rapport. If someone offers value without asking for anything initially, it establishes trust and paves the way for future collaboration.
  • Many successful people tend to lead with generosity, as it fosters positive relationships and long-term partnerships.
  • Providing unsolicited help without expecting immediate reciprocity can be beneficial in the long run. This practice is common in the scientific community where tools and resources are shared freely, creating a debt of gratitude and a willingness to assist in the future.
  • Acts of spontaneous kindness and generosity, particularly without expectation of prompt reciprocation, create a pool of goodwill that can be monumental in the long run.

Hostile Negotiations, Internal Collaboration (00:33:44)

  • Chris Voss discusses his experiences with high-friction negotiations, with a focus on his work in the FBI and cases of negotiations with terrorist groups.
  • He recounts one negotiation scenario with a terrorist group in the Philippines that turned disastrous; hostages were killed, the negotiation process was flawed, and multiple parties were not collaborative.
  • Despite best endeavours, bad outcomes can still occur in negotiations. As a result, Chris engaged with professionals at Harvard to improve his strategies and tactics.
  • One of the greatest lessons he learnt from these circumstances was the need for better collaboration amongst the negotiating team and a broader understanding of the cultural context in dealing with the opponents.
  • The lack of team unity could be just as problematic on the opposing team's side. Hence, focusing on improving internal team dynamics and communication processes is crucial in negotiations.

Patterns & Specificity; Internet Scams, “Double-Dip” (00:39:40)

  • Chris describes the predictability and specificity in the actions or statements of captors, which can serve as an indicator of their intended course in negotiations.
  • He explains "double-dip," where captors take a ransom then demand more, stating it was a down payment. This term also applies to 'lower level' negotiations, such as in cases of online scams.
  • Chris emphasizes the need to determine if the threats being made by the opposing side have the capacity to be carried out, or if they are merely bluffs.
  • He highlights the importance of empathizing with the other side and makes them feel like they have earned whatever they got, be it in a kidnapping case, business transaction or even a minor level internet scam. This ensures an outcome that leaves the parties feeling satisfied.

Urgency, Cons, Asking Questions (00:48:15)

  • A good rule of thumb is to not rush decisions when faced with a sense of urgency, which might indicate a scam.
  • If a friend or known contact pressures you into quick financial commitment, it's important to verify their identity.
  • Con artists commonly use the urgency tactic to trap victims, causing them to make rushed decisions.
  • It's essential to ask questions and gather as much information as possible to ensure that the outcome benefits you, even in dire situations like kidnapping.

Negotiations, Fair Questions, Exhausting Adversaries (00:54:46)

  • It's common in legal situations to use a scare tactic to elicit a settlement, rather than actually filing a lawsuit.
  • In the event of a hostile negotiation, it's recommended to ask 'how' and 'what' questions to make the other party think deeply. This can reveal whether they've thought through their demands or if they're bluffing.
  • The response to these questions helps diagnose the situation, understanding whether you've got a shakedown artist on the other side or a genuinely thoughtful person.
  • The strategy to exhaust an aggressive adversary, by continually asking 'how' and 'what' questions, can be very effective in slowing down the negotiation process.
  • If the person on the opposite side is aggressive in a high friction negotiation, the goal is to slow things down to fatigue them and potentially make them relent or reveal a loophole.

“Vision Drives Decision”, Human Nature & Investigation (01:02:18)

  • The process of reducing an aggressor's stance involves asking questions based on "how" and "what" to understand their intent and implementation.
  • The statement "Vision Drives Decision" implies that a person intending to perform an action has thought it through and has a vision of completing it. If they fail to provide a reasonable answer, it indicates a lack of intent to follow through.
  • Having the perpetrators visualize their implementation process can determine their sincerity in adhering to negotiated terms.
  • Human nature and investment can influence the willingness of a person to comply with negotiated conditions.
  • Differentiating between the truth and a lie influences the negotiation process. The more experience and exposure to the person, the easier it is to identify their honesty based on their usual manners of speaking.

Lying & Body, “Gut Sense” (01:07:47)

  • The "gut" or intuition is keenly accurate in sensing uncertainties or deceit in others.
  • There are various inputs that our gut processes, some of which are not yet fully scientifically explained such as tone of voice, body language, and possible odors a person gives off when lying.
  • Listening to your gut over your fear centers can lead to better judgement.
  • There are unexplained capabilities of the nervous system such as detecting magnetic fields or entrainment of heartbeat rhythms while listening to the same story.
  • The subconscious is believed to be a super computer, which processes information and offers real wisdom. The forebrain is more of an implementation device.
  • Typically, the gut feeling is usually accurate unless overridden by anxiety or self-doubt; it is argued that our bodies intuitively know the truths that our conscious minds may not comprehend or acknowledge.

Face-to-Face Negotiation, “738” & Affective Cues (01:15:42)

  • In face-to-face negotiations, there are multiple cues to observe such as the words, the way they're said, and the person's facial expressions.
  • The "738" rule is a commonly used ratio to signify the importance of words, delivery, and body language in communication.
  • Misalignment in a person's words, tone, and body language can indicate inconsistencies or hesitation.
  • Inferences about a person's feelings or intentions should not be made purely on affective cues such as tone or body language; instead, these cues should prompt the observer to ask clarifying questions.
  • The process of negotiating in person involves processing a large amount of information, not all of which can be captured in the first go; hence, it may be necessary to go back and revisit certain points in the conversation.

Online/Text Communication; “Straight Shooters” (01:20:39)

  • Similar principles apply in online or text communication, but bundling too much information into one message should be avoided.
  • A direct and succinct approach can be beneficial for problem-solving. For instance, bringing up a problem directly so the other party is prepared to address it.
  • This direct approach is different from the "mud sandwich" approach where you say something nice, provide the bad news, then say something nice again. The direct approach fosters a context of problem-solving.
  • The term "straight shooter" applies to someone who tells the truth directly but in a manner that is not harsh or jarring, which can be seen as an effective communication strategy.

Break-ups (Romantic & Professional), Firing, Resilience (01:26:47)

  • Ending relationships, either romantic or professional, can be an emotional process due to feelings of rejection.
  • Often, people struggling to end a relationship are trying to save themselves not the other side.
  • Most individuals can sense if they are about to be fired; hence, it is advised to deliver the news quickly but gently.
  • The process of termination should be fast, allowing the other party to move forward and recover.
  • If firing someone, it’s advised not to do it on a Friday but on a Monday, giving the individual a whole week to work their way out of it.
  • Anyone delivering bad news should warn the other person that it's coming, as people are resilient and can handle pain when adequately forewarned.

Ego Depletion, Negotiation Outcomes (01:32:16)

  • Ego depletion is a concept in psychology that's similar to decision fatigue; it's the idea that defending one's position eventually depletes one's capacity to sustain goal-directed behavior.
  • In situations requiring negotiation, wearing out the ego or depleting someone's defenses is sometimes the strategy used to reach an agreement.
  • However, depending on the negotiation's context, causing ego depletion may not always succeed in the long term.
  • Hostage negotiation examples illustrate that exhaustion tactics may work in contained situations where the individuals cannot escape, but not in uncontained situations like business negotiations.
  • If an agreement is reached due to ego depletion, the party will likely deviate from the agreement once their 'ego battery is recharged' during the execution phase.
  • Manning the ego depletion strategy in personal relationships can also backfire, as an agreement reached during exhaustion can change when the individuals are well-rested.

Readiness & “Small Space Practice”, Labeling

  • Good negotiators maintain a state of readiness even in surprise situations by undergoing "small space practice" for high stakes negotiations.
  • Maintaining regular verbal observations, or 'labels', allows negotiators to stay mentally limber.
  • The practice of active labeling is implemented in everyday interactions, such as with Lyft drivers, airport personnel, and grocery store clerks.
  • This continuous practicing helps to keep negotiation muscles in shape and provides opportunities to leave positive exchanges in each encounter.
  • Changing someone's state of mind can be achieved by asking a question that immediately triggers positive emotions, such as "What do you love about your job?"
  • This type of question not only puts them in a better mood, it also elicits candid responses which offer insight into who they really are.

Venting, Emotions & Listening; Meditation & Spirituality

  • People often vent because they feel unheard or ignored, hence, effective listening is a crucial skill to curb negative emotions.
  • Acknowledging the source of the venting person's frustration and responding with thoughtful observations can quickly deactivate any negativity.
  • Negative emotions are viewed as toxins, therefore venting should be handled in a way that does not induce more stress, but rather provides relief.
  • Engaging in small amounts of meditation and regular gratitude exercises can aid in maintaining emotional stability.
  • Spirituality, regardless of the form, is perceived as an important component of health, and should be recognized and practiced regularly.
  • Whether through conventional religion or personal beliefs, recognizing and serving anything outside of ourselves contributes to a greater sense of wellbeing and purpose.

Physical Fitness, Self-Care (01:51:41)

  • Chris Voss has maintained physical fitness as a part of his lifestyle since his early years, involving in sports and physical activities. He employed weightlifting, martial arts, and other fitness protocols into his routine.
  • Currently, to maintain his health, he focuses on good diet, spiritual health, and physical conditioning through methods like cold plunges and sauna.
  • He believes the effects of the cold plunge challenge both psychologically and physically, helping to shift state and positively impact your body chemistry.
  • Fitness and self-care practices play a substantial role in how a person shows up in professional situations, impacting mental fortitude and overall performance.

Long Negotiations & Recharging (01:57:01)

  • According to Chris Voss, the longest negotiation he directly participated in during his career lasted around three days during the 2003 Washington D.C standoff, against a man named Dwight Watson who falsely claimed to have planted four bombs.
  • During such long negotiations, he would rotate shifts with other skilled negotiators to ensure everyone had a chance to rest and recharge.
  • Previous case experiences taught him the importance of taking breaks and recharging, especially in scenarios where extreme persistence and focus are required.
  • In his career, he was prepared to handle any situation, including orchestrating an assault while keeping a criminal on the phone. This knowledge came from studying cases like the Princess Gate Siege in London, where a negotiator successfully kept a criminal engaged on the phone while law enforcement breached the building.

Hostages, Humanization & Names (02:02:40)

  • The discussion uses an anecdote about the Good Guys electronics store hostage situation, revealing how criminals dehumanized hostages by putting bags over their heads to make it easier to execute them.
  • The advice is given that if ever taken hostage, it can be helpful to humanize oneself to captors by stating one's name, as this might prompt them to see you as more of a person and less of a target.
  • The theory extends to animal research labs where animals are given numbers instead of names to maintain a distance and avoid viewing them as pets. Once something has a name, it forms a relationship which increases empathy towards it.

Tactical Empathy, Compassion (02:08:50)

  • A distinction is made between empathy and compassion. Empathy is considered the transmission of information, while compassion is the reaction to that transmission.
  • Empathy here is defined as demonstrating an understanding of another's perspective, regardless of one's own feelings towards the person or their situation.
  • This understanding of empathy or 'tactical empathy' is considered to be an unlimited skill; it's concerned with articulating the perspective of others, having nothing to do with one's own feelings of compassion or sympathy.
  • Even with mental illnesses, empathy plays a key role as it helps individuals feel understood, hence demonstrating understanding or stating where the other party is coming from forms a part of empathy, not agreement or liking.
  • A technique called 'mirroring' is referred to but not elaborated upon.

Tool: Mirroring Technique (02:15:27)

  • The mirroring technique is a simple, yet effective method used mainly by hostage negotiators and involves repeating the last one to three words that someone has said
  • It is not about mimicking someone's body language, tone of voice, or any other characteristic about them; it's just repeating their words
  • This technique works as it helps people expand on their thoughts, it acts like a cue for them to provide an in-depth explanation of what they meant
  • The idea of mirroring gives the impression that the listener has heard and understood the speaker's words
  • Mirroring can be used in business contexts, and in scenarios where the listener needs the speaker to offer more information or if they don't fully understand a concept
  • Mirroring is an effective way for people to hear out their own thoughts and potentially recognize any inconsistencies
  • The technique helps reinstate lost train of thoughts or helps speakers provide more context to their thoughts

Tool: Proactive Listening (02:22:20)

  • Proactive listening is a step beyond active listening, which is often misunderstood. It is more interactive than most people think
  • The method was learned by hostage negotiators to label the presenting emotion, which would usually be a negative emotion. This label would then be called out to help defuse the situation
  • Labeling an emotion helps diminish its intensity almost every time. Since most people have negative reactions to a scenario, identifying and calling out these reactions can deactivate the negativity
  • Emotion-based predictions can be made proactively in a negotiation to nullify anticipated negative reactions; this creates a barrier against negative emotions even if they are not present yet
  • Being proactive prevents potential embarrassment and other negative emotions. The technique involves predicting the potential negative outcomes of a situation and addressing that upfront.

Family Members & Negotiations (02:29:48)

  • The usefulness of family members in negotiation situations depends largely on the context and the person being negotiated with.
  • In cases where the kidnapper or hostage-taker is in a contained situation, family can become part of the system that's put them in their current position.
  • The involvement of family members can be counterintuitive as they can unintentionally reinforce or trigger past wounds and conflicts, negatively impacting the negotiation process.
  • However, if used strategically and with careful orchestration, family members can prove to be effective tools in negotiation, as their emotional connection can have a powerful influence on the individual.

Self Restoration, Humor (02:35:21)

  • In high-stakes, high-stress professions like hostage negotiation, stress is inevitable and developing mechanisms to unload emotional heaviness is crucial.
  • Supportive work environments where colleagues reinforce each other through humor, empathy and understanding can help ease the psychological impact of the work.
  • The use of humor can create a supportive environment in which hard work and appreciation flourish, contributing to better mental health.
  • Personal reflections and satisfaction from accomplishments rather than pride also contribute to a sense of self-restoration.
  • Along with these emotional coping mechanisms, occasional indulgences like a good quality drink can also serve as a stress reliever. However, sensible consumption is advised.

Fireside, Communication Courses; Rapport; Writing Projects (02:39:01)

  • Chris Voss currently leads teams that provide services to help people improve their communication skills across multiple channels.
  • He is involved in a new social media platform called Fireside, an interactive podcast and subscription service developed by Fallon Fatimi and Mark Cuban. Here, Voss provides weekly interactive group coaching.
  • The Fireside platform allows users to engage directly with Chris and his team once a week for group coaching—the medium provides an affordable pathway for individuals who cannot yet afford to attend his in-person training events.
  • Through the interactive nature of Fireside, participants can ask context-specific questions and gain immediate, tailored responses.
  • Apart from Fireside, Chris is also working on different book projects. He is developing a companion operational manual for tactical empathy, set to launch in about a year and a half. Additionally, he has recently contributed to a book for residential real estate agents to help them navigate difficult conversations that come up during the sales process.
  • Chris is dedicated to disseminating information for people to improve their communication skills and collaborate more effectively.

“Sounds Like…” Perspective (02:47:45)

  • Throughout the conversation, Voss repeatedly uses the phrase "sounds like…" as a prompt in discussions. This tool is seen as highly potent, encouraging better listening and understanding of others' perspectives.
  • There's a wish for children to learn this approach—using "sounds like…"—from a young age, as it encourages active listening and improves interpersonal interactions.
  • At the end of the discussion, Chris Voss appreciates the opportunity to share his knowledge and looks forward to continue providing actionable, usable tools to help people navigate more effectively.

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