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2 Sales Lessons From FBI's Lead Hostage Negotiator

Forster Perelsztejn author on Overloop the sales engagement, cold email, and LinkedIn automation software blog
Forster Perelsztejn Sep 28, 201710 min read

One of our mantras here at Overloop is: "Be Lazy."

So when you we get the opportunity to learn, for free,  simple systems from one of the top negotiators in the world, someone who actually negotiated to save human lives, why not take full advantage of it?

This Google talk featuring Chris Voss, former lead hostage negotiator with the FBI, is a goldmine of information when it comes to persuasion and getting someone on your side.

And the beautiful thing is: it all relies on simple emotional mechanisms that anyone can activate.

Chris says you need to implement two major steps in order to get someone in the best dispositions: get your interlocutor to say "No" and then "That's right!".

Is that it? Yes.

How and why? Let's check it out!

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1. Start with no

A simple word can have powerful effects.

Chris wants you to invite "no" in the conversation.

But why would anyone do that? Isn't that the end of the conversation?

Well, if decision making was a logical process, yes it would be. But decisions have been proven time and time again to be an emotional process.

So how is "no" a good thing?

When "yes" means commitment, "no" means protection. And when someone feels protected and that you're comfortable hearing no, they'll be much more open to hearing what you have to say.

"No" is simply the safest decision to make until they have everything they need to say yes. It maintains the status quo and takes the emotional pressure off the person in front of you.

How do you get a "good" no? This is the essence of what Jim Camp explains to the reader in his famed book Start with No.

Down with neediness

Be okay with rejection. If you're not, it'll show and you will look needy.

And if the other party realizes that you need them, you're at their mercy. Never, for one second, allow your prospect to know that you need them, or need this deal… If you don't really need them -and they know it- not only won't you be at their mercy, but it'll make it much less awkward for them to say no.

There's no real rejection if you don't need them. It's just the beginning of a conversation.

Be okay, make them feel okay

To make your sales negocitation successful, you need the other party to open up. One of the key ways to do that is to show yourself as no superior than them, as just a normal folk. Which you are, you just need to find a way to convey it.

While neediness is an internal state that might ruin your chances, "okayness" -as Jim calls it- is an external presentation.

Why do you think so many speakers start with a self-deprecating story or at least start by laughing at themselves? It makes people okay. A great way to do that in a negotiation is to borrow a pen a paper, struggle to find words so they can help you find them. In a general way, letting people help you with small things makes them feel okay.

It lowers the threat level and makes them feel in control. Also, it displays honesty, you're not afraid of showing some degree of weakness.

Emotions and start with no

As previously stated, decisions are driven by emotion, not reason. You know it, you've already presented logic arguments, facts and figures that should've convinced your prospect, but didn't.

Why? It all made logical sense!

Because that's not how decisions are made.

But you need your prospect to make a decision.

Maybe is not a decision

Sales influencer Leigh Ashton says that "As tempting as it can be (…) don’t leave things unclear with a “maybe”. Knowing where you stand is much better than maybe. And people who do say maybe are often just too uncomfortable to say no, so they let the sales process drag on and on until you finally give up…"

You won't get an immediate yes, and maybe is not a decision (it's actually the worst answer you can get). No, however, is one. The sooner you get them to say it, the sooner you can get them to start thinking and take responsibility for that decision.

Make it clear to your prospect: 'Feel free to stop me and say no at any time.' Once they feel that you're comfortable being turned down, the emotional barrier comes down and the discussion can get to actual essential issues.

Whatever question you want them to say YES to, use the exact opposite one to get them to say NO. You'll get them to the same point while allowing them to feel safe. And that will allow you to get them to say what you want them to say next…

2. That's right

That's what you want them to say.

The barriers are already down and you're talking, but now you want to create a bond.

You want to be able to summarize how they feel about things and what the circumstances are for them to truly understand that you got it. You know exactly where they're at.

So much that they will just feel compelled to look you in the eye and say "That's right!"

If you can do it right, it'll create an epiphany; you need to point to them something that's true that they didn't even realize. And by saying "That's right", they're showing you that they're feeling your empathy towards them.

According to this thorough article by sales veteran Cian Mcloughlin:

Developing empathy is crucial for establishing rapport and increasing the trust factor. It sends the message that you have the prospect’s best interest in mind. Salespeople who harness their own empathy tend to be more successful, because they intrinsically understand their buyers at a deeper level and form more meaningful relationships. It’s human nature to naturally open up to someone whom you trust and you believe has your best interests in mind.

Empathy creates that bond you want. It puts people in a much better emotional state; a state in which they can start agreeing with you.

And you can start steering the conversation in the direction you like.

By the way, Chris wrote a whole book called Never Split The Difference about his experience in negotiation: check it out! (no affiliation, I swear)

"Yes" is overrated, start with "No" and get to "That's right!"

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Think you can master the FBI-level stuff?