Five Lessons from a Top FBI Negotiator

Madhvi Ramani
5 min readMar 7, 2020

Everything in life is a negotiation. Life is a negotiation. It doesn’t matter if you’re a terrorist or a businesswoman.

Chris Voss, speaking

Chris Voss is a former FBI negotiator who worked on over 150 hostage cases including the Jill Caroll case in Iraq, the Steve Centanni case in the Gaza Strip, and the Dwight Watson case in Washington D.C. He retired from the FBI in 2007 then founded Black Swan, a company that helps individuals and companies develop their negotiation skills.

Voss’s Masterclass on The Art of Negotiation is the first of my masterclass-a-week challenge that falls into the business category. As a creative, I’ve always skirted around matters of business and negotiation. It makes me uncomfortable, which I know it shouldn’t and it’s definitely something I need to work on. So I was really surprised that a lot of what Voss advocates is based on empathy, emotion and intuition.

The adversary is not the person across the table. The adversary is the situation. — Chris Voss

The masterclass reframed my understanding of what negotiation is, and my perception of my ability to do it. Negotiation is about collaboration, not opposition, and you don’t need to be all alpha to do it. Great! I already utilise many of his strategies in my daily dealings, especially in order to draw information out of people as writer. I also happened to take a call from my mum part way through this course, and realised that she’s a master-negotiator. So, FBI, if you’re looking for someone to replace Voss, she’s available.

photo of email saying I completed the Christ Voss Masterclass

Here are five great strategies from his masterclass that can help you win in your daily negotiations, whether you’re trying to buy a new car, get a pay raise, or deal with your teenager.

Mirror

Mirroring is basically repeating the last one to three words of the last sentence a person says back at them.

Example:

Person: I’m feeling low.
You: Feeling low…
Person A: Yeah, I feel a heavy weight on my chest and I can’t sleep.
You: Can’t sleep.
Person: I only had two hours last night, it’s like I can’t switch my…

Madhvi Ramani

Writer and editor based in Berlin. For more, see madhviramani.com