Negotiating uncompromisingly via communication: manipulation techniques in the light of the FBI


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Text comes from: Kompromisslos verhandeln. Die Strategien und Methoden des Verhandlungsführers des FBI (2017) from Chris Voss, published by Münchener Verlagsgruppe (MVG), Reprints by friendly permission of the publisher.
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Negotiation has a lot more to do with tactics and communication skills than most people think.

Negotiating uncompromisingly via communication: manipulation techniques in the light of the FBI

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Chris Voss is a consultant and ex-negotiator for the FBI.

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Money or love

I felt intimidated. I had spent more than two decades in the FBI, including fifteen years as a hostage negotiator from New York to the Philippines to the Middle East, and I was a master of my profession. The FBI employs around 10.000 agents, but only one leading international hostage negotiator. That was me. However, I had never before experienced a kidnapping situation that was so personal and got under my skin. “We have your son, Voss. Either you pay a million dollars or he dies. ”Pause. Wink. I forced my heartbeat back to normal.

Certainly, such situations were not new to me. I had seen her a thousand times. Money or life. But none was like this. My son's life had never been at stake. It was never a million. And the kidnappers had never had titles that sounded like they did and decades of experience in negotiating. You need to know that the people on the other side - my negotiating partners - Professoren for negotiation at Harvard Law School. I had signed up for a crash course in executive negotiation techniques at Harvard to see if I could learn anything from the business world. It should be a quiet little professional development for an FBI agent trying to broaden his horizons.

When Robert Mnookin, director of the negotiation research project at Harvard, learned of my presence, he invited me over to his office for coffee. To chat a little, he said. I felt honored, but also a little intimidated. Mnookin is a formidable personality I'd followed for years: he's not just HarvardProfessor, but also one of the outstanding capacities in the field of conflict resolution and author of the book “Negotiating with the Devil: The HarvardConcept ABC School Joke Oud for the nasty cases "

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The new rules

To be honest, the fact that Mnookin was going to discuss negotiating with me, a former Kansas City patrolman, felt like a very unequal distribution of opportunities. But it got worse. As soon as Mnookin and I were seated, the door opened and another HarvardProfessorwalked in - Gabriella Blum, specialist in international negotiation and armed conflict resolution and counterterrorism, who had previously worked for eight years as a strategic advisor to Israel's National Security Council and the international legal department of the Israeli army. A tough military negotiator.

As if at the push of a button, Mnookin's secretary came in next and set a tape recorder on the table. Mnookin and Blum smiled at me. I was tricked. “We have your son, Voss. Either you pay a million dollars or he dies, ”Mnookin said with a smile. “I'm the kidnapper. What are you going to do? ”I panicked, but that was normal. One thing never changes: Even after 20 years of negotiating human lives, you still feel fear. Even in an RPG. I forced myself to be calm. Sure, I was a patrolman who'd become an FBI agent facing real heavyweights. And I wasn't a genius. But there was a reason I was in this room.

The tactics of communication

Over the years I had developed interpersonal communication skills, tactics and a comprehensive approach to dealing with sensitive situations that not only helped me save lives but, as I can see in retrospect, also began to to change my own life. The many years of negotiating had changed everything, from my dealings with employees in customer service to my behavior as a father. "Come on. Give me the money or I'll slit your son's throat right now, ”Mnookin said. Provocation. I gave him a long, haunted look. Then I smiled.

"How am I supposed to do this?" Mnookin paused. In the expression on his face spiegela hint of amused pity was reflected in the way a dog watches the cat he was chasing suddenly tries to turn the tables. It was like we were playing different games with different rules. Immediately afterwards his expression turned serious again and he looked at me with furrowed eyebrows as if to remind me that he was the hunter and I was the hunted. "Then you will be okay if I kill your son, Mr. Voss?" "Excuse me, Robert, how do I know he's still alive?" I asked, using a slightly submissive phrase and his I used first names to add a little more human warmth to our dialogue - two tactics that targeted the subconscious of my counterpart and were intended to make it more difficult for them to intimidate and corner me. "I'm really sorry, but how can I pay you anything, let alone a million dollars, if I don't even know if my son is still alive?"

The tactic of fine-tuning questions

It was quite an interesting sight to see such a brilliant man being upset by an objection that at first sight might seem simple-minded. In fact, my answer was anything but simple-minded. I had used one of the FBI's most effective negotiating tools: an open-ended counter-question answer. After my consulting firm The Black Swan Group further developed this tool for the private sector, we now refer to this tactic as "fine-tuned questions". These are questions that are precisely tailored to the respective situation, but to which there are no fixed answers. They serve to gain time and give your counterpart the illusion of control because he is in possession of the answers and thus supposedly has power. All of this happens without his realizing how these questions ultimately corner him. As expected, Mnookin began to ponder restlessly because the scope of the conversation had shifted from my reaction to the threatened murder of my son to the question of how Professor would solve the logistical aspects of handing over the money - that is, how he would solve my problems. I countered every threat and every demand with the question of how I should hand over the money to him and how I could know that my son was still alive.

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After about three minutes of this back and forth, Gabriella Blum stepped in. "Don't let him play cat and mouse with you," she said to Mnookin. "Well, try it then," he replied, raising his hands. Blum started. She was tough - the result of her years in the Middle East. However, in response to her aggressive threat, she got the same answers as I had asked earlier. After a short time Mnookin switched on again, but got no further. His face was starting to flush with anger. I could see that his irritation made it difficult for him to think.

Success with practical experience

“Okay, okay, Bob. That's all, ”I said, releasing him from his frustration. He nodded. My son would see another day. "Fine," said Mnookin. "It looks like the FBI might have something to teach us." I hadn't just stood up against two great Harvard leaders on that occasion; I competed against the best of the best and won. But maybe I had just hit the jackpot? For more than 30 years, Harvard has been the measure of all things in terms of theory and practice in negotiating. On the other hand, all I knew about the techniques we used at the FBI was that they worked. In the 20 years that I had worked at the FBI, we had developed a system that could solve almost all kidnapping and hostage-taking cases. However, we did not have elaborate theories.

Our techniques were the result of our practical learning experiences: they were developed by the agents on the field who had to negotiate in real crisis situations and shared their experiences with others about the tactics that worked and those that did not. It was not an intellectual, but an iterative, practical process, in the course of which we continuously refined the tools we used every day. And it was a process that was always under great pressure to succeed. Our instruments had to work because if they didn't, someone would die. But what made our techniques so successful? That was the question that had drawn me to Harvard and to talk to Mnookin and Blum. My practical knowledge was limited to my narrow world. I had to learn to articulate it and combine it with the theoretical knowledge of the Harvard experts - a real treasure chest - in order to better understand, systematize and expand my own knowledge. Yes, no doubt our techniques worked well with mercenaries, drug dealers, terrorists, and brutal murderers.

A Harvard patrolman

But I asked myself, would they also prove themselves in dealing with "completely normal" people? As I soon discovered in the venerable halls of Harvard, our techniques made intellectual sense and proved themselves in every situation. Our negotiating approach turned out to be the key to unleashing constructive interpersonal dynamics in every area, interaction and relationship in life. The Smartest Non-Academic In The Room A year later, in 2006, I managed to get into the winter semester negotiation course at Harvard Law School so I could answer my questions. The brightest and brightest minds compete for a spot on this course, which was attended by brilliant Harvard law and economics students as well as promising students from other top Boston-area universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tufts. A kind of Olympics in negotiation. I was the only non-academic.

On the first day of the course, 144 students flocked to the lecture hall for the introductory lecture. Then we split into four groups, each led by a lecturer in negotiation. After a brief introductory talk with our lecturers - mine was Sheila Heen and is still a good friend of mine - we had to form pairs and simulate a negotiation. The constellation was very simple: one was selling a product and the other was the buyer, and both had a clear asking price that they were trying to enforce.

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Down to the last cent

My conversation partner was an elegiac redhead named Andy (pseudonym) and one of those guys who wear their intellectual superiority like their clothes: with casual self-confidence. We went into an empty lecture room with a view of the park-like lawns of the campus and used our respective negotiating instruments. Andy tossed an offer on the table and made a watertight rational explanation of why it was a good offer - an inevitable logic trap - and I responded with a variant of the "How do I do this?" This went back and forth a few times until we could agree on a final price. When we left the room, I was satisfied. I thought I'd done pretty well for a fool. After all of the groups returned to the classroom, Sheila asked each group what price they had agreed on and wrote the results on the board. Finally it was my turn. "Chris, how have you been with Andy?" She asked. "How much did you get out of him?" I'll never forget the look on Sheila's face when I told her what Andy was willing to pay. At first she blushed, as if she was short of breath, and then a little squeak escaped her, like the excited squeak of a hungry bird chick. And finally she started laughing. Andy squirmed. "They literally took everything he had," she said. "He was instructed to keep a quarter of the amount in reserve for future work." Andy sank deep into his chair. The next day, the same thing happened to another partner. In other words, I took the last cent off each of my negotiating partners.

What was going on here That was no longer a one-off stroke of luck, rather a pattern emerged here. With my practical, reality-tested knowledge, I defeated my young negotiating partners time and again, who knew every sophisticated trick that the specialist literature had to offer. The thing was, these sophisticated theoretical techniques seemed outdated and outdated. During our conversation simulations, I always had the feeling that I was Roger Federer and that I had let myself be transported back to the 1920s by a time machine to take part in a tennis tournament between distinguished men in short white trousers who had completed amateur training for a few hours a week and with Played wooden clubs. And then I came with my titanium alloy racket, a dedicated personal trainer, and a computerized serve-and-volley strategy. The guys I faced were just as intelligent, if not more intelligent, than me, and we were essentially playing the same game with the same rules. But I had skills they didn't.

Negotiate with open questions

"Your particular style makes you famous, Chris," Sheila said after I announced the results of my second day. I smiled like a Cheshire cat. Winning is fun. "Chris, why don't you explain your procedure to everyone?" Sheila asked. “It seems you are limiting yourself to simply saying 'no' and staring at your negotiators until they give in. Is it really that simple? ”I knew what she meant. I hadn't even uttered the word "no," but that was what the questions I had answered each of their demands sounded like that. My questions seemed to suggest that my counterpart was unfair and dishonest. And that was enough to put him in doubt that he began to negotiate with himself. Answering my fine-tuned questions required a pronounced emotional resilience and tactical psychological knowledge, which the instrument box that was given to the students did not contain.

I shrugged my shoulders. "I'm just asking questions," I said. “It's a passive-aggressive approach. I keep asking the same three or four open-ended questions. At some point they'll be worn down by the answer and accept my conditions. ”As if stung by a wasp, Andy jumped from his seat. "Damn it!" He shouted. “So that's what happened. I had no idea. ”By the way, at the end of the winter semester I was friends with some of my fellow students. Even with Andy. If anything my time at Harvard showed me it was that we at the FBI could teach the world a lot about negotiation.

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