Nobody likes conflict, right? But what if we were to see the situation as an adversary, and the person across the table as a negotiating partner to be worked with, not against, in pursuit of a mutually beneficial outcome?

This is the approach of former hostage negotiator Chris Voss, who has worked with some of the most dangerous criminals in the world under massively high-stakes situations. Whether it is a global crisis or a salary negotiation, we can draw on the same principles. If you want to be an advocate for yourself or others in the workplace, you need to hone your negotiation and dispute-resolution skills, says Voss. He has become a leading authority on the art, science, and practice of negotiation.

So what are some of the principles that we can apply to our tougher conversations?

“Negotiation is not an act of battle; it’s a process of discovery. The goal is to uncover as much information as possible.”

 Chris Voss
  1. Be curious and seek to understand what is driving the other person. Don’t just assume you know. Their goals, motivations, wants, and fears are more likely to lead you both to optimal outcomes.
  2. Show some deference and good faith. You are not here to deceive, exploit or compel. If you are, you are setting yourself up for a context of current or future conflict.
  3. Use tactical empathy. Tactical empathy is calmly describing the needs, interests, and perspectives of your counterpart without agreeing in any way. It has amazing effects! (Watch this TedTalk called Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss)
  4. Be aware of emotions, not wary of them. Emotions are intertwined in all of our decisions. We make our decisions based on what we care about – it is an emotional process. Suppressing negative emotions can hurt a process. Rather aim to deactivate fear, anger, and aggression by using tactical empathy.
  5. Try to magnify positive emotions – people are smarter when they are in a more positive frame of mind.

Finding common ground with others, making concessions, showing tactical empathy, and demonstrating emotional intelligence will stand you in good stead in any situation.

Is there a tough conversation up ahead for you? Bring a sense of curiosity, empathy, and positivity to the fore – they build the kind of rapport you need for optimal outcomes.

Deeper Dive: read Never Split the Difference, by Chris Voss.

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