Dangerously Good Communication Tactics with Chris Voss

communication tactics

Communication is the conduit for action. During a hostage crisis, the right exchange can quite literally save lives. In the relatively less dangerous world of business, the right communication strategies can save the bottom-line.

Chris Voss, speaker at Zoominfo’s 2017 Growth Acceleration Summit, is the Founder and CEO of the Black Swan Group Ltd and author of Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It. Chris’s years of experience in international crisis and high-stakes negotiations have helped him develop a unique program of globally proven business communication techniques.

Check out our Q&A with Chris as he discloses classified strategies for better communication in any scenario:

Question One: Difficult Scenarios

ZoomInfo: What’s your go-to approach to begin navigating a difficult scenario?

Voss: Vision drives decisions. Your decisions are ultimately subjective and based on how you see things. For instance, take my experience as a hostage negotiator. It’s common knowledge that the person you’re negotiating with, the one taking hostages, has gone through some significant loss in the past 24 or so hours. As a negotiator, I had to take this loss into account and understand how the hostage-taker sees their crisis. I had to take on their perspective before I could proceed.

Now, you may think that normal human beings, outside of hostage negotiations, aren’t driven by loss, so this form of negotiation doesn’t apply to your tactics in the office. On the contrary, according to Prospect Theory, a behavioral economic theory that gained recognition around the time I was retiring from the FBI, we learn that decisions are based on the potential value of losses and gains rather than the outcome. In other words, we find out that everybody is actually driven by loss. And because hostage negotiators have applied this expertise for years, they’ve had a head start in rationalizing the process of negotiations.

Long story short, you need to get into the head of the person on the other end of the negotiation. If he thinks you’ll listen, he’d be happy to let you in. But if you argue with him, or feed him that “yes, but” rebuttal, he won’t listen. In reality, almost in any situation, it is incredible how willing people are to talk if you’re willing to listen. Today’s business negotiations can be pretty volatile, and you’d be surprised how much more irrational behavior goes on between opposing sides in business situations than in hostage scenarios. This is largely because in a hostage situation someone is willing to immediately listen, whereas in business there are artificial deadlines that can drag things out and stall progress.

Question Two: Emotional Intelligence

ZoomInfo: Please expand on the role of emotional intelligence and intuition in your communication tactics. How can today’s marketing and sales professionals best incorporate these human qualities into their strategies?

Voss: Emotional intelligence (EQ) and intuition are almost synonymous. Unlike your IQ which is fixed (it’s like your height – you can only grow so tall), EQ and intuition are almost limitless. Today, we’re capable of building our EQ and intuition well into our 80’s, as recent research shows, with both factors a direct

correlation, or function, of how healthy we are in the business world. And as business people live longer and longer, well into their 90’s and 100’s, they’ll continue to build up their EQ as they age. But the tricky thing is, if we’re all in possession of this ever-increasing EQ and intuition, then we almost have a gut feeling that what we have isn’t enough. The feeling is kind of like the sense you get when your deal is losing momentum.

We may not realize that what got us to a certain point of success (i.e. EQ and intuition) may also be what got us into the problem. In other words, what got you here won’t get you there. For instance, you’ve been assertive, which has taken you this far. But to move to the next level, you’ll need to bring in a companion skill – perhaps one of being more relationship-oriented. You’ll need to understand the companion skills that enhance your core skills. So when negotiating, it’s important to be both nice and assertive to succeed – the two are not mutually exclusive.

When it comes to marketing and sales, both teams are essential for driving success. It’s like using both sides of your brain; the other side of your brain is a great companion and is not to be discarded. In this way, effective communication and negotiation strategies are almost counterintuitive.

Question Three: Summit Spoilers

ZoomInfo: Your session at the 2017 Growth Acceleration summit this coming September is titled, “This is Classified: FBI Secrets for Better Sales and Marketing Communication.” Without giving too much away, can you please let us in on one such critical communication strategy for bettering sales and marketing communication?

Voss: Here’s one of my favorites sayings: Driving for a “yes” drives people away.

If I’m trying to get you to agree, to say yes, instinctively your guard is already up. Even the most innocuous sales request for a “few minutes to talk” – even that leads people to bring their guard up. People on the other end will immediately ask themselves, “what’s the hook?” And regardless of your intention, which may very well be pure, there’s really no innocent way to get a “yes” out of somebody because we’ve all been battered with the need to answer “yes”.

So what do we do? How do we set the stage for effective communication? You’ll have to attend my session to find out.

Question Four: Good Advice

ZoomInfo: What piece of advice have you been given that proved most significant in your career?

Voss: If you want to know how to do something, ask the right person. Then, act on whatever it is that person directed you to do. This seems ridiculously trite, but the only reason I was allowed to be a hostage negotiator was because I went straight to the head of the hostage negotiating team in New York and told the woman in charge that I want to be a negotiator. Just like that. And in very short order, she deemed me eminently unqualified. But I persisted. I asked her what I should do, and then in about five (5) months, I did it all.

Amy, the negotiator in charge, was shocked; later saying that through the course of her career she asked thousands of people to do what she invited me to do. Two people went through with it – me being one of them. Think of the competitive advantage you get if those are the numbers. If you go to someone who knows what they’re talking about and ask, “what should I do?” The result is that you and a thousand other people have asked, but 999 people haven’t followed through. So if you follow this advice at all, you have a competitive advantage.

On top of this, Amy became my mentor; and it happened so naturally. She was vested in my success, and if I failed, she failed.

Interested in hearing more from Chris Voss? Your chance to do so is days away. Register for ZoomInfo’s 2017 Growth Acceleration Summit, a two-day event geared specifically towards B2B sales and marketing professionals, on Sept. 13-14 in Boston. Chris’s session, This is Classified: FBI Secrets for Better Sales and Marketing Communication, teaches critical communication skills to be applied to business and life. Sign up today.