The clock is ticking. Three people are in a small frame house: a woman, her five-year-old son, and a man bent on killing them both.

And the clock is ticking.

Outside the house is a team of expert killers.

And the clock is ticking.

How this ends is up to you, and there are three possibilities: no one dies, someone dies, everybody dies.

And the clock is ticking.

You have only three tools: a video feed from the scene, a phone, and your brain.

What’s your first move?


You Are an FBI Hostage Negotiator

Whether you’re a CEO, a marketer, or a mom, you live in a scaled-down version of the hostage negotiator’s world. How so? Another party wants something, you want something, but on the surface, your wants don’t seem to go together well.

You’re about to learn how to bring those conflicting desires to a happy ending.

Whether you’re trying to close a deal, design a perfect loyalty program, or get your kids to pick up their clothes, you face the same challenges that face the men and women who talk psychopaths out of slaughtering their families.

Luckily, one of those negotiators, Chris Voss, revealed the tricks of his trade to Eric Barker. And those tricks can make your life a lot easier.

Hostage Negotiation Trick #1: If You’re Right, People Die

The last thing a negotiator wants to hear the psychopath say is “you’re right.”

According to Voss, “you’re right” is the end of the conversation. When people say “you’re right,” they’ve given up trying to reason with you. You wore them down but didn’t get into their head or change their mind.

we love it when somebody tells us we’re right. It’s usually when we’re making an argument and we’ve worn the other side down, and they’re just sick of us… Even if I believe in my heart that you are right, I’m not vested when you’re right.

The magic words you want to hear the other side say are “that’s right.”

when I say “that’s right,” I’ve put myself in a position of adjudicating what you’ve said, and I’ve pronounced what you’ve said right. There’s a much greater chance that I’m going to accept it if I’ve said “that’s right” as opposed to “you’re right.”

So you want to get to “that’s right,” but how? And the clock is still ticking. You’re under stress. The coffee’s weak and cold, and your colleague’s cigarette smoke finds you wherever you go.

You’re ready to argue but don’t.

Hostage Negotiation Trick #2: Arguing Is Schizophrenic

Voss reminds us that it’s difficult to talk to a schizophrenic because he has a voice in his talking whenever he’s not talking. He doesn’t have time to listen to you.

When you argue, though, you become schizophrenic yourself. Think about your last argument. You were either talking (or yelling) or you were preparing your next argument. So was the other guy. No one was listening, except for trigger words to pounce on.

the only time the other side is silent is because they’re thinking about their own argument, they’ve got a voice in their head that’s talking to them. They’re not listening to you.

When they’re making their argument to you, you’re thinking about your argument, that’s the voice in your head that’s talking to you. So it’s very much like dealing with a schizophrenic.

Two schizophrenics arguing with three lives at stake probably doesn’t end well.

So how do you break out of this cycle of death?

Hostage Negotiation Trick #3: Listen Up and Nobody Gets Hurt

Listen to what they want. Really listen.

The idea is to really listen to what the other side is saying and feed it back to them. It’s kind of a discovery process for both sides. First of all, you’re trying to discover what’s important to them, and secondly, you’re trying to help them hear what they’re saying to find out if what they are saying makes sense to them.

Listen closely enough that you can paraphrase what they’re saying. Then ask them to confirm your summary. And be patient.

Yes, the clock is ticking. But it’s difficult to carry on a conversation and kill people at the same time.

As long as you have them spellbound with their own story, as long as you let them parrot that voice in their head, they’re not hurting anyone.

You can say, “What are we trying to accomplish here?” Then, “How is what you are asking for going to get you that?” If you make them explain it to you, a lot of times both you and them are going to discover whether or not it makes any sense. So you can become a real sounding board in the negotiations to try and figure out whether the solutions match the problems.

It All Comes Down To Persuasive Design

I describe Persuasive Design as “helping people get what they want—in the context of your business.” Sounds a lot like the way Voss describes hostage negotiation.

  • Listen to gain confidence and understanding.
  • Confirm what you’ve heard by getting to “that’s right.”
  • Find out what they really, really want.
  • Ask how their present course will help them get that.

And, finally, one thing that the hostage negotiator didn’t tell you, but I will.

Once you find out, by listening carefully, what they really, really want, offer them a plausible path to getting it that benefits your business. And lets three people leave that little frame house alive.

Let me know your hostage situation in the comments. I’m here to listen . . . and to help you get everyone out in one piece.