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Trust, Compassion & Empathy in Negotiations

The below are notes from Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, of the Black Swan group.

Great negotiation is about great collaboration, and the use of tactical empathy that creates trust-based influence.  Empathy is becoming completely aware of the other side’s perspective, you can change their outlook and you can change their decision making, you have to understand what their rules are.

Most of the tools you’re about to learn are rooted in the idea of demonstrating understanding of the other side’s position, and so doing building rapport, and ultimately gaining trust.


So the common misconception about negotiation is that you have to make your case. You have to make your argument. You need to come prepared with the reasons why the other side should make the deal your value proposition if you will need to lay all that out. That is not the case.

  • You need to find out what’s possible. And you need to engage the other set in what their thoughts are so they feel involved in a process, and consequently they want the deal to happen.
  • One of the things about negotiation is negotiation is the art of letting the other side have your way.
  • So mirroring gets them talking and creates the opportunity for them actually to present you with your deal only they thought it was their idea. So mirroring is critical and information gathering and the art of letting the other side have your way.



  • It’s just the simple repetition of 1, 2 or 3 last words of what somebody said, but when you get good, you could pick 123 words from anywhere in the, in the conversation the other person feels listened to it tends to connect their thoughts in their head.
  • Part of the message is sent to the other person is, I heard every word you said word for word, and I’ve proven it because I just repeated it back to. But it’s not enough, I still don’t get it. And when people go on with a further explanation they’re going to add more words they’re going to change. They’re going to change their terms.
  • Mirroring is also rapport building relationship process. People love to be mirrored, they love to be encouraged to go on. If you mirror, you will be ridiculously interesting to other people, because you’re interested in them, and they’re going to love talking to you



Labeling a Negative

  • If a person self labels, they see the electrical activity and the negative part of the amygdala decrease, every time. Label negative emotions to reduce their impact.  Somebody sounded angry “You said you sound angry.”
  • And if that negative emotion is there that label will will reduce that negative emotion.
  • It’s just verbal observations. Labels might be the most important, innocuous skill.
  • So my labels are going to do several things simultaneously they’re going to build a relationship, they’re going to help me gather information.
  • labeling a negative deactivates a negative
  1. Be aware of the emotion or the dynamic from the other side
  2. Simply label it. That starts out with “it seems like” “it sounds like” “ it looks like. ” “ It feels like. ”


The wrong way to label something


“what I’m hearing is..” “it seems like…”

“it sounds like…”

“ it looks like… ”

“ It feels like…”

Sounds like this deals making you upset.


I’ve dropped the word, I in in appropriately. And the message that I’m conveying is that I’m more interested in my perspective than yours
“because…” resist the urge to explain a label, or to add some follow up.

Don’t’ speak.  Let them contemplate

stop talking

Don’t explain them.

After a good label, a good label you gotta let it sink in. You gotta let it have its effect you got to let it trigger the type of contemplation, the type of thinking that you want to have triggered in the other side you got to let it fully deactivate the negatives.
keep going after 1 label and add more. It’s actually that you’re on the right track. You just need more


 “Sounds like I haven’t gone far enough…”

“Sounds like There’s more than meets the eye…”

“Sounds like there’s some feelings you have about this that I haven’t quite touched yet…”



Labeling a Positive

  • Labeling a positive reinforces it.
  • So great positive to reinforce here is to say to them.
“I appreciate you being generous with your time.”


“It feels like you’re being really generous with me right now.”


E.g. customer service officers.  Empathy —  their perspective on this is it. If you’re lucky to be talking to them at all. They’re actually being generous with their time.


then keep mirroring

You can mirror one or two or three words out of that response and get a lot more information afterwards.

So the combination of mirrors leading into labels, really help you if you’re having trouble gaining a grasp on exactly what the dynamic or the emotion that the other side is feeling


Tone of Voice

  • Confrontation and aggression is not effective. You know it takes two to fight. I’m going to change this wrestling match into a dance. By using a playful voice like chris rock.  And if I refuse to engage in the wrestling, but I still want to engage, then that changes into a collaboration. Almost immediately. The next time someone’s being confrontational with you try and use a great tone of voice genuine curiosity. Mirror them a few times and see if they don’t change it.
  • You’re going to feel like you’re going to quit you’re going to give up, you’re going to try to mirror somebody at the water cooler, and you’re going to feel like they’re going to scream at you for marrying them. Just get your repetitions tried and low stakes practice try with a Starbucks clerk. Get you three weeks of practicing get your 63 to 64 repetitions in, and it will come naturally to you and you’ll get past the awkwardness.


Curiosity and deference:  Instead of stating “hi this is Mira” do it like “hi this is Mira?” like you’re saying “hi Mrs Sung, this is Mira, can sheila come out to play?”


Because it’s disalarming, respectful and you can get away with a lot.

The inquisitive tone of voice, really helps words land, really well you’d be shocked at what you can get away saying, if you say with the inquisitive tone that tone of voice it’s genuinely curious at the end.



e.g. How am I supposed to do that?

deferential voice vs. sarcastic

It conveys deference everybody loves deference. It conveys genuine curiosity. It conveys collaboration.


I’m going to hit your mirror neurons, you’re going to get angry too. It’s an involuntary response.

I have seen that anger, always leaves a negative residue.

Anger is always bad for long term relationships


Late Night FM DJ Voice Calm, slowed your brain down.

Without ordering someone to “stay calm”

10-20% of the time

should be warm

FM DJ voice is situational. When the other side’s upset, anxious. The quickest way to calm the situation down is with a late night FM DJ voice.

Smile Trigger their mirror neurons in a positive way make them smarter make yourself smarter at the same time.

Don’t allow yourself to be held hostage over whether or not they like you, and you will increase your ability to make deals by hitting the mirror neurons, calming them down soothing them, and then making them feel like you’re worthy of collaboration, simply by smiling at them.

The smiling voice is tremendously effective and it should really be your default voice

Accommodators voice

The playful voice

Even if what you’re saying sounds high or a crazy ask, it shows “I want to work with you on this I don’t want you to feel backed into a corner”.

I’m letting you know that I got to tell you the truth. But I’m worried about making sure it lands softly. This is an example of what someone we might refer to as a straight shooter. Everybody loves somebody that will tell them the truth.

That should be the voice you use about 80% of the time.

keep people in a positive frame of mind, keep people thinking keep them collaborating with you. Keep them working with you.

analyst voice

downward flexing voice

declarative, but with a downward. Slow soothing tone.

slow and final

When you have to throw something out that’s immovable. You have a term in a contract that you just are not going to move on.

use this voice rarely, because it’s going to slow the conversation down and the other side’s going to feel left, cold, by it, which is not good for your relationships.  They’re not going to be enthusiastic about interacting with you and they’re certainly not going to be enthusiastic about any changes in the deal that might come up.


The subtle difference between the analysts voice in the late night FM DJ voices, the analyst voice really lacks warmth.



Don’t make any of them too long

Shorten things down and your digital communications and make one good move in each communication

bc you don’t put your next seven chess moves in the same email
put extra things in to soften it say things like, “

I’m sorry…”

“I’m afraid…”


the tone in your email is probably going to be read negatively

Make sure your words land softly. and then positively.




  • 7, 38 55 Rule, 7+ 38 + 55 = 100%
  • 3 components of the communication à 7% content, 38% tonality, and 55% body language
  • Is someone genuine? Go back to the 7 38 55 rule à does their delivery and their body language line up with the content of the words being spoken.
  • “But I also heard something in your tone of voice that made you hesitate.”
    • You simply just point some things out with some labels or labeling dynamics that are in front of you. These are fair things to do.
  • Get to know someone first and see what’s their norm. Then you can see when they’re lying
  • Penalty effect. It’s when someone uses more words than is necessary to give you an answer. If somebody’s lying to you, they know they’re lying. And they’re worried about it, and consequently, they’re gonna need to work harder to convince you. So the more effort, they go to convince you that they’re telling the truth, the more likely it is that they’re lying there any more words, they’re worried that you don’t believe they have to add in more convincing. They might even say “Why would I lie?” “Why would it be in my interest to not tell you the truth?”
If you can catch someone lying Don’t use the accusatory tone but curious voice

the tone of voice is collaborative and interested.

“Well, I heard you say you’re okay with the deal but seems like something’s bothering you…”

“Seems like there’s something here I missed…”

“Seems like there’s more here than meets the eye…”

“But it sounds like you still have misgivings”


seems like there’s a problem,

you’re defensive

you’re concerned

seems like you’re worried.

seems like You don’t trust me with the truth.

Why’re they lying? they’re scared to tell you the truth

they perceive you as potentially being a threat.

It tells you that their assessment of the situation is that they’ve got their guard up how you want to be guided by this and informed by this is revert to the late night FM DJ voice. Use the voice of the other side finds reassure be predictable be non judgmental be predictable in that you’re not going to attack them. You’re not going to try and corner them. You want to be steady you want to be accountable.


You want to show them that you’re aware of their perspective, and while you might not agree with it, you don’t have a problem with it



  • In many cases, you’re going to be negotiating in a group setting, you’re gonna have people on the other side of the table that are listening that are dialed in, especially if they’re concealing or defensive
  • The people are going to be ridiculously unguarded are going to be the people that you’re not talking directly to everybody knows who you’re talking to, they feel the attention on their primary point of contact. And the people that are not being spoken to, are going to be insanely honest in their physical reactions.
  • the people that are off the point of focus, are going to be ridiculously unguarded in their body language because they’re not used to being paid attention to these settings, all eyes on the person who’s being spoken to, so you can get some really honest and really accurate body language of the people off the primary point of attention.


calibrated to make the other side feeling they call the shots calibrate our questions mostly with the words “what…” and “how…” because people love to be asked what to do.

People love to be asked how to do something.



Why, as a question triggers defensiveness, accusation


“Why did you do that.”



“What makes it necessary to deliver in 3 weeks?” “Why do you need delivery in 3 weeks”
Forced empathy is when you force the other side, to have empathy with you.


If you ask that question 3 different ways and a person you’re talking to, will think about it from three different angles, and they’ll give it more thought and they’ll give you a better answer and they will appreciate the fact that you help them think it through.


“How am I supposed to do that?”

“What’s going to happen if I do that?”

“ How we overcome the challenges that I have here?”


You make the other side, take into account what you’re really going through.


And you also make them think about how’s this going to move forward.

And it’s not going to move forward well if you keep cheating the other side.



You don’t want to trigger reciprocity inadvertently.


If I ask I should be willing to give an exchange.



you’re really looking for proof of legitimacy proof that you’re in a good faith as opposed to bad faith negotiation.


a legitimate “how” question can switch the balance of power so the person asking “how” is leaving the onus on the other.

And since they don’t feel burdened by it they feel in control it was their idea, they’re going to spontaneously do what you want. And you never actually asked for it.


How we gonna move forward if we make this deal?

How do I know that you’re not just looking for free consultant?

How have you worked with people like me in the past?

How have you made this deal in the past?

how do we know you have the budget?




  • Taking an inventory, doing an audit of all the possible negatives names, accusations, slanderous things that the other side might be thinking about me based on a circumstances, or the environment or their own paranoia.
  • All the things that if I had the chance I would say I don’t want you to feel what happens when you do this is you start digging out all the negatives that the other side may be harboring based on past experiences.
  • The elephant in the room is diminished and eventually goes away by you saying, hey, there’s an elephant in the room.
  • Early on, list them. And this is an approach to go after these negativity and even get out in front of them and trigger the working collaborative relationship, from the very beginning.


Label “It seems like you’re not getting all the information out of us that you want…”

“probably feels like we’re holding back on…”

“it feels like we’re wasting your time…”

“feels like we’re not being honest with you…”

Label speculatively.

because you’re conveying to the other side that you’re being attentive, and you’re being speculative but you’re being careful about it.

And they’re going to appreciate your approach this gets back to being a straight shooter. You’re telling the truth.

“you probably going to ask yourself, why you’re taking this meeting?

“probably feels like I might seem like everybody else is in this line of work and there’s no difference between me and anybody else.”

I’m getting ready to make your day ridiculously difficult… (pause for their reaction, until they look at you and give you permission to go on)….

then say what you need, which is usually better than what they expect

Lay it on thick.  It really takes a fearless and courageous brainstorming effect on your part to really go after everything. And it’s rare that you’re going to overdo it. So be as forward thinking as possible, and a great way to test that is, as you’re laying out your accusations audit. Read the other side’s reaction along the way. If you got a list of 15 things and you’ve gotten through the first three and they say,

“Oh, you’ve been too hard on yourself..”

because when somebody says that they have stepped to your side of the table.

You have forced empathy, into the situation. And that’s exactly what your objective is.




  • “no” helps the other side feel powerful. It’s valuable to get people to say know how much farther you can get, enhance your relationship, and how much more information you can get.
  • People feel safe and protected when they say no.


  • 3 kinds of “yes”s à commitment, confirmation and counterfeit
  • They can give a counterfet Yes if you started to feel trapped by your questioning. or “I don’t trust you because I feel like you’re trying to trap me. I’ll just say yes now”
“Do you agree with this?” “do you disagree?” When you say no you feel safe and protected you feel like you made no commitment at all.
“Would you like to donate?” “would it be a crazy idea to ask you to donate?”
“is this a good idea?” “is that a ridiculous idea?” You feel no fear about telling me about problems. Because you’re going to feel like you can share them with no commitment whatsoever.
Will you buy 3 tickets? “  are you against committing to three tickets now?”
Will you pay for the tickets? Is it a ridiculous idea for you to pay for the tickets before the business day starts? Remember the key to negotiation is always using deference. And if they haven’t given you a way to proceed, then your first question is, “how should we proceed. What are the next steps?”



  • What are they going to lose if they don’t make the deal. What are they going to lose if they do make the deal.
work with us. And you’ll make 23% more money choose not to work with us. Stay where you are, don’t change anything. And it’s going to cost you 23% every day fear of loss is what keeps people up at night



  • Fair comes up in nearly every single negotiation. People use it to manipulate other people, people use it when they’re backed into a corner. So fairness, is really the issue that makes or breaks deals.
What counterpart says What you say WHY
I’ve given you a fair offer.

I just want what’s fair


I’m happy to be shown how I’ve been unfair. I’m open to learning. Show me the information.


It’s my intention to treat you fairly. If at any point in time.


I’ve been on fair, let me know. We’ll go back and address it and fix it.

They’ve accused you of being unfair, in a very subtle way if you don’t take that deal, or if you don’t make the deal that they want.

And you will react. Because you don’t want to be unfair.


Be proactive, put yourself in a position where they’ll deal with the problem because otherwise if they feel they’ve been treated unfairly it’s going to explode on you.



  • deadline is an attempt to kick some progress into gear
  • deadlines are designed to your progress started
  • And if people are making substantive progress on what they’re trying to accomplish. Deadlines go away. So anytime a deadline comes up. Shift your thought from the deadline to how do we make progress to work together towards a goal, and the vast majority of the time the deadlines will go away
Deadline WHY
Label It it seems like you’re under a lot of pressure here.

It seems like you’re trying to get things done by certain time.

It seems like this is an involved process.

It seems like the world’s going to come to an end.

If we don’t meet that deadline.

you’re going to cause the kind of thinking that you need from the other side.

it makes them think about how hard they feel the deadline

calibrated questions



What happens if we don’t get this done in time?

How do we get back on track if we fall behind schedule?

How do we pull victory from the ashes of defeat if we don’t meet the deadline?

begins to get them to look at success




  • The last impression seeds the next interaction
  • By making the last words, positive, you sit down with somebody in a contentious negotiation.
Positive Ending and Beginning
you know, we’re here because we want to make a deal.
We’re here because long term relationships matter to us.
We’re here because we want our partners to be profitable
When you go into the contention, say, you know, we’re we’re here because we’d love to have a great long term relationship. We love our partners to prosper from doing business with us. Let us know how we can proceed. How do you want to proceed. make the last point you made to be in arguably positive and collaborative




You might want to tell them that you’re afraid of giving them the offer price




Then get their permission



then very apologetically you get to say your 1st offer


“gonna make you angry, you know I don’t, I’m scared”

it’s going to make you really angry and that last thing I want to do is offend you

I’m afraid to give you this number


they’ll say something like “it’s ok, just tell me”

they’ll almost beg you to give them the number


they’re not going to get angry. because you told them they were going to get angry and that diffused it and you were deferential the whole time I mean they feel powerful, you know they they feel bad for you, but after you throw your number then, then your next moves gotta be tactical empathy.


1.        TARGET PRICE = 100

2.        1st offer = 65 (65% of target price)

3.        apologetically give 2nd offer = 20% higher  = 85

4.        apologetically give 3rd offer = 10% higher  (decreases by half)

5.        apologetically give 4th offer = 5% higher  (decreases by half)

6.        (decreases by half) etc. etc.

7.        reluctantly — Last Offer = odd number plus  non monetary object that you know the other side doesn’t want, but it makes them feel like they’ve really tapped you out
like $97.43 and the shirt off my back



everybody likes odd numbers


“you got apologize like to give you another number I mean I’ve worked really hard at this it’s been difficult for me to get to this, you know, as a matter of fact, I go back and check my finances before I get this number I get it I get a check for the people, and I’m not sure I can cover this.”


It’s got to be the application of empathy, it’s gotta be apology.


As long as people are making progress. It enhances their ability to stay in the deal.


So whoever’s on the other side, you need to make them feel a sense of accomplishment that this was a victory, a hard one victory they got you

if they’re a seasoned negotiator they give you the flinch fear to go

“oh my god it’s so ridiculous it’s horrible”

Your reaction: “you know I’m so sorry it’s, it’s, you know, it’s horrible I I can see that I’ve offended you, and you’re asking a reasonable price and I’m being ridiculous.”

go first and go high

bad idea because it’s forgoing the opportunity to gather information first


discover the piece of information that nobody expected that would change all the outcomes


the idea is to start the communication. And for me to start getting information flowing from you.

If somebody’s really pushing you to go first. It’s also an opportunity to pivot at times

You really want to engage in brainstorming with the other side.


“alright so I’ll be happy to give you a number let’s set that aside for a few minutes let’s talk about what’s going to take to make a great deal in what looks like a great deal to you what else you have to have in order to make any price that I give you a good price.”

characterize your number before throwing it out because you want them be relieved when you give that number.

Now, by the time I dropped that number you’re not gonna overreact to the number, you may, it may still be more than you plan to pay the united to be mad about it.


If I go with a high price with no warning, my emotional reaction from you is going going to be negative, negative reactions leave a toxic residue that by and large, long term or bad for relationships.


“look my numbers high don’t expect anything other than that to be High.

It’s Gonna be higher than you expect probably more than you plan to pay maybe more than you have.