May 7, 2024

The Business of Meetings – Episode 217 – Inside the Mind of an FBI Negotiator: Chris Voss on Mastering Negotiations from Hostages to Boardrooms

We are delighted and honored to welcome the legendary FBI negotiator, Chris Voss, as our guest today.

Chris was the head of the hostage negotiations at the FBI, and he significantly changed their negotiation style. He has taught at various business schools and founded the Black Swan Group. He is also an author, having written Never Split the Difference, The Full Fee Agent, and more recently, Empathy and Understanding in Business.

Join us to hear Chris’s fascinating story and to get his advice and actionable tips to implement in your life and business.

Chris’s Story

From a young age, Chris embraced the value of learning and honed his problem-solving and quick decision-making skills. His experience volunteering on a suicide hotline in New York City motivated him to become a hostage negotiator, where he discovered the power of empathy for accelerating results. His counterintuitive approach focused on making individuals feel heard and understood, challenging traditional beliefs about negotiation and communication, and leading to faster resolutions. His strategic application of emotional intelligence transformed negotiations and exemplified his commitment to doing good and achieving success through meaningful impact rather than personal gain.

Perishable Skills and Ongoing Practice

Discussing the perishable nature of negotiation skills, Chris compares it to athletes who continually practice in their field, stressing the need for consistent practice and intentional improvement, noting that skills can erode over time without dedicated effort. His experience on the suicide hotline taught him the value of intentional practices and continuous learning to stay sharp in negotiations.

Challenges of Personal Negotiations

Chris acknowledges the complexities of navigating emotions and past interactions that may influence current discussions and discusses the inadvertent wounds that can occur in personal relationships and the importance of empathy in addressing underlying concerns.

Tactical Empathy and Building Trust

Chris introduced the concept of tactical empathy as a strategy to demonstrate understanding without necessarily agreeing. He explains how acknowledging negative emotions and showing empathy can build the trust and rapport essential for successful negotiations. He also emphasizes the power of genuine connection and understanding in fostering long-term relationships.

Importance of Face-to-Face Communication

Highlighting the limitations of remote communication, Chris underscores the value of face-to-face interactions in negotiations. He discusses the energy and nonverbal cues often missed in virtual settings, emphasizing the depth of connection one can foster in person.

Prioritizing Quality and Demonstrating Value

Chris advocates for quality over quantity in negotiations, advising against making bad deals out of fear or pressure. He encourages negotiators to demonstrate competence, trustworthiness, and value to clients, setting the stage for collaborative and successful outcomes.

Cultural Understanding in Negotiation

Chris highlights the importance of historical and cultural context in negotiations, especially in regions with rich traditions like Persia and the Middle East, also emphasizing the need to acknowledge and incorporate those backgrounds into negotiation strategies.

Effective Deadline Management

Chris explains that setting deadlines within a structured process ensures productive negotiations. He stresses that deadlines without a clearly defined process can be counterproductive, so he advocates for a balance between the two.

International Negotiation Strategies

Chris uses examples like the Iranian nuclear deal and the Abraham Accords to illustrate varying approaches in international negotiations. He focuses on empathy, process orientation, and relationship-building for successful negotiations.

Cultural Differences and Empathy

Acknowledging cultural differences in negotiation styles, Chris promotes empathy as a tool to bridge gaps and facilitate better communication, as it underlines the importance of understanding and diverse cultural perspectives.

AI Integration in Negotiation

Chris views AI as a resource for information gathering and organization, enhancing human decision-making rather than replacing it entirely.


You can go to the Black Swan Group website to sign up for Chris’s newsletter, which offers complimentary and concise insights for improving negotiation skills with an empathetic approach.


Chris Voss is a former Lead FBI Negotiator and dynamic speaker who debunks the biggest myths of negotiation. Chris engages all groups with captivating stories, insights, and useful tips for business and everyday life. Chris has lectured on negotiation at business schools across the country and has been seen on ABC, CBS, CNN, and Fox News. Chris has also been featured in Forbes, Time, Fast Company, and Inc. Chris’s keynotes are based on his book Never Split The Difference©.

Connect with Eric Rozenberg

On LinkedIn




Connect with Chris Voss

On LinkedIn

The Black Swan Group website

Books by Chris Voss

Never Split the Difference

The Full Fee Agent

Empathy and Understanding In Business

About the author 

Eric Rozenberg

For two decades, Eric Rozenberg has consulted with Fortune 500 companies and produced conferences in more than 50 countries across diverse industries. His focus is creating meetings that are not only breathtakingly memorable but which bring corporate strategies to life and amplify team motivation/performance.

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