3 things I learned from a Hostage Negotiator

Review of Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

Chris Voss was a former hostage negotiator for the FBI. Dealing with “the Bad the Mad and the Sad” on a regular basis.

Today I’m going to share with you the three BIGGEST insights I took away from his book NEVER SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE – that will help you with building and sustaining relationships in your personal life, with your family and friends, and in your professional life with colleagues and patients.

Are You Ready!?

Doesn’t matter here we go

1 – Every Conversation is a negotiation. Treat it as such.

Most of the time, your conversations are negotiations about INFORMATION.

It doesn’t matter if you’re talking to your boss, your spouse, or a stranger on the street. If you’re having a conversation you’re negotiating. 

You’re either trying to extract information, or someone is trying to extract it from you – 

“What’s for dinner? Can I have that PTO request approved? Or What was the score of that game last night?

Your conversation /negotiation isn’t about INFORMATION 100% of the time, it can be about something else… ATTENTION!

Even if you’re just talking about the weather, or telling someone a joke, you’re negotiating for ATTENTION. 

In both scenarios, they have something you want and you have to GIVE something to get it.

Or Vise Versa.

So, my key takeaway #1 is, every conversation is a negotiation. 

Treat it as such.

2 – Open your Mouth and Listen, with Empathy – 

SO now that you know that your CONVersation is a NEGOTIATION, what do you DO about it? And how can you use it to improve relationships?

We want to build a bridge with what VOSS coined as TACTICAL EMPATHY! (A very interesting phrase!, we’ll get to that in a second!)

Here’s what we know: People want to feel like they’re understood and accepted.

Deeper than that our primal urges are to feel SAFE & SECURE (Maslow and his hierarchy of needs!) and to feel in control.

So, If you’re having a conversation with someone, and you now KNOW their primal urge is to feel these things:

Understood, accepted, safe, secure, and in control.

You want to go in there, GUNS BLAZING, talking a mile a minute telling them what to do and how to feel!


NO! NO NO NO none of that… literally the OPPOSITE OF ALL OF THAT!


We want you to LISTEN while demonstrating TACTICAL EMPATHY.  

There’s that phrase again!

LISTEN with TACTICAL EMPATHY, let’s break that down into 2 easy to understand parts:

Let’s start with LISTENING:

We start by Listening INTENSELY – Eye contact if you’re in person, no distractions, Mirroring them – in gestures, body language, tone and even repeating the last three words or a key phrase THEY just used back to them.

Why do we do this?

This (shows they’re being heard – you just repeated back to them what they said… and if they’re talking and you’re listening (that means that they’re in control!)

Check and CHECK! We got 2 of their needs met right already!

Now on to the second part – Tactical Empathy… WTH is that?!

Remember EMPATHY VS Sympathy

Sympathy involves UNDERSTANDING from your OWN perspective… but we want THEIR perspective. We want THEM to feel Understood, accepted, safe, secure, and in control. And if you start telling them a story about YOU, they’re not in control.

SO we bring in EMPATHY – which is putting yourself in THEIR shoes AND understanding why THEY have these feelings,  emotions, and responses.

So how does TACTICAL EMPATHY work?

Here’s the checklist:
Imagine yourself in their shoes

Recognize that perspective AND TELL THEM THAT YOU RECOGNIZE IT, out loud, verbally, to them.

Understand their feelings and what is FUELING them.

Label those feelings with a safe phrase that starts with:
It seems like _______
It sounds like __________
It looks like ___________

After this, bring that listening tool back in for them to let you know YES or NO.  if you are on the right path.


Repeat this process often, 25% of the time when you’re speaking, you should be labeling what you’re hearing. That’s the go-to active listening technique that you can’t overuse.

3 – Put it all together to NEGOTIATE a great plan for a mutually beneficial desired outcome

Keep in mind that we have three things at any point in a negotiation:

You have:
Where they are (present state)
Where they want to be (goal state)

The things that are preventing them from getting there: Barriers and challenges to overcome.

WOW, that sounds like what a Physical Therapist deals with people!

Start with Goals:

Summarize as a story:

Using Labels often:

It seems like ______ Is important to you
It seems like you value_____
It seems like you don’t like _____

It feels like ______ is preventing you from improving.

Use calibrated Questions to reveal value:

What are we trying to accomplish?

What’s the core issue here?

What are we up against with this?

What’s the biggest challenge you face?


OK let me ask you this: would you be against doing ______ and ______ three times a week?

If you did that, do you think It would help you get to your goal?

Is there anything preventing you from doing these steps?