Author and former FBI negotiator Chris Voss. (Ian Maddox/For The Washington Post)

Chris Voss was an FBI agent for 24 years and the agency’s lead international kidnapping negotiator from 2003 to 2007. His book, “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It,” will be published this month.

The point of your book is that the negotiating tools you learned with the FBI are applicable to every part of our lives?


So in a marriage or relationship, can you negotiate wins for yourself?

I don’t use the phrase “win-win” because most of the time whoever uses that phrase is either trying to cut your throat or is a horrible negotiator. But the reality is that in a relationship both sides have to gain. And negotiation can improve all of your relationships. The closer someone is to you, when they win, you win. When you negotiate a win for your spouse, you win.

Can I ask how old you are?

I’m 58. I’ve got 30 years left.

Wait, who do you negotiate with over how much time you have left?

My nutritionist.

That’s funny. Is there one overarching strategy or rule that can be applied to all negotiations?

The number one rule is don’t take yourself hostage. You can take yourself hostage when hearing ”yes” will make you do anything. You can take yourself hostage by being afraid to find out what they actually feel or what their point of view is or that they might actually be right. And you can take yourself hostage by being so sure of what you want that you wouldn’t take something better.

I know there are usually higher stakes involved, but I just want to get a better cable deal with Comcast.

You need to recognize that your customer service rep is really a sales rep. And he wants to give you a better deal if you would just not yell at him. So you have to just disarm the guy and say that you appreciate the fact that the last 75 people he was on the phone with were yelling at him. Now you’ve opened the door.

So I shouldn’t just threaten to cancel my service?

The problem with that is that’s the tactic that has been used with them 10 billion times and they caught on.

Donald Trump bills himself as a great negotiator. Do you think he is?

No. You don’t want to gather enemies and have that be your currency. I don’t think winning through intimidation is a long-term strategy. He’s doing nothing but getting people who are looking to pay him back. And as they say, revenge is a dish best served cold. People will wait forever to get you back.

In your book, you argue that negotiating is essentially an emotional process, not an intellectual one.

Exactly. Because we make decisions based on what we care about and that makes decision-making an emotional process. You care about something, you have a feeling about it, it matters to you on a personal level, and that’s where we make up our minds.

What has been your greatest negotiating achievement in your personal life?

Coming to a place where my son and I are working together better all the time. He works for me full-time, and that can be both wonderful and horrifying for both of us. I’m working really hard to respect him, to listen to him and to value him. And he’s working harder to not feel like I’m always trying to be the alpha male.

You’re from Iowa originally. Did you learn anything about negotiating in Iowa?

I think so. My mom is the original tough Midwestern woman. One of my favorite jokes is, “What’s the difference between an Iowa mom and a terrorist? You can negotiate with a terrorist.”

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