Chris Voss is the expert on this topic, and I highly recommend his book “Never split the difference: Negotiate as if your life depends on it”.

Most people go into a negotiation assuming that it is a zero sum game, and that their opponent in this win-lose encounter is the adversary. The best negotiators, on the other hand aim for a win-win solution, and enlist the help of their negotiating opponent in battling the situation instead.

Your main goals should include:

  • Doing all you can to show the other side that you are negotiating in good faiths
  • Becoming genuinely interested in what drives the other side
  • Building trust-based influence through the use of tactical empathy, or deliberately influencing the other side’s feelings
    • Aim to deactivate negative feelings and magnify positive feelings

Tone of Voice

Combative negotiators will often use an assertive tone of voice, and this often just gets your opponent off side. Instead, use a mix of these 2:

  • Playful/accommodating
    • This is the voice of a bear of truths delivered gently
    • It promotes collaboration
    • Use it approximately 80% of the time
  • Late night FM DJ
    • Use when they’re upset or agitated
    • Soothing, downward inflection
    • Use to highlight an unalterable fact

If you can nail the right tone, you’re that much closer to building trust-based influence and moving together toward a great deal.


This is the conscious repetition of your counterpart’s words. Mirrors are designed to show the other side that you’re listening to them and understanding them.


  • Your negotiating partner: “I’ve had a really difficult year, and it seems like you’re discounting all of the financial and personal stress I’ve been under.”
  • You: “Financial and personal stress?”

Mirroring is a rapport-building technique with wide applicability. It works as well at cocktail parties as it does during hostage negotiations.  Mirroring can be an effective means of quelling the often reflexive hostility of confrontational people.

Mirroring can also be used to gather intel. Using it will lead your counterpart to not only repeat themselves but to elaborate and offer additional details. This expands what you know about them and their position.


Labelling is used to give voice to the other side’s feelings.

  • It looks like…
  • It seems like…
  • You look like…

Note that you should avoid the 1st person here… don’t say “I’m hearing…” or “I think…”. That would only signal that you are number 1 and everyone else is an afterthought. Keep it about them.

Labelling is designed to let the other side know that you understand their feelings, to help build relationships, and to gather information. It can be used both to reinforce positive emotions and to counteract negative emotions.

Example for a negative:

  • You: “It seems like you’re finding this project frustrating”

Example for a positive:

  • You: “It seems like you’ve been working really hard to make sure this project succeeds”

Dynamic Silence

30643845 – coffee break

Leaving a pause for a little longer than feels natural can in some cases help a lot to bring out more information.

Calibrated Questions

Calibrated questions are how and what questions structured for maximum effect. They are designed to change the power dynamic of the negotiation and force consideration of your position into the equation. In other words, they allow the other side to see things from your side of the table and allow everyone to keep their sense of autonomy intact.


  • You: “How am I supposed to do that?”
  • You: “What are you trying to accomplish by doing that?”

These questions also help cultivate the illusion of control in your counterpart. They can serve the same purpose as why questions while sounding less accusatory. Why questions tend to trigger a defensive posture.

Accusations Audit

Unexpressed negative emotions never die. They fester like an infection.

In preparing for a negotiation, you’d be well served to perform an accusations audit, during which you’ll create a comprehensive list of all the negative assumptions, thoughts, and feelings you think the other side may be harbouring against you.

Be exhaustive. Your goal is to list all the possible negative emotions and get out ahead of them. You want the other side to come back and say, “Hold on, you’re being too hard on yourself.” This would be an ideal response, as now your opponent is showing empathy for you.

Yes and No Questions

When it comes to a line of questioning, there are three types of yes answers :

  1. Yes as a commitment (used to agree)
  2. Yes as a confirmation (used to affirm commitment)
  3. Yes as counterfeit (used tactically by someone who doesn’t trust you, feels trapped, or wants you to go away)

Often, a no can be much more valuable than a yes. In certain circumstances, people feel safe and protected by a no.

So, a question like:

  1. “Is this a good idea?” may be better phrased as “Is this a ridiculous idea?”
  2. “Can you agree to do it this way?” could be better presented as “Do you think it’s unreasonable if we can both agree to take things in this direction?”

When answering a yes question, people are going to feel that every piece of information they provide is another commitment to be made. By contrast, a no relieves them of the sense that they may have just surrendered their entire negotiating position.

And don’t forget that no is equally valuable to your own cause. After saying no, use dynamic silence to let it sink in, demonstrating to your partner that you stand by your word.

Defeating Fear of Loss

Young man frightened on white background.

One of the primary negative emotions that can derail a negotiation is the fear of loss. Neuroscience teaches us that fear is a dominant factor in human decision-making. Use your skills to try and figure out what the other side is scared of losing.

Know that people will begin to talk about a deal being “fair” once they feel backed into a corner. Fairness, in this moment, becomes the end all/be all of the negotiation. People will even walk away from a good deal if they feel like they’ve been treated unfairly.

If you get the sense that the people across the table think you’re being unfair, encourage them to speak their minds about it. Then ask for a few examples of how you’ve allegedly been mistreating them. You may find that the other side’s idea of fairness will result in something that’s totally unfair for you. The key to negotiation may be deference, but that doesn’t equate to subservience.

Do whatever you can to deactivate this fear of loss—remember your mirrors and labels—and keep your negotiation grounded, collaborative, and positive.

Bargaining Strategies

When negotiating, it’s always best to steer clear of a bargaining situation. But sometimes it’s unavoidable. Below are the stages of the Ackerman system. It’s paramount to employ tactical empathy between each round:

  • Establish a target price for the goods you want to buy.
  • Make an initial offer at 65 percent of your target price.
  • Assuming no deal, raise your price by 20 percent.
  • Assuming no deal, raise your price by 10 percent.
  • If still no deal, raise by another 5 percent.
  • Your final offer should be an odd number, and you should be prepared to include some non-monetary compensation to show them you’re committing all of your available resources.

Body Language and Speech Patterns

We all have one way of telling the truth. If you can identify how your counterpart looks and sounds when he or she is being honest with you, then you’ll be able to detect any deviations from that pattern that may signal a lie. Keep the following in mind:

  • The Pinocchio Effect
    People who are being dishonest tend to use more words and effort than necessary to communicate their point.
  • The 7-38-55 Rule
    In interpersonal communications, 7 percent of a person’s effort is conveyed via spoken words, 38 percent by tone of voice, and 55 percent through body language.

When you’re at the negotiating table, pay attention to how people speak and act. Do the words they’re saying match up with the way they’re carrying themselves? Look at the people who are not talking—what does their body language signal to you? People who are being sincere don’t typically calculate their body language. The opposite is true of people who are being dishonest.

If you sense people are being deceitful, deploy a label using your inquisitive inflection: “It seems like I’ve missed something here?” A lie indicates that the other side is afraid to tell you the truth—they perceive you as a threat. In short, you’ve just encountered more negative emotions to be deactivated. To help defuse them, revert again to the late-night FM DJ voice, avoid all traces of accusation, and get your counterparts to drop their guard.