Former FBI hostage negotiator explains “tactical empathy” for business professionals — Chris Voss | The Black Swan Group

Former hostage negotiator Chris Voss joins The Small Business Show to discuss the value of mastering tactical empathy as an entrepreneur

Empathy is more than an emotion shared by multiple individuals; it is a critical communication tool that can achieve a positive outcome from almost any negative situation. But in the business world where blunt, or even curt, speaking styles have been prioritized for decades, the utility of compassion and skillful oratorship has long since been forgotten.

On this episode of The Small Business Show, host Jim Fitzpatrick is joined by Chris Voss, CEO of The Black Swan Group, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of “Never Split the Difference: Negotiate as if your life depends on it.” Voss was once the lead international hostage and kidnapping negotiator for the FBI, a career that made him keenly aware of the roles communication and emotion play when navigating difficult situations. Realizing his insights into leveraging human behaviors could help others lead more successful and productive lives, he has since focused his efforts on educating professionals in the art of conversation. Now, he shares his secrets to being a successful negotiator and the importance of what he calls “tactical empathy.”

Key Takeaways

1. Tactical empathy refers to the application of emotional intelligence and social acumen during a negotiation. Voss explains that communication strategies based on prior knowledge of psychology are often more successful and efficient than those that refuse to acknowledge the role feelings play in human interaction.

2. Emotional intelligence takes practice to develop. Voss recommends trying to guess what a person is feeling in a given moment from an unbiased point of view, without the influence of personal worldviews or interpretations.

3. Vocal inflection is key to conveying compassion and applying emotional intelligence. Downward and upward shifts in tone not only convey a variety of feelings but can also alter a conversation partner’s mental state. For example, a harsh tone can put someone on the defensive while a calm voice can convince someone to lower their guard. To leverage tactical empathy, speakers must first master their use of speech patterns.

4. Successful communicators are able to achieve a positive outcome in any situation, even one in which a speaking partner says “No.” In fact, Voss encourages entrepreneurs to welcome disagreement. This is because humans feel more at ease after declining an offer since they have been conditioned to associate refusal with safety. Once that feeling of protection is felt, they often gain more clarity and listen more closely.

5. Tactical empathy requires associating negotiation with collaboration. By focusing on mutual benefits, speakers can set a more positive mindset for themselves, allowing them to avoid appearing confrontational while seeming more trustworthy.

"Look at negotiations as a collaboration for a long-term relationship. It puts your heart in the right place, and it gives you good intentions." — Chris Voss

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