The Sexiest Thing About Listening

It’s how you get what you want.

In hostage negotiation we always had a saying “What’s it going to take to get the hostage taker to come out? He’ll tell you.” But you have to learn to do more than just listen passively or try to talk them into anything. You have to work with what you get out of them to make a deal.

My company now teaches this tactical negotiation approach in business.


Here’s how an employee used listening to get a salary offer 41% higher than expected:

Bob (not his real name) is interviewing within his company for a promotion. He knows what the market salaries are for equally qualified candidates. He’s recently been promoted within his company for exemplary work. The company typically contracts out this aspect of their human resources (HR) process so it will be unbiased and impartial. The company values loyalty. Offers generally come with very little room to negotiate.

The negotiation between Bob and the HR professional took place over the phone. It starts by pleasantly getting right down to business.

The HR professional starts right off by telling Bob he seems ideal and is highly recommended by management. Bob thanks him but then asks, “What reasons lead management to say so?” to get this into the conversation.

The HR professional answers and says he has some questions of his own.

HR: “Are you looking for other offers either within or without the company?”

BOB: “Yes, both. It seems to be a great time to do so. It appears companies, including ours, are really trying to capture high quality talent.” (This is a great pivot and becomes an important element to work from, but it also has to be confirmed and brought into the conversation by the counterpart.)

HR: “That’s right. We are actually looking to move pretty quickly on this Bob. If we made you the right offer would you accept?”

BOB: “If I was given the right offer, I would accept. It seems that you already have a number in mind.” (This is another great pivot and the dance of who will name price first has begun.)

HR: “Actually, we factor in a lot of things. The number can change A LOT.”

BOB: “The number can change a lot? What are the parameters that impact it?”

HR: “That’s right. All sorts of things in the job market, but mostly how well you fit. There are numbers such as market penetration and your level’s salary that all play into it. We want you to have a competitive salary comparatively. So what number would do it for you?”

BOB: “Well, as you may be able to see from my file, I have accepted two lateral promotions in the past, which was great for my career, but didn’t offer any increase in pay. It seems from talking with other folks in the company, management will often let talent slip out because of this. You have indicated that we would like to close this quickly and that the job market really does seem to support this. I would like to know that my salary is competitive, but more so, demonstrates that our management really would like to retain me and values me highly. You also indicated that there are a lot of factors that can cause an offer to fluctuate in order to reflect this.”

HR: “That’s right.”

BOB: “That’s good, I would like the number to reflect what I summarized. How does what I stated impact the offer?” (Bang — right back on the counterpart, but in a completely respectful and even deferential way.)

HR: “It means that I can go work this and put a number in front of you that will make this an easy decision for you. As I said, we want to move quickly. Let me get on this and get this to you as fast as I can.”

Five days later the company tenders an offer that is 41% higher than what Bob assessed might have been offered based on a number of other internal factors.


To sum up what happened:

  1. Neither side tried to “rig” the negotiations with a series of yes-oriented questions.
  2. Bob teased out and confirmed some things he thought were true, but had to confirm his hypotheses in an open manner designed to elicit information without trying to lay a trap. He did it fairly, giving his counterpart opportunity to add or subtract information.
  3. At the final dreaded “he/she who names price first loses” moment, Bob responded with a summary and then an effective pause. Meaning he shut up and respectfully waited for a response. There is only one response to a proper summary — “that’s right”.
  4. Once confirmed, he respectfully shifted the next move back to his counterpart, leaving him feeling in control. The secret to gaining the upper hand in a negotiation is giving the other side the illusion of control.

Five days later. Rain.

Make it rain!


Originally published at blog.blackswanltd.com.

Chris Voss is a negotiation expert, author of forthcoming book Never Split The Difference, speaker, and award-winning business school professor. After 24 years as a FBI hostage negotiator, Chris founded The Black Swan Group, a firm that solves business communication problems with hostage negotiation strategies. For more articles from Chris, subscribe to his complimentary newsletter or follow Chris on Twitter @VossNegotiation.

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