What Can an FBI Negotiator Teach You About Your Sales Pitch?

Giulia Imperatrice
Feb 24 · 2 min read
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Chip Massey from When and How Agency explains a potential hostage scenario

What do startup founders and FBI Agents have in common? They need to be able to master the skills of a successful negotiation. You’re sitting across from someone you barely know, asking them to trust you in an incredibly high-stakes situation. So, what should you do?

Simple — just listen.

“As long as they’re talking, I feel good,” former FBI top negotiator Chip Massey told a training session for the NUMA Spring 2020 Cohort, “I only get nervous when they’re not talking!” Massey’s approach to business negotiation is the same as the one he employed when he was negotiating with bank robbers, bridge jumpers, and in other life-or-death situations; he focuses on empathy and active listening.

By asking open ended questions and allowing the other person to fully respond, you can start to build a rapport with each other as well as find a window in the brain of the investor. After all, you’re starting at a disadvantage because the investor knows exactly why you’re here and what you want… But why are they here? What do they want?

“Never let an emotion go by,” offers Massey. Taking note of the tone and delivery of a person’s speech can tell you just as much — if not more — than their body language. By understanding their position, you’re able to negotiate from a position of strength. Even the slightest pause, or tonal shift can end up making a big difference in getting the deal you want.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to how well you’re listening. Empathetic, active listening allows you to make a connection with your potential client or investor in a way that a bag of linguistic tricks never could.

So the next time you go to make your pitch, remember — what you say might not be as important as how you hear!

Chip Massey is a Former FBI Hostage Negotiator and Partner at the When and How Agency.

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