Chris Voss was the lead international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI, as well as the FBI’s hostage negotiation representative for the National Security Council’s Hostage Working Group. Chris is now CEO and Founder of The Black Swan Group where he teaches negotiation and tactical empathy to thousands of women and men around the world. He is author of the bestselling book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It.
Mindie Kniss: I’m here with Sean today and our very exciting guest. We are so delighted to have this person with us. Both of us are huge fans of this person’s work and we’re just looking forward to getting to know this person a little bit more. In addition to sharing with all of our listeners all the great wisdom and really, really interesting stuff that he will have to share with us. So Chris Voss, welcome to the program.
Chris Voss: Thank you very much, guys, happy to be on with you.
Mindie Kniss: We are happy too. Very first question that we always begin with because this is a show about looking at what the intersection is between wealth and happiness. Sean and I, and probably you too in your business circles, know people who are wealthy, but maybe not so happy and people who are happy, but maybe not so wealthy. So we wanted to look at how you can have both, how you can be both. So for you, Chris, you were a government employee and now you are an entrepreneur business owner. So I’m really interested in this question, but what is your definition of wealth?
Chris Voss: Whew. Wow. All right. Ah, wow. I didn’t know that was going to be that hard of a question. I mean, wealth is… Wealth is happiness. Wealth is contentment. Wealth is, I didn’t even think in terms of wealth. I suppose it’s accomplishing my goals. I mean, you know I’m wealthy if I’m getting about my purpose and enjoying it, getting some stuff done. So yeah, it’s really disassociated from money specifically. Although money ends up becoming a component when you look at it as a means. It’s jet fuel that powers your ability to help people. If that’s a business you’re in. When I was an FBI hostage negotiator, you know, basically I was on salary and I was enormously wealthy because we were doing cool stuff. I was working with great people. I was traveling all over the world. I had made less then than I make now. I think I’m enormously wealthy for different reasons now. I’m working with an awesome team. We hear weekly about helping people change their lives and I get to meet cool and interesting people like you guys. So I’m wealthy now for different reasons.
Sean Stephenson: So moving from the wealth section to the happiness? What makes Chris Voss happy?
Chris Voss: Yeah, helping people. I mean you know, having a positive impact on somebody’s life. I mean, again, on my team we gotta be careful we don’t take it for granted. I mean, we hear every week from somebody that we’ve helped them actually change their lives. One guy that we trained with in San Diego just a couple of weeks ago, with what we taught him, he went back and negotiated a revenue and equity share deal with his company. He said this will change my life. That stuff makes me happy. I enjoy that a lot.
Sean Stephenson: Beautiful.
Mindie Kniss: I have a question for you based on what you just said. You have many, many experiences of helping change people’s lives. Personally, you have helped ruin my life and I’ll tell you why.
Chris Voss: [Laughing]
Mindie Kniss: You have a quote that truly has ruined my life because I think about it all the time and I want to ask you a little bit more to go into depth on it.
Chris Voss: I’m scared now. I’m getting scared.
Sean Stephenson: Like you’ve never ruined a woman’s life. Come on, Chris.
Chris Voss: Hopefully for different reasons than what has been thrown at me in the past.
Mindie Kniss: We’ll see. We’ll see. So you said, “You don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to your highest level of preparation.”
Chris Voss: Ah, right.
Mindie Kniss: And here’s why that ruined my life. I have always thought of myself as someone that can really easily go with the flow. Let’s say I’m on stage and I forget what I’m saying. Well, I can pick up and just roll with it. Let’s say I’m in a conversation. I can talk to people and do what needs to be done to get through whatever it is that I’m going through. And I read that in your book and I thought, you know what? That sucks because you’re right. And I have had to reevaluate all of these different pieces in my past about, you know what? If I had been more prepared, this could have gone better, it might’ve gone okay. And the other people out there might’ve thought, oh, well that was great, but I know it wasn’t great. So can you speak to that concept a little bit and how you got to such clarity because I love that quote? It’s just like bam, punch you in the gut.
Chris Voss: Yeah. Well so first of all, to maybe be able to realize that you could have done things better in the past, you had to have made the mistake. You had to have had it go bad. I mean, when we’re teaching negotiation, a lot of times, we get in this dilemma of the cart before the horse, chicken and egg, what’s first? I can give you answers, but if you don’t know the questions, the answers will blow right by you. And you know, intent. We cause people to intentionally make mistakes when we’re training in negotiation so that when we give them the answer, they appreciate the answers. So, you know, I very definitely believe that our mistakes and our errors of the past, by and large, are preparing us for better achievements in the future. So where did the quote come from?
I mean, I suppose when I did a lot of preparation to become a hostage negotiator. Spent a lot of time on a crisis highlight. So the first time I was live on a phone with somebody, it was a bank robber and a bank, I was prepared. I was ready. I just relied on my training and I didn’t know that was what really gave me the edge at the time. But then I heard a version of this phrase from a Louisiana state trooper and I thought, all right, let’s adjust this phrase just a little bit because it exactly hits the mark. And then you start looking around for it and you see it everywhere. I mean, Michael Jordan did a basketball commercial once explaining why he failed so many times in practice, which is why he succeeded in games. So yeah, you rise to the level of your preparation. So prepare.
Sean Stephenson: Chris, this is a question I feel like you’ve never been asked. So prepare yourself.
Chris Voss: All right, here we go.
Sean Stephenson: When have you lost a negotiation with yourself?
Chris Voss: Yeah, I don’t know of a specific reason. I suppose if I defeat myself in advance and don’t even make the effort, that means I’ve lost the negotiation with myself. If I’m like, ah, it’s a waste of my time and I don’t even bother with it. I came really close to that today actually. I like pens. I mean, if there’s anything I like nice sort of flashy Italian style pens and I bought this pen and it just, it wasn’t quite right, you know, it was sort of an internet-based thing and I thought about just sending it back or just complaining or just keeping it. Doing anything but engaging with the pen company. I mean it came really close to not even engaging with them, but you know, I thought, yeah, that’s stupid.
That violates all of my principles that I teach other people. So, I figured they’re going to give me a hard time. That’s too bad, you know, you bought it online. Or we’re not taking it back, you know, whatever. They were wonderful and I almost defeated myself by not making the call. So I think it probably happens on a regular basis if I think about doing something and for whatever reason I don’t think it will work and I just don’t even try. I probably do it to myself in small ways a lot.
Sean Stephenson: So, from dialoguing with a pen company to the extreme of a human life is on the line… In your career as a hostage negotiator, did you ever lose anybody on your watch and how did you deal with that?
Chris Voss: Oh yeah, people die. The first time I worked a case where somebody died when it was really on my watch and other hostages had gotten killed earlier on in the game on that one. But I hadn’t wrapped my arms around the entirety of the event. And it was the Burnham-Sobero kidnapping in the Philippines. I write about it in the book. Guillermo Sobero was executed by the hostage-takers early on before we even got our arms around that situation at all. And then at the very end, there was a botched rescue attempt by the Philippine Scout Rangers. And two out of three of the remaining hostages were killed by friendly fire. I mean it was the first time people had gotten killed on something I was in charge of. And at the time, selfishly, I took it hard.
You know, in hindsight, it wasn’t a member of my family that died. I got no business talking about that as a low point in my life. It wasn’t my relative, but that’s going to happen. And my boss, Gary Noesner used to always say, we have the best chance of success. We’ll come up with a strategy that gives us the best chance of success. And it was that moment that I realized that meant that we weren’t always going to be successful. Rely upon a process. You can’t bat a thousand, just not going to happen. And so I was determined that we were going to get better afterwards. That was when I ended up going to Harvard Law School and collaborating with those guys as a result. But if you’re a hostage negotiator and you stay in the game, if you’re less than 10 instances in their entirety, it’s a good chance nobody’s going to get killed. And you’re going to think that everything you touch turns to gold. Somewhere in the ballpark of when you start getting into the double digits, something’s gonna go bad and you have to pick yourself up and be determined to get better as a result.
Mindie Kniss: So one of the things we talk about a lot in meetings with our team is that none of this is life or death. You know, cause different team members will get stressed about something that’s not done yet or something that they need to do or whatever. And we’re like, none of this is life or death. But for you, in that capacity, it was literally. So how different is your work now? I mean, does everything just feel easy? Cause we’re like, hey, we’re talking about business now. Like it’s not that big of a deal.
Chris Voss: Yeah. You know, your biggest problem is your biggest problem. Right? You know regardless of what your circumstance is, Oh my God, my Lyft driver is late. It’s horrible. I’m going to be late to the party.
Mindie Kniss: Right.
Sean Stephenson: This Italian pen is not working!
Chris Voss: My Italian pen is not working. Right? Yeah. As human beings, we do that to ourselves. And we act like stuff and which is one of the reasons why, you know, the emotional intelligence of hostage negotiators applies to everyday life. Cause that’s how we’re wired as human beings. And I do get mad at myself every now and then for being disappointed. I got no business being disappointed in anything. Before the book came out, I can remember, I used to just think just one thing could go right this week, just one thing. And now the book has gotten a great reception and we’re making our choices among good things. Or the mere fact that we’re in the United States at all.
Mindie Kniss: Yes.
Chris Voss: When I came back from my second trip to Iraq, not long after that, a woman that had put together a meeting for us that I attended, I found out was kidnapped, mutilated and murdered. And I was back here and somebody was explaining their problems to me and how difficult it was. And I remember saying to him, here’s what happened to somebody I was with last week. Now tell me what your problems are.
Mindie Kniss: Right?!
Chris Voss: So, by and large in the United States, there are some neighborhoods, some of the tougher neighborhoods of South Central LA, you got a legitimate concern about whether or not you’re going to get from the front door to the sidewalk. But if you’re not really worried about making it from the front door to the sidewalk, you’ve got it pretty good, you’ve got a charmed life to begin with.
Sean Stephenson: Chris, you didn’t mention this anywhere in your book and I couldn’t find it anywhere in any of your interviews.
Mindie Kniss: And believe me, he has watched them all… Everything!
Sean Stephenson: Yes. You never mentioned in a hostage negotiation… Did you ever have a moment with the hostage-taker where you made them laugh?
Chris Voss: Interesting question. I don’t recall a moment where we made them laugh. No, no, probably not. What makes you ask?
Sean Stephenson: Because I know how comedy can diffuse tension and so much of your training is about diffusing the tension so they make better choices. Right?
Chris Voss: Right. Right.
Sean Stephenson: And so I was wondering… I’m sarcastic by nature because it releases the tension around me and within me and I thought, has it ever happened in a hostage negotiator where he says to the guy, you know…
Mindie Kniss: I think that would be the way you would do it.
Sean Stephenson: Yeah, that’s how I would do it! I’d be like so are you wanting to get pizza after this or what?
Chris Voss: [Laughing]
Sean Stephenson: Or just see what would happen because I feel like it would possibly fry their brain, but I wouldn’t know if it would possibly piss them off. Like are you really clowning around with me? But I’m just curious if in all those years you ever remembered laughing on the phone in those scenarios?
Chris Voss: You know, not with the bad guys. And I’m just searching my mind too if I know of any of the guys that I work with ever ended up laughing with the bad guys either. I don’t think so.
Sean Stephenson: So we want to go deeper on Chris Voss’s reality and how you’ve constructed the life that you have. And we have this awesome question that we ask everybody about. What are you curious about? Like what do you love studying that no matter how much you learn, you want to learn more about it? If you could list off 5-10 things that you are very curious about.
Chris Voss: I’m interested in human potential and health potential and mental potential. I mean, as soon as you start looking at it, there’s some crazy stuff out there, you know, Joe Dispenza, the stuff that he talks about and his stuff, when you dive into it, it seems wacky, but then you see echoes of it in everybody that’s studying human potential and what we’re capable of as human beings is astonishing and how things work. And then you find stuff that if you tell other people about it, who don’t have an inkling, like the fact that time passes at a different rate where the satellites are versus on the surface of the earth, and they have to recalibrate that or GPSs would be off by six miles every day. I mean, I thought time was a constant. I thought Einstein’s theory of relativity screwing around with time, it was just, you know, Marvel comic book stuff. And then not only do we know it’s there, we don’t know how it works. But we have to recalibrate our satellites so that I could get to the right house on my GPS. The stuff that’s out there to learn about is astonishing. And all of that I’m very curious about learning more about it.
Mindie Kniss: That’s awesome. Do you ever feel, in your work, like you have to turn off your negotiator? I know that as speakers and coaches, that’s just who we are. And if somebody comes into contact with us and maybe doesn’t want to be coached, it’s hard for them.
Sean Stephenson: They shouldn’t come into contact with us.
Mindie Kniss: Right. It’s very difficult for us to just turn that off and you know, act like a regular person. Do you ever feel like you need to turn off the negotiator in you? Or is it just like, Hey, it’s who I am?
Chris Voss: Well, it’s not that I turn it on or off, it’s, do I have the energy for it at the moment? That begs sort of an interesting question. It’s your definition of negotiation. To me, it’s about having a better relationship with somebody. So if that’s my definition, then if I think I gotta turn it off, then somehow something’s wrong with my definition. Who do I not want to have a better relationship with? About genuinely understanding somebody and genuinely just having great rapport, understanding, feel like we’re close, feel like we belong on a planet together. So no, I don’t think I should turn it off. I don’t think I should ever have to. And I will tell you that there have been significant others that have not seen it that way.
Mindie Kniss: [Laughing] I can imagine. Now you bring up a point when you were answering that, and I want to get into this concept because your work, your book, when we read it, it was so revolutionary and you talk about a lot of previous negotiating skills and teachings that had been out there that maybe don’t necessarily work or work as well in the real world. And one of the things that Sean said was comparing your work to when there’s a college professor that talks in theory versus somebody who speaks from actual experience. It’s a very sometimes different situation, whether it’s business, negotiation, whatever it may be. So you, I feel like transformed this whole concept of negotiation, at least in our minds. Like it’s not, I won and you lost in this negotiation. That almost seems like a fairy tale way of doing it. Like, oh, we’re all going to feel great about this. But yet we have seen recently in some dealings that we’ve had, you’re exactly right. It works.
Chris Voss: Well, first of all, thank you for the kind remarks. I’m very hesitant to use the word proud, but I’m very proud of the book for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is a team effort. You know, myself, my son, he’s not credited on the book, but he might as well be an uncredited coauthor, and Tahl Raz, our co-writer is a genius writer, absolute genius writer. Tahl is so smart, it’s scary. So it is theoretically it’s win-win, but you know, it’s all this, it’s emotional. It’s ethereal, ephemeral, and I’m not sure exactly the proper word to capture it, but you know, if you can find what resonates with people on a human nature level and what people will do is astonishing.
Having gotten nothing out of it. Somewhere in the South of the United States, they recently finished assembling a Hindu temple by hand with hand-carved stones by volunteers. Same way the Hindu temples were assembled a thousand years ago. And these people did it happily. I mean, delighted to work for years. You know, work for a lifetime for no compensation because what they got out of it emotionally. If you can nail what somebody gets out of something emotionally, we can live happily under poverty circumstances or we can be miserable under high net worth circumstances. So you begin to change your definition of wealth, you change your definition of compensation. And in point of fact, I don’t want anybody to feel like they lost if they dealt with us cause they’re not gonna want to deal with us again.
Sean Stephenson: Chris, you and I share a personality trait or a worldview maybe, I don’t know what you would call it. But you talk about it in the book, and I’ve heard you talk about it in other interviews that when some personality types are not immediately communicated with, they automatically assume that person must be mad at them.
Chris Voss: Ah!
Sean Stephenson: And I know that I’m built that way. And it sounds like based on what you responded, that you can be that way. Where if you haven’t heard back, or let’s say you send somebody a text and it’s been a couple of days or couple hours, whatever the time may be that passes, and you think, well, there’s no other way around it. They must be mad at me.
Mindie Kniss: Or there’s just silence.
Sean Stephenson: Right. Just silence in a conversation. Where does that mentality come from and is it a mentality that’s holding us back?
Chris Voss: Well, how many mentalities don’t hold us back when we take it and when we examine it, right? Yeah, there’s a laundry list there. But it partially comes from if we’re the type of person who giving someone the silent treatment is a harsh thing. It’s a little bit of what people would call projection bias. You know, if I go silent when I’m angry, then that’s going to be one of my first interpretations of silence from the other side. Or if, and this happens a lot, it happened once when I was working with Tahl on the book cause Tahl is a ridiculously analytical guy. I mean he’s a thinker. I mean he’s got a great big giant brain. He goes up inside his brain and he spends a lot of time there and I sent him an email when we’re working on the book and I expected an answer, you know, I was wanting an answer and, as I recall, it may have been something I might’ve wanted to change some wording in the book, but you gotta be careful with writers. I mean, you start changing words, that’s their baby. They get upset. And I sent him the email and he doesn’t get back to me. And after about four days, I’m like, Oh my God. Oh my God, Tahl is furious. I really hurt his feelings. You know, he’s angry, he’s upset. So I texted him, I reached out to him. I get him on the phone. He’s on vacation with his family in Long Island. And he’s like, No, I’m not upset, I’m on vacation. He said you sound really concerned. What are you worried about? How are you so bent out of shape? I go, yeah, I didn’t hear from you for four days, you know, dead silence. I’m worried about how you reacted. He goes, yeah, you know, it’s the same thing my wife’s been giving me a hard time about the last few days too. I’m like well, okay, if several of us are thinking you’re angry when you’re just not thinking at all, you know, maybe that’s a hint that you should respond a little quicker.
Sean Stephenson: So is that trait something that is not going away anytime soon?
Chris Voss: No, as you and I talked about this the other day, the amygdala is 75% negative. You know, our initial reaction is going to be on almost anything, if we don’t watch it, to do a negative interpretation. We’re wired to be like that. And unless we’re intentionally working to empower and overcome that, when we go back on default mode, we’re going to be negative.
Mindie Kniss: Yeah. I think it also has to do with your family background and the norms that you grew up with. For instance, Sean’s family was very loud, very boisterous. Mine was not, we were very quiet. So to me, quiet is normal. And for him he’d be like, are you mad at me? What’s going on? Why are you not saying anything? I’m like, I didn’t know I needed to say anything.
Sean Stephenson: The first week that she moved to the same city that I was, we were driving through Chicago…
Mindie Kniss: That’s what I was just thinking of.
Sean Stephenson: And she was quiet, Chris, and I thought, that’s it. She’s dumping me. We’re breaking up. This is over. I knew it was too good to be true. And then I’m like, you’re mad at me. And she’s like what are you talking about? I’m like, you’re silent. She’s like, I like silence.
Mindie Kniss: Like it was the norm to me.
Chris Voss: Well, and I’m sure at the time you were thinking about what a wonderful guy he was and how lucky you were, and all these wonderful thoughts, right?
Mindie Kniss: Yeah, exactly. It was only one week in, so yes.
Chris Voss: [Laughing]
Sean Stephenson: That’s true. That’s how long it lasted. That one week. Exactly.
Chris Voss: Yeah. Chris Rock says, you know, the first six months you’re dating their representative, right?
Mindie Kniss: Right! It is so true.
Sean Stephenson: It is so true. Until the veil drops.
Mindie Kniss: Yes. Then you get to the reality of life and people, which is great. What’s cool is in hostage negotiation, I think that that has to drop so fast. You just have to drop into like truth, emotion, human connection, all of these things really, really quickly.
Chris Voss: Yeah. Well, that’s the idea. And actually, if do you that, it doesn’t take that long. We kind of get caught up in our own head, but hostage negotiators dial into people really fast. It’s the same way it was when I was on a suicide hotline, a crisis hotline to be technically accurate, in New York. I mean, they told us, no matter how complicated the problem was, if we were doing our job on a hotline, we were going to be done in 20 minutes or less. And like if you’re uncluttered, if your head is clear and you’re fully dialing in to the other person and of course they’re communicating with you, they’re not intentionally obstructing you, you’ll dial in to them really fast.
Mindie Kniss: So, Chris, I have a question for you. You talked in your book about women as negotiators and how they often have good skill as a negotiator. And I wonder if you could speak to, because if women have the same or maybe different abilities in negotiation as men, but I haven’t seen that necessarily translate to things like equality of pay and all of that stuff. Like what’s happening there? Are women just not utilizing that negotiating skill that they might have a little more inherently? Or what do you see happening there?
Chris Voss: Wow, that’s a lot. Well, women, we’ve got a fair amount of… If we were to do a qualitative study on it, on our data, our data shows us pretty regularly that women pick this up faster than men do. So first off is are they exposed to it or do they want to learn about it? Like one thing that I’ve found enormously frustrating, if I speak to a group of 300 people and it’s a mixed crowd, men and women, as a general rule 10 to 20% are going to walk out with a book. Conversion rates are very high. 300 women only, the conversion rates are always much lower.
Mindie Kniss: Really?
Chris Voss: Same day I spoke to two different groups. One was mixed. When I did my Google talk I had a bookseller there and we took 30 books. There were 200 people in a room and we moved all 30 and the bookseller said we could’ve gone through 60. I mean, the demand was there. We had a long line when we ran out. Later the same day I did a talk, same number of women. They only took 15 books. I’m at an all women’s negotiation conference. The conference paid for books for everybody. Nothing but women, probably 300 to 400 women in a group. They had the books stacked. All they had to do was pick the book off of the table as they walked out the door. Fully half of the books, which were free, were just left there. Now I can’t explain completely, I could speculate on some reasons why, but it’s unmistakable in our data that they’re less likely to buy the books. But then the flip side is a woman who does buy the book, how much more valuable is she as a client?
She’s probably an ass-kicker. She’s a badass. She appreciates how to get better. The women that come for one-day training sessions… They’re open enrollment, we got no control over who comes. The women are a minority in the room. Everybody in the room is an ass-kicker. So women or men, it doesn’t make any difference. Women have a tendency to volunteer for our role plays quicker than men do. You know, so what all is behind the demographic? I’ve had women speculate to me that negotiation, the aura, the mystique of it is it’s win/lose. You know, basically Donald Trump is a great negotiator and not that many women want to be Donald Trump. So it depends upon what the perception of being a negotiator is. If the perception of being a negotiator, my view is being Oprah Winfrey. And if that got out… The last thing in the world that Oprah would bill herself as is a negotiator.
Mindie Kniss: True.
Chris Voss: If you asked her, she probably wouldn’t want to say she was a negotiator. She’s gotta be the best negotiator on the planet. She started with 10 times less than Donald Trump started with. And she’s got more than he’s got. You know, he wishes he had her money. And her success and her global influence. So it’s a little bit of what’s the perception of it and how does that impact as we move forward in the world and women have a better impact on business, where we’re going and what business is going to be.
Mindie Kniss: Yeah. Well, just more reason for us to keep promoting your work and promoting your book because I think that’s so important. That just blows my mind to hear that they wouldn’t even pick up a free book.
Chris Voss: Mine too. I want to run after them.
Mindie Kniss: Don’t you want this?
Sean Stephenson: Chris, we want to know what makes up your reality and we have a question we ask everybody that comes through this program. And it’s important because the listener can then understand how they can create a life with the success and the dreams that you’ve created that’s catered to them. It’s based on an acronym called HERB. And I’ll take you through each of them asking you one at a time. The H stands for habits. What are some of the habits that you have, either personally or professionally, that have created the life that you have today?
Chris Voss: Well, gratitude habits make everything better across the board. They make me smarter. They make me more capable, while simultaneously making me enjoy it more along the way. I learn more. I see more, I pick up more. It’s an upward spiral. So gratitude habits, which I have to make… I have to work at to remember, cause it gets so busy. I’ll forget to take the time out to do certain things. I’m a hard worker and I’m a learner and I enjoy helping people get better. You can succeed without being a learner, but you gotta be an extra hard worker to make up for it. I think if you put hard work and coachability, or openness to learning, the ability to learn, then that’s a huge advantage because so many people are not willing to learn. Or they only want to learn by experience. You know, who’s gonna say they don’t want to learn. How do you want to learn? If you only learn by experience, you’re not very smart.
Sean Stephenson: Gotcha. So that moves from the H to the E, and E stands for environment. What are some things that you need in your environment and what are the things that you keep out of your environment? And by environment, I mean your mind, your home, your office, your vehicles, whatever it may be. How do you keep your environment? What comes in? What’s not allowed to come in?
Chris Voss: Well, I need music. I have found since I’ve been in Southern California the last couple of years, the more sunshine I get, the happier I am. So yeah. I’m a flower. You know, I need sunshine. I’m a flower. I’m a delicate flower. Music has got me through a lot for a long time and it still will for a long time. So yeah, I need music. I gotta keep negativity out. I intentionally avoid negative people. I intentionally cut them out of my life, people that want to be argumentative. I’ll unfriend you on Facebook. I will stop returning your phone calls. I will stop engaging in your nonsense. I don’t like complainers. Any sort of negativity whatsoever. I make a significant attempt to keep it out of my life.
Sean Stephenson: From Environment to the R that stands for resources. What are some of the books, courses, programs that really helped to develop your success and your mindset?
Chris Voss: Yeah, a couple of authors I’m a huge fan of… I like Steven Kotler’s stuff. He’s got some books he’s collaborated on and he’s got some books that he’s written himself. I prefer the ones that have just his name on it. The others are good, but I like Steven’s voice and he’s very much into human performance and he’s an interesting cat to boot. I like Daniel Coyle’s stuff. Coyle’s both The Talent Code and The Culture Code. Readable smart stuff, those have had a significant impact. Eric Barker has a great blog called Barking Up The Wrong Tree and he’s got a book by the same name. Eric is fascinated with what he calls the science of success, whether it’s practical or… He wants to know what works, which means a lot of stuff that people say is successful doesn’t work. He distills information really well. So I enjoy learning from him. And if somebody refers a book to me, I’ll take a hard look at it. Our mutual friend Joe Polish, I’d find out what Joe was reading and ask him about it cause he’s a wonderful resource of knowledge and ideas and information. Whatever Joe’s interested in is gonna be interesting. So I like being associated with him.
Mindie Kniss: Is there one book that is, other than your own cause that’s pretty much become our top reference right now. It’s like you haven’t read Never Split the Difference?? You have to go get it right now. Is there one book that you find maybe you refer out more than others?
Chris Voss: There’s three that I think I kind of get referred over and over the most. And it would be Kotler’s book, The Rise of Superman, Coyle’s book, The Talent Code, and Eric Barker’s book, Barking Up the Wrong Tree.
Mindie Kniss: Cool. That will go on our reading list.
Sean Stephenson: So this rounds out this acronym. The B stands for beliefs. What are some core beliefs that you have about human nature or about reality or your existence or maybe just about business? What are some beliefs that bubble up when I ask you to share some of your beliefs?
Chris Voss: That people are basically good. We’ve got some negativity wired over us, we’ve got some fear-driven stuff, but people are basically good. Somewhere no less than two thirds, more like three-quarters of the people you run across are not going to try and cheat you. That still leaves a relatively significant percentage of people that are going to try and cheat you. But they’re 25%, a third max. And that was why when I called this pen company, I mean the odds are that it’s going to be somebody on the other side that’s going to be wonderful and delightful and is probably going to help me. So people are basically good. The world, the universe is really is on our side. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t have survived, we wouldn’t have made it. So by and large, the universe is rooting for us, pulling for us, you know, giving us a break. So it’s basically an abundant world. We just have to be careful that, you know, our natural negativity wiring doesn’t override that and screw it up. And there’s something much bigger beyond this planet, however you define it, science is backing that up more and more all the time.
Sean Stephenson: So moving from beliefs to stress management, stress reduction. As a hostage negotiator, you are trained to take them through a process to get the hostages free and safe, and you still have a biology. You still have a sympathetic nervous system. You still have adrenaline. What are some of the things that you have learned that you could share with our listener to really calm the body under times of serious pressure?
Chris Voss: Well, yeah. What are the hacks? Right? You know, genuine curiosity is a ridiculous hack. I mean, it puts you in a whole nother mindset where, for whatever reason, what you’re stressed about kinda goes away. So dependent upon the mood, which one I may need to rely on, whether or not I gotta be genuinely curious or if I’m in the middle of something and I know the process I’ve got is going to work, if I get bent out of shape, I just rely on a process. Gratitude is a hack. Reminding yourself that by and large you’re in pretty good shape and almost all your problems are first world problems. Nobody in my family got killed today, nor are they likely to get killed tomorrow. So absent those issues, I live in a pretty blessed life and most of the rest of it is relative.
Mindie Kniss: I think that’s super helpful to keep in mind constantly, consistently. Chris, you have so many things going on. You’re doing trainings. You have your book that’s been wildly successful. You have a weekly blog that comes out, all these different things, speaking engagements. And I want to know what’s next for you on the horizon?
Chris Voss: We’re going to get more active globally. We’re going to figure out how to… You know, the book’s in 30 countries. We’re going to crack the code to either doing our own training sessions internationally or an idea I just got exposed to recently was about simulcasts but doing them really well. So we gotta go global. And there’s a few people living in Scottsdale we gotta get to cooperate with us and collaborate with us a little bit more. We got to figure that out.
Sean Stephenson: It’s gonna be a tough sell. It’s going to be a tough sell.
Mindie Kniss: For those of you listening, we are working with Chris to train our whole team, which we’re very, very excited about.
Sean Stephenson: Chris, have you ever been optioned to have your life be a movie or television series?
Chris Voss: Yeah, well that stuff goes and comes, I mean Hollywood is just this marshmallow candy, cotton candy nonsensical place so it’s gone and come a couple of times, and it’ll probably come up again. I think I’ve recently run across someone who can actually deliver. I mean, the amount of wasted time in the energy Hollywood in the entertainment industry astounds me.
Sean Stephenson: We’ve had that.
Mindie Kniss: Yeah, we’ve been through that.
Chris Voss: I don’t want to think that there are any dumber than anybody else is, but my evidence is not that they’re terribly smart.
Mindie Kniss: That is awesome. Now, if our listeners are interested in learning more about you, we highly recommend everybody right now, go to Amazon, get the book Never Split the Difference. It was amazing.
Sean Stephenson: Get 10 copies.
Mindie Kniss: Get a million copies. We actually have sent it to…
Sean Stephenson: All of our members.
Mindie Kniss: People in our membership.
Chris Voss: Wow. Thank you.
Mindie Kniss: We read it as a team. We are huge promoters of this because we believe in it, because… And I don’t really rate five stars on GoodReads very often, but I did for this one.
Chris Voss: Wow, thank you!
Mindie Kniss: Other than the book, Chris, where can our listeners learn more about you and what you’re up to?
Chris Voss: Yeah, we’ve got a newsletter that comes out once a week. It’s short and sweet. It’s just got one article in it. You know some newsletters, you get seven articles. By the time you decide which one to read, you’re exhausted, right? So it comes out on Tuesday mornings. It’s short and sweet. Plus it’s a gateway to everything we have. We’ve got training announcements. It’s a gateway to a lot of free content. We put a lot of free stuff out, the newsletter is free. There’s some stuff we charge for and we are not cheap. We are expensive. So you want to take advantage of the free stuff when you can. So the simplest way to subscribe to the newsletter and the text to sign up function only works inside the United States, but send a text to the number 22828, the message you send is FBIempathy. All one word. Don’t let your spellcheck put a space between FBI and empathy. Shoot that out. You get a dialog box back and you’ll get a concise, actionable article every Tuesday morning. Plus information about the rest of our programs and content that we have.
Mindie Kniss: Perfect, and we will put all of that in the show notes as well. Thank you to all of you who are listening. We appreciate you and, Chris, thank you so much for your time, for your wisdom, for your experience, and for sharing with us and our listeners. We totally appreciate you.
Chris Voss: My pleasure.
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