Salary Negotiation Tips From the FBI

Thankfully, most of us never have to worry about saving lives when we go into a negotiation. At most, we're hoping to score a little bit more money, and maybe some paid vacation.

phone call 

(Photo Credit: Michael Horstmann/Flickr)

But as a recent Fast Company article points out, there's a lot we can learn from professional hostage negotiators when it comes to getting what we want out of work. Writer Drake Baer examined the techniques of Chris Voss, once the FBI's chief international kidnapping negotiator to see what advice we can glean from his techniques.

Seem like a stretch?

"The idea of a durable agreement is the same in kidnapping as [it is] in business," Voss said, in a recent Forbes interview, "only it's a life-and-death issue."

Voss says that the FBI uses a system called Behavioral Change Stairway Model. Its steps are:

1. Listen actively: Listen to them -- and make sure they know you're listening.

Active listening means just that: listening without waiting for your turn to speak, without forming a counterargument in your head, without paying attention to anything else but what the speaker is saying. 

In the context of a salary negotiation, that means not cutting off the interviewer because you don't like the trend of the conversation, or want your chance to make your argument. Listen with total attention. You might learn, for example, that the company doesn't have the budget for more pay -- but can offer other benefits, such as additional vacation time, that might work for you.

2. Empathize: Understand where they're coming from.

While you're actively listening, try to put yourself in the interviewer's shoes. Chances are, he or she doesn't enjoy being the bearer of bad news (if, in fact, bad news is coming). 

3. Establish rapport: When they return the feeling of empathy -- and trust -- your way.

Without sucking up -- or claiming to like sports teams and hobbies you don't care for -- look for similarities between you and your interviewer. People like people who are like them, and sometimes, they give those folks more money.

4. Influence: With trust established, you can work on solving the problem together.

Your ultimate goal in a salary negotiation is to get more money, of course, but in addition to that, you're trying to solve a problem with another person: the problem of getting you the compensation that will make you feel appreciated for your work. Once you have established trust, you can work on that problem together. 

5. Change behavior: Then act -- positively.

Hopefully, by this stage, you'll have built a relationship with your boss or interviewer that's cooperative, not combative, trusting, not fearful, and generally constructive. That's how negotiations conclude with both parties getting what they want and feeling good about it. 

The problem with negotiations of all kinds, Voss says, is that most people skip to Step No. 4. They think they're joining forces to solve a problem, but in fact, they just look bossy -- especially inappropriate, in the context of an interview for a job they don't even have yet.

Unsurprisingly, the major problem is that most people don't listen. The good news is that listening is a skill, and one you can develop every day by practicing.

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