Chris Voss is a former hostage negotiator. If there’s a job that leaves people in awe, it’s this one. And if there’s a job that commands attention and respect and gets you into places unavailable to other people, it’s this one. And – let’s be honest – it’s probably why you’re reading right now. I don’t blame you.

Here’s how we can get what we want from people, according to a former hostage negotiator:

1) Ask “how” questions

“How” questions are killer questions because they shift the entire burden of the situation to the other person, or the other team. In a hostage negotiation, when the person with the hostages asks for something, the one question that always stops them in their tracks – especially when asked in a close-to-soothing voice – is this:

“How am I supposed to do that?”

You see? The burden is completely back on them.

Also, it empowers people, and gives them a chance to prove how smart they are. Who doesn’t get sucked in by that?

2) We’re not logical creatures

We wish we were – and we have a tendency to think other people are completely and utterly logical – but we’re not. In fact, it’s closer to the opposite. We make pretty much every single decision based on what we care about, what’s important to us, and so pretty much every single decision we make is an emotion-based decision. If this annoys you, or frustrates you, then thank you for proving the point.

3) Appeal to self-interest

It’s just like Robert Green wrote in the 48 Laws of Power: “when asking for help, appeal to people’s self-interest, never to their mercy or gratitude.”

The person on the other side, the person you want something from – they’re going to be thinking about what’s in it for them. What’s in it for them is much more important than helping you. They want to help themselves, not you.

Tell them what the benefits will be to them, and be generous enough to leave yourself out of the equation – and then, ironically, you’ll be more likely to get what you want.

4) Understand the three types of negotiator (or communicator)

The Analyst is patient, because they think the negotiations will take longer than expected. The Assertive is impatient, because time is money. The Accommodator is more interested in building a relationship than necessarily getting any kind of deal done.

What you need to do is take a step back and understand which kind of negotiator (or communicator) you’re dealing with. That way, you can adjust. And it’s quite likely you’ll need to adjust – there are only three types of negotiator, which means that two thirds of the people you encounter will be different from you.

The good news is that being a little more patient, being a little more assertive, and being a little more friendly – these are all choices.

5) Label things

For example, labelling something means saying something like “it seems like you’re concerned about this”, or “it seems like I’ve been overly harsh”, or even proactively labelling and saying something like “this is probably going to sound harsh, but…”.

All three types of negotiator (or communicator) like labels – though perhaps not consciously – because it bring their guards down. It makes things ok to talk about. It gives them permission to release their feelings rather than harbour them. And trying to talk to a person – let alone negotiate with them – if they’re harbouring bad feelings towards you is… well, I think you know exactly how it is.

6) The most powerful people use pronouns like “we”, not “I”

They do this because they want to hide how much power and influence they really have. And they want to hide these things because they know everybody in a negotiation wants to get past the blockers, past the people who have only a small amount of – if any – power and influence, and they want to speak to the real decision makers.

But real decision makers don’t want to be cornered at the table. They want flexibility, options. They don’t want to have to agree to anything on the spot.

The more someone uses “I”, the less power and influence they have. @Matt_Hearnden (Click to Tweet!)

They’re probably just trying to prove something – to you, maybe, but probably to themselves.

7) Listen for emotions

A lot of us think we’re good actors, but most of us aren’t. And that means it’s harder for us to hide our emotions than we think it is. Listen to what someone is saying, of course – but listen to how they’re saying it too. Are they just saying it? Or is it obviously important to them? Does it really matter to them? Once you recognise this in someone, that’s when you can pull on that thread, and use it to your advantage – because now you know what’s important to them.

Everyone’s emotional about something – even if it’s about not wanting to appear emotional.

8) Mirror every position someone takes (to see how important it is to them)

Mirroring usually involves repeating the last one to three words of what someone has just said – either that, or the three most important words in all of what they’ve just said, if you want to show off. This is a fascinating thing to do because you’ll be able to see how important the position a person’s just taken really is to them. Is it actually important to them – or are they just kind of saying it? Does it really matter – or are they just saying it like it should matter?

This is valuable information because you can disregard what isn’t important to them and hone it on what is – and remember, people make decisions based on what they care about. If they know you care about what they care about, or have at least understood what they care about, isn’t it more likely you’ll be able to get what you want from them?

9) “Never be mean to someone who can hurt you by doing nothing.”

There’s probably no kind of interaction where someone couldn’t help you if they genuinely liked you enough to help you. So why be mean to anyone? What’s the point? What would it gain you? Nothing. Nothing at all.

There’s no excuse for hurting someone. And if you can’t live by that, if you can’t put other people first, then put yourself first. Hurting them is only going to hurt you. And I know you don’t want to hurt yourself.

What else is in Chris’ interview on The Art of Charm podcast:

  • Why you should never lie to a terrorist
  • The story of the calmest bank robber ever
  • Why it’s important to recognise and understand someone’s “religion”

Matt Hearnden is a writer from the UK. He mostly tells stories only he can tell. He blogs twice a week at just self-published his first book:42. Matt writes every day because he loves it and because it stops him watching Netflix. And, probably more importantly, he plays basketball and has lots of tattoos. You can find him on Twitter, IG & Quora.

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