FBI Negotiating Tips You Can Use to Win More Clients

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Negotiation is a much-needed skill when you're an artisan contractor. Whether it's materials suppliers, vendors, or even employees, you may feel like you spend all day negotiating.

But nowhere do your negotiation skills get used more than with clients.

If you want to hone your client negotiation skills, there's no better teacher than Chris Voss. Voss is a former FBI hostage negotiator, award-winning business school teacher, and author of Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It.

We've taken a few of Voss' tricks and tips to help you negotiate more effectively with your clients.


Mirroring is simply imitation - a neurobehavior humans display in which we copy each other to comfort each other. If you've ever adopted the posture or body behavior of someone else (it happens quite often in job interview situations), then you've experienced mirroring.

Mirroring can be done with speech patterns, body language, vocabulary, tempo, and tone of voice.

Mirroring is an unconscious behavior that signals bonding between people and establishes trust.

For the FBI, mirroring is simple: repeat the last 3 words -- or most critical 1 to 3 words -- someone has just said.

"Mirrors work magic," says Voss.

Tactical Empathy

Emotions more often than not play a role in client negotiations. Frustration, disappointment, distrust, anger, or worry could all surface in the midst of a deal.

When you see emotions start to surface as you talk to a client, don't shy away from them.

Label them.

This is a technique Voss calls "tactical empathy."

You can deploy tactical empathy by recognizing the emotions and, putting them into words, and calmly repeating them back to your client.

  • "It looks like you're frustrated about the current timeline for the project."
  • "It seems as if you're worried the remodel won't be done before your big holiday party."
  • "It sounds like you're disappointed about your last experience using a contractor."

Labeling fears can help defuse a tense situation and help you find common ground.
Creating empathetic relationships is the basis for healthy human interaction. People want to be understood: labeling emotions with tactical empathy can help you do just that.

"That's Right"

You may think the ultimate word in negotiating is "yes", but as Voss and other negotiating experts will tell you, yes is never the final goal.

Your goal is getting clients to stop viewing you as an adversary to fight against and to get them agreeing with you.

According to Voss, the sweetest two words you'll hear in any negotiation are:

"That's right."

"When your adversaries say, 'That's right,' they feel they have assessed what you've said and pronounced it as correct of their own free will," Voss writes in Never Split the Difference. "They embrace it as their own free will."

So how do you get your client to start agreeing with you?

Summarize what your client is saying (mirroring) and feeling (labeling). Then sit back quietly and wait for it.

If your client feels like you understand what they are saying and feeling, they will reward you with a "That's right."

These two words are far more indicative that you and your client are on the path towards an agreement than any other words, including "yes."

Get to How

Another magic word to keep in your negotiating toolbox is the word "how."

"How" can allow you to subtly say "no" or object to a client without appearing contrary.

As in: "How would you suggest I complete the work in that timeline?"

Asking "how" questions gives your client the illusion of control--and forces them to find solutions to the very problems they're creating.

Tip: "What" can also be used in these situations, as in "What do you suggest," or "What do you see," etc.

"How" not only gives your clients the illusion of control in a negotiation--it can also help you determine if a client's "yes" is real or counterfeit.

Some clients may be saying "yes" in order to close the conversation. Or they may be enthusiastic about the idea of working with you but lack the resources to get started.

Asking "how" questions that lead your client to specify the implementation details or what to do if the project goes off track, something they'll only do if they are really serious about closing the deal.

  • How would you like to sign the contract?
  • How would you like to start the project?
  • What should we do if this situation arises?
  • What do you see as our biggest challenge here?

Negotiate Like an FBI Expert and Build Your Business

The better your negotiation skills, the better you can build and grow your business as an artisan contractor. Your negotiation skills could help you close more deals, get better terms for contracts, save money on materials, and keep employees and clients happy and satisfied.

Negotiating isn't the art of "winning" or a clever trick. It's the art of building trust and relationships with the people you do business with every day.

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