Life Saving Negotiation | Critical negotiations | Mediation | Case Study

Highly persuasive negotiation techniques that allow you to continue the conversation while looking for an agreement are important in a myriad of circumstances. One of the most obvious examples of when highly persuasive techniques are important are when you undertake a life saving negotiation. In his book Don’t Split The Difference Chris Voss teaches negotiation techniques he developed working with the FBI hostage rescue team. I got the chance to apply these techniques in a high stress life critical situation. They worked, and I wanted to share the story and the techniques with you.

The Life Saving Negotiation

When I’m not helping people with their disputes or blogging about mediation I maintain my practice as an Advanced Care Paramedic. This is a story from my practice as a paramedic where my skills as a negotiator made the difference. We were called to a suicidal male with a history of violence who may have overdosed. We arrived with two police officers and the scene was chaotic. The man’s family was yelling at him and at us. The man, who looked to be about 250 pounds of solid muscle, was occasionally shouting back as he sat smoking on his porch.

Two things were immediately clear:

  1. The man did not want to go to the hospital
  2. We did not have the people power at the scene to force him.

I sat down beside him and introduced myself, copying his posture and using a lower and slower than normal voice. Voss calls this voice the Late night DJ voice. By speaking slow and low you force the other party to slow down and to listen.

The man introduced himself and I was sure to use his name soon after he gave it. The man’s family grew more agitated as I sat there. They were yelling at him and you could tell he wanted control of the situation: “I’m not wasting these people’s time. They have other people to help.” Seeing the man’s frustration growing I asked the family to give me some time to talk to the man. I sat down in a chair beside the man and attempted to mirror his posture.

The family left the area and the man said “I’m not going”.

Voss teaches to not disagree when something is said for the first time. By using How Statements you can keep the conversation going and make the other party feel in control.

Not wanting to confront him I replied ”I get that you’re not going. We’ve been called here because you took too many pills. How can I explain to my boss that I didn’t even check you out when you took too many pills?” This statement also used mirroring; I was sure to use his words “not going” so he could hear his own words again.

He thought for a second and then agreed to let us hook up our equipment. This small step was key to opening him up to further agreements. It also allowed us to keep the interaction going.

We continued to build rapport by talking about the situation and his family but not about the disputed element. He was able to express his emotions and he seemed to decompress before my eyes.

I asked “how do you see the night going”

He replied “I don’t want to waste your time. You have other people that need help. The paramedics saved two of my friends. I don’t want to waste your time.”

Voss teaches that in every negotiation there are clues about underlying interests that your other values highly. He calls these interests Black Swans. This statement was our negotiations black swan.

I said “Our rules say we have to stay with you until you go. It will waste more of my time and prevent me from helping more people if you keep this up. I would really appreciate it if you would just come in the ambulance so we can drive you to the hospital and get back out to the community who needs us.”

The man smiled slightly then said “ok, let’s go”

Key Points

While I couldn’t hope to cover the entire scope of Voss’s book in this post some key takeaways to help your next negotiation:

Use the Late Night FM DJ Voice

Speaking in a lower tone forces your other to listen a little closer. The slower cadence in your voice gives your other the time needed to consider what you are saying.

Be a Mirror

Adopting the other party’s posture, language or tone can be a great way to establish an immediate rapport. Just remember you aren’t a mime and it’s not a show. Be discrete.

Use How Statements

People like being smart and in control. Asking them to tell you how you can implement their position with your restrictions can move their position. The key to how statements is that they shift their positions trying to answer your questions.

Start Small

By giving the other party in a negotiation the chance to say yes to something small. You make them more likely to commit to a bigger ask. In this case it was permission to attach our equipment. It is best if the small ask gives you a logical reason to continue the negotiation. Attaching our equipment was both a required step and a great excuse to be in his space interacting with him that was not obviously all about convincing his to do something he had stated he did not want to do. Admittedly, this point is from Cialdini but Cialdini’s techniques fit well with what Voss teaches.

Look for Black Swan’s

Voss teaches that in every negotiation there are clues about underlying interests that your other values highly. He calls these interests Black Swans. Sometimes they are true interests sometimes they are just ideological truths that hold value to the other. In our case the man’s Black Swan was not wasting paramedic time because he had friends whose lives had been saved by paramedics and he wanted to hurt himself not anyone else.

What is Your Life Saving Negotiation Story?

Have you had a life saving negotiation? Have you tried these techniques in a critical negotiation? I would love to hear about it. Let me know in the comments. If you need help building a negotiation strategy feel free to drop me a line to discuss how I may be of service.

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