Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

I’m fortunate enough to not need to deal face-to-face with bank robbers, kidnappers, and terrorists, unlike former FBI negotiator Chris Voss. However, as a real estate developer and entrepreneur, my job does involve a fair bit of deal-making. So I’m grateful for Voss’s excellent advice on the topic, which applies whether you’re negotiating with a client, employer, landlord, or anyone else. According to Voss, it all comes down to two words: 

“That’s Right.”

Someone less experienced might assume (understandably) that in a negotiation, you want the person across from you to say “You’re right.” But Voss, who previously acted as the FBI’s lead international kidnapping investigator, has an interesting theory on this. According to him, “You’re right” is a statement you use when you want someone to leave you alone, but it doesn’t mean you agree with that person’s position.

On the other hand, when someone says to you, “That’s right,” you know they grasp what you’ve said and where you’re coming from. The power of reaching that understanding, Voss says, is “revelatory in the art of negotiating.”

“When your adversaries say, ‘That’s right,’” Voss writes in his book, Never Split the Difference, then “they feel they have assessed what you’ve said and pronounced it as correct of their own free will. They embrace it.” And they’ve accepted your position without feeling like they’ve been forced to sacrifice their own.

This hearkens back to another one of Voss’s observations: “[E]very person you deal with, the first thing they ask themselves, is ‘Do you see what I see?’” According to Voss, if you can prove you “see” another person’s problem the same way they do, they’ll believe there’s a high likelihood you can also help to solve it. In the context of a negotiation, showing the other side that you see what they see can lead to the “That’s right” breakthrough, and put even the strongest deadlock firmly in the rearview mirror. 

As a commercial real estate developer, negotiating is a part of my job. I have to balance out the needs and wants of my development team with those of clients, contractors, litigators, and others. But of course, you don’t need to be in my line of work in order to benefit from the skill of strong negotiation.

To some extent, we’re all negotiators. Whether in our professional or personal lives, success often depends on our ability to advocate for what we want and need in a way that doesn’t trigger opposition in those with whom we’re speaking. So whether or not you need this process in the workplace specifically, it’s a worthwhile lesson to learn. The ability to truly empathize with someone else’s position can lead us to be better friends, better partners, and better professionals. And if you tell me that Chris Voss said it first, well, I’d tell you, “That’s right.