“Everything in life is a negotiation.”
Those are the words of former top FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss, whose Masterclass tackles how to get what you want in life.
Personally, I’m interested in getting what I want, so I took the class.
This is my review.
I’ll discuss the pros and cons of Voss’ masterclass, including:
The most important lessons I learned;
And the real-world changes it’s made in my life.
Before I get started here’s some background for you.
Who is Chris Voss?
Chris Voss started out in New York City’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and went on to join the FBI as a hostage negotiator, serving with them for two-and-a-half decades.
He dealt with hostage crises that would have stumped a lesser negotiator and helped resolve international kidnappings, tense hostage-takings, and deadly situations.
Voss retired from the FBI and began applying his negotiation mastery to the world of business and self-development, teaching at Harvard and writing books, including his 2016 work ‘Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if your life depends on it’.
As I wrote, Voss has used his skills to defuse literally hundreds of situations that could have ended in death, so he knows what he’s talking about.
The three biggest pros of the Chris Voss Masterclass
There are a lot of great things about this excellent masterclass but here are my top three.
1) It applies to real life
Voss teaches you how to apply the lessons to real-life, like asking for a raise at work, how to deal with ultimatums and manipulation and how to create win-win situations that could otherwise be a conflict.
For me, this has paid off a lot in my professional life and also my personal life.
2) Voss’ techniques work
The second major pro of this masterclass is that the tips it teaches you actually work:
For example learning to accurately read subtle body language, the intention, and motivation behind how someone is talking, asking questions that lead to beneficial outcomes instead of fights, and learning to influence and build a connection to someone in a natural and effective way.
3) It kept my attention
The third huge pro of the Chris Voss Masterclass is that it is well-organized as a course and easy to follow. I didn’t need any previous experience in law enforcement or hostage negotiating, which is also lucky since I don’t have either.
I didn’t have to break my brain to understand what Voss was saying or how it fit into the points he was making. The real-life hostage footage also helped drive home what he was saying.
He managed to keep my interest the whole time and “negotiate” me into taking an interest in the course which kind of proved his point about being an effective negotiator as well.
Cons of the Chris Voss Masterclass
This course exceeded my expectations overall and there’s only one real con I can mention for it.
I read Voss’s book ‘Never Split the Difference’ last year and it’s a big reason that I was interested when I heard about this masterclass.
I expected to learn a lot of new things and deeper lessons behind what I’d read about in the book, but to be totally honest, the masterclass does repeat a fair bit of what’s in the book.
The advantage here is that the online community you get to be part of, the visual style, and the engaging lesson format make the masterclass a bit more accessible than the book.
In addition, if you’re not a book person then taking the masterclass instead is the perfect solution.
Overall this con is definitely not a dealbreaker and I still found the course very valuable.
The 7 most important lessons I learned from the Chris Voss Masterclass
1) What you think about how to get what you want is probably wrong
Maybe I’ve watched too much of Donald Trump on the Apprentice or too many mafia movies, but I went into this masterclass thinking that the best way to get what you want in a tense situation is to never back down.
I assumed that the tougher you are and the more you’re willing to push the better your chance of getting what you want.
Voss turned that assumption upside down and proved to me that it’s actually closer to the opposite.
Yes, you do have to be resolute in what you want and your desired outcome.
But Voss advises something called “tactical empathy,” using a terrorist kidnapping of a US journalist in Iraq that he worked on as a case study.
Voss demonstrates that you have to establish empathy and build bridges of some kind even with the “bad guy” and that pushing too hard or depersonalizing any tense situation into a black-and-white mindset can lead to disaster.
2) Negotiation and persuasion isn’t about force or pressure
If you’re in a difficult negotiation or discussion and you want the other person or group to see things your way, the instinct would be that you pressure them.
Tell them the punishments if they don’t back down. Threaten them with holy hell if they don’t play ball.
While there is a correct time for pressure, Voss explains that the really effective way to get what you want is to basically slowly and empathetically talk the other side into wanting the same thing you do — for their own reasons.
He shows how you can defuse conflict situations and take any small sliver of optimistic or positive feelings and turn them into a shared picture where the situation deescalates instead of escalating.
Getting to see Voss put this in practice on-screen is really amazing as well, and I got a lot out of it.
3) Your voice is an extremely powerful tool
Another vital lesson that’s stuck with me from the Chris Voss Masterclass is just the power of the voice.
I’ve been self-conscious about my voice for a long time. Apparently, that’s common, especially when you hear your voice in a recording.
I just feel like my voice is so nasal and sounds “dweeby” or something.
But through techniques, Voss showed I was able to improve the way I talked and the speed and tone in certain subtle ways that have really given me a bit more confidence.
Your tone of voice, word choice, inflection, volume, and more are extremely powerful.
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Voss shows why this is and how to use your voice to its maximum effect.
Hint: it’s not about shouting or talking as loud as you can.
4) There are effective ways to tell when someone is lying
Another game-changer for me from the masterclass was learning how to spot when someone is lying.
I’d like to think people aren’t lying to me all over the place, but it does happen.
And I was never quite sure how to tell when someone is intentionally fibbing.
Voss demonstrates not only how to tell when someone’s not telling the truth, but to use the knowledge that they’re lying to get a leg up on them and analyze their motivations and deeper level behavior.
This was really an awesome thing about the masterclass, because now when someone tries to pull one over on me I not only can usually tell, I can also figure out an enormous amount of useful information about them and what they want by the kind of lie they told and how they told it.
Talk about turning a negative into a positive.
5) Learn to shape reality in your favor
Let me ruin the suspense right now:
Voss doesn’t show you how to bend a spoon or the trajectory of bullets like Morpheus in the Matrix.
But he does show you the enormous power you have to shape not only your reality but the reality of those around you.
It’s like suddenly discovering you have vintage baseball cards in your attack that are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars because the info he shares is extremely valuable.
As Voss explains, people live in high tension about losing what they value and desire and of being treated unjustly or getting a raw deal and “screwed over.”
This teaches you many ways to basically defuse that fear bomb and then move on productively in a negotiation without the pre-existing reality of threat and mistrust that was there before.
Fully grasping this has really turned a lot of things around for me, including a contentious relationship with my dad and problems that I was having with communicating with my boss at work.
6) Responding to Black Swan scenarios
A Black Swan event is not something you want to have happened in any situation.
But they happen all the time.
Basically in a negotiation, you get hit with a Black Swan scenario when a vital piece of info or new development is revealed that you didn’t know about which changes everything.
In life, it might be that you’re arguing with your boss for a raise and getting heated up about why you deserve it in a competitive way only for him to reveal that he’s been considering promoting you to a higher executive position.
Suddenly the whole terms of the negotiation are different and you understand that if anything your insistence and “thirst” has made you less valuable in that situation.
A negative Black Swan could be that you’re trying to communicate work frustrations to your boss only to find out that layoffs are expected within the next week.
You are now worried that your timing will mean you’re one of those who let go instead of kept on.
Black Swans can totally throw a negotiation up in the air and you have to react fast. Which means you need to be prepared for them.
7) Accusations audit
Another key lesson I picked up from the Chris Voss masterclass is what he calls an ‘Accusations Audit’.
This isn’t some kind of tax thing, it’s actually a technique that Voss has used many times to successfully resolve hostage-takings and life or death situations.
As Voss says, he “loves” the technique and you will too.
He shows you how to use the power of “no” in a negotiation and how to ask the right questions to lead to a mutually beneficial outcome instead of a trainwreck.
This was definitely one of the best techniques I learned in the course.
Is the Chris Voss Masterclass worth it?
This course isn’t going to be for everyone, and it can get a bit intense at times, but for those of us who like the high-stakes stuff, it’s a real eye-opener and game-changer.
I personally learned a lot that’s been of great benefit in my work life and personal life, like I mentioned.
Voss’s techniques are able to work in a variety of life situations including relationships and he lays them out step by step in a way that I could understand and get my head around.
His roleplaying segments also helped me see it in real life, and while they might have been a bit corny sometimes they also did help me understand exactly what he was saying.
I also enjoyed Voss’s stories and examples from his many years of experience. Not only were they interesting and absorbing, but they also helped to illustrate a lot of the lessons he was getting across to us course participants.
I always wondered if the kind of hostage negotiators I would see in TV shows and movies were realistic.
I would imagine being in their shoes and having hundreds of lives hang in the balance as I tried to talk down a violent psychopath sticking up a bank or holding hostages for political or religious reasons.
The real footage and audio in Voss’s masterclass coupled with his own real-world experience let me see what it’s really like.
It wasn’t like I thought, but in a lot of ways I came away even more impressed than when I went in by what high-stakes negotiators do to keep us safe.
To sum it all up, I highly recommend this masterclass to those who want to hone their communication and negotiation skills.
There is a 30-day money-back guarantee on the course and there’s really nothing to lose. I’m quite certain you’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how useful and logical the course is once you really listen to what Voss is saying and how he worked out his effective and real-life-tested system.