How do FBI negotiators manage life and death —  by listening.


Our world is all about the “I”. 

Reality television populates our networks and it revolves around the life of a few characters. It hyper-focuses on the way the world circulates around this narrow cast and how they feel.

Facebook and Twitter instantly enable the individual to get their message in front of the world. Even Medium enables the random person to become an instant author; putting their opinions and ideas in front of a large crowd.

Here’s the thing we as a society tend to forget. These huge platforms don’t work if there isn’t somebody listening on the other end.

I can give the greatest speech that’s ever been given in the world; something that crushes anything Lincoln or Cicero delivered. However, if I give this speech in an empty room where no one hears it, how great is it?

In our focus on the “I”, we forget about the skill that requires putting the “I” second — listening. In order to listen, you must humble yourself. You must silence your inner voice and external voice. You must allow the speaker to get their point across and actually concentrate on what they’re saying.

Not merely wait for your turn to talk, but see the person you’re listening to as someone of value and whose words may give you value.

Obviously, a lot easier said than done!


Lessons From The FBI

In his book “Never Split The Difference”, former FBI agent Chris Voss, speaks in depth about listening and the advantages it gives you in negotiations. Voss may focus on negotiations, but he quickly shows you how listening can improve your life in general.

Voss explains that when the FBI negotiates with a hostage taker on the phone, a team of 5 agents listens in to the call. This is how difficult they consider listening to be. So many little details can be missed in the span of a normal conversation.

He also explains that when two people are having a conversation, there are actually four people speaking; the two people talking and the voices in each of their heads.

In order to listen attentively, you must quiet the voice in your own head and really focus on what the other person is saying.

Voss also explains how important empathy is to proper negotiate and listening in general. You must be able to put yourself in the shoes of the other party in the conversation. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, just understand their position.

He explains the concept of “tactical empathy”. In order to empathize, one way to get you on that path is “mirroring”. Voss explains that when humans experience a connection, they tend to mirror each other’s movement, language, etc. You can work it the opposite way, and mirror to improve your connection or empathy.

Voss would often repeat something someone said in an upward tone, turning it into a question. This would encourage the person to speak more and get a communication flow going. He’d also work to slow the pace of a conversation down, so there were less chances of misunderstandings.

Voss explains, if you can really build empathy with and an understanding of the speaker, you can silence the voice within the speaker’s head. They’ll become less guarded and then a true negotiation can begin or a real conversation can get somewhere.


Listening Enables You To Learn & Lead

Photo by NESA by Makers on Unsplash

How did you learn every skill you now have? From another person!

  • You couldn’t innately throw a baseball the correct way.
  • You didn’t pop out of the womb knowing how to type — thank God.
  • The very words you speak everyday were taught to you by others.

The only way to learn is by putting the “I” second and listening. By putting yourself second for a little bit and actively focusing on what another says, you’re learning something.

Listening is difficult, but not impossible. If you’re reading this article, you’ve listened and learned previously to understand language, so it is definitely possible.

Every person you encounter should be seen as someone who can teach you something. What that something is may be hard to ascertain in the second, but by listening you may be surprised. 

You’re surrounded by a collection of people who’ve experienced and seen different things than you. By speaking to them and listening, you can learn by osmosis.

Listening also enables you to lead. In order to lead, you need as much information as possible to make correct decisions. If you truly listen, you’re collecting information from the body of employees around you.

A really effective leader is an effective listener. In the end, the boss must give orders. However, to give effective orders, this leader must be able to get information and ideas from subordinates.


Desire To Be Heard

Photo by kyle smith on Unsplash

“To be interesting be interested” 

— Dale Carnegie

Every person has a desire to be heard. But as strange as it sounds, sometimes the best way to fulfill that desire is to stay silent. By listening and building empathy with others, they’ll be more willing to listen to you in turn.

Our overwhelming desire in the current age may be to concentrate on the “I”. We have so many opportunities to speak and put our voice out in the world. However, by putting the “I” second, and concentrating on listening, you open doors that are covered by the noise of your own voice.

Next time you engage in a conversation, give it a try. Instead of waiting for your turn to talk and thinking of something to say, actively listen. Try mirroring the speaker and get them to elaborate more on their position. See if you can notice a difference in how the interaction goes. When you’re ready to add your piece, see how the other party listens.

It may feel odd at first, but there’s a good chance you’ll see notably different results. According to Chris Voss, he’s used these tactics in front of faculty at Harvard, hostage negotiations, colleagues, business meetings, and with his own son. There’s no true secret to it, just basic listening skills.

As Dale Carnegie’s comment states, just by being interested in what someone is saying you can become interesting. As someone of interest, others will likely be more willing to listen to what you have to say. There’s no true secret to this, just put the “I” second and listen.

Thank you for reading my ramblings and listening, if you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read please share.

Work out fanatic, martial artist, student, and connoisseur of useless information. Hopefully something I’ve written has entertained you. If it hasn’t, grab a coffee and take a seat, I’ll keep trying.
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Work out fanatic, martial artist, student, and connoisseur of useless information. Hopefully something I’ve written has entertained you. If it hasn’t, grab a coffee and take a seat, I’ll keep trying.
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