When negotiating, beware the "F-word"

Earlier this year The Atlantic published a fascinating transcript with Chris Voss, who was at a time the FBI's international hostage negotiator. It was titled "Ask a hostage negotiator: What's the best way to get a raise?".

In this conversation, Voss shares a number of useful insights, not just limited to hostage negotiations.

One of the more interesting things that Voss discussed relates to fairness:

"We call fairness the "F-word." ... you'll find that fairness comes out on almost every single negotiation, and when it gets thrown out there, it's a word that punches people's buttons in one of the most subtle ways possible."

So it's worth keeping in mind that "fairness" will be on both parties minds, and that it's an emotive issue.

He continues:

"If I'm a negotiator, I'll use it against you because I know that I can knock you back on your heels emotionally. If we're in a deal, and I want to be a cutthroat, I'm going to say, "Look, I've given you a fair offer." Now, for you to protest against that, what I've just done is accuse you of being unfair towards me. And that's why the cutthroats do it because nobody sees it. It is a stealth attack from a cutthroat negotiator."

So: used strategically, someone who is unscrupulous can set a mousetrap using the idea of "fairness". If they use this technique, they're betting on the other party being uncomfortable with suggesting that they're being - gasp! - unfair.

Voss explains that you can "take a proactive approach and... diffuse it before the missile gets launched". One way of doing this is to preface conversations by stating something to the following effect:

"I want to make sure you feel I've treated you fairly. And the minute you think I haven't, I want you to tell me."

Sonnie Bailey

Sonnie is the founder and principal of Fairhaven Wealth.

Before founding Fairhaven Wealth, Sonnie worked in the legal and financial services industries for over a decade.

Sonnie first became involved with financial advice as a specialist financial services lawyer. For many years, he was an “adviser of advisers”, reviewing thousands of advice files prepared by hundreds of financial advisers, and providing feedback in relation to the quality and appropriateness of advice; industry best practice; risk management; and regulatory compliance. He has published work in industry publications and spoken at various financial advice conferences.

Sonnie has also worked with banks, investment management firms, insurers, and derivatives providers.

Sonnie has worked as a private client lawyer, focusing on succession, estate planning and trusts. He ran his own legal firm in Australia before relocating to New Zealand. He has also acted in independent trustee and company director positions.

Sonnie is passionate about helping people achieve their goals and manage the risks to which they are exposed.

He has written extensively on his blog, New Zealand Wealth and Risk, which can be found at www.wealthandrisk.nz.

Sonnie is married to his wonderful wife Chrissy, and has two young children, Ben and Anna.