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3 Ways For A Business To Avoid Taking Itself Hostage

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

This article originally appeared in USM Technology's new magazine, Lone Star Business Journal: Fall Edition, which you can read for free here.

As a former FBI hostage negotiator, I've spent my career analyzing the mistakes negotiators make that essentially take themselves hostage.

I've identified three new negotiation tactics that can put you in a terrible position at the table. Let's dive into each of them and explore how to avoid these pitfalls.


Jim Camp (author of “Start With No”) has always emphasized that there's no such thing as leverage.

In the early days of my company, The Black Swan Group, we believed the opposite — that leverage was always present. However, to navigate this, we changed our perspective from "leverage" to "influence," specifically "trust-based influence." If you believe in leverage as an external force, you surrender control of the situation, effectively taking yourself hostage.

Shifting to the concept of "influence" empowers you to regain control and affect the negotiation's outcome positively. It transforms bargaining, a zero-sum game, into negotiation, a positive-sum game.

Remember, leverage is like luck; the real difference-maker is the time you invest in improving your negotiation skills.


A common misinterpretation of Stephen Covey's advice to "seek first to understand, then to be understood" is assuming you already understand. Many individuals base their pitch or value proposition on prior research or experience without confirming their understanding with the counterpart.

If you're unwilling to stress-test your understanding, you're likely leaving money on the table. What are you afraid of? Did you put in too much effort on research to risk being wrong? Are you fearful of potential correction?

Don't let this fear hold you hostage. It's better to clarify and ensure your understanding is accurate than to proceed with assumptions.


Contrary to what you might think, naming negative emotions is a powerful way to defuse them. Failing to do so can lead to problems. Here's how people typically mishandle this:

1. Some deny negative emotions, fearing how they might seem or how others will feel.

2. Others ignore them, hoping they won't surface.

3. Many let people vent, thinking it's the best approach.

Let's focus on letting people vent. It often stems from a learned response to denying negative emotions, and it's a lengthy process. Negative emotions can persist and even escalate when left unaddressed.

Surprisingly, naming negative emotions defuses and inoculates against them. While it might seem counterintuitive, it's a potent aspect of The Black Swan Method, enabling our clients to make life-changing deals.

In conclusion, by reevaluating your perspective on leverage, stress-testing your understanding, and proactively addressing negative emotions, you can avoid falling into these negotiation traps. Mastering these techniques can free you from self-imposed negotiation constraints and empower you to achieve better outcomes.

Christopher Voss is the CEO of The Black Swan Group, a firm that solves business negotiation problems with hostage negotiation strategies. Chris founded the Black Swan Group, in 2008 upon his retirement from the FBI where he was the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator. Chris is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Southern California (USC) Marshall School of Business and Georgetown

University’s McDonough School of Business where he teaches business negotiation in both MBA programs.

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