Chris Voss and the FBI Approach to Divorce

When you’re looking up the most stressful jobs in the world, a hostage negotiator such as Chris Voss is right up there at the top of the list. These agents are dealing with volatile personalities in high-stress situations all day long. They face unpredictable clients and, unlike even the toughest business negotiations, it isn’t a deal you can simply walk away from. If you walk away, you risk disaster. Just like in divorce.

Negotiating a Win in Divorce Using FBI Tactics

Divorce can’t be a take-it-or-leave-it situation unless you’re prepared to walk away from shared property, friends, investments, careers and family. Divorce is the trickiest of negotiations—one where you want some sort of continued relationship, even if it’s only regular alimony payments.

In the episode of Divorce Dialogues Podcast, “A Top Hostage Negotiators Approach to Divorce,” Chris Voss explains how FBI tactics for negotiation can be used during divorce negotiation. He speaks with our own Katherine Miller about the key factors in the negotiation process and how it can be done effectively.

Chris Voss is the CEO and founder of the Black Swan Group and the author of the bestselling book, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended on It and has been featured on CNBC. The book came out of his 24-year tenure at the FBI where he was trained in the art of negotiation not only by the FBI, but by Scotland Yard and Harvard Law School.

Respect & Dignity

Voss says that what’s key to his negotiations is that he starts from a place of respecting the other person’s point of view. This is different from agreeing, he says. “I’m just trying to make the other person feel completely heard.” This “being heard” can really open them up and show the respect that allows them to keep their dignity. Respecting their point of view and their perspective de-escalates conflict. You’re not telling them that they’re wrong or crazy. Instead, you’re validating their experience, first.


We all, as humans, feel the need to be heard. But that doesn’t necessarily mean being agreed with. The key, according to Voss, is compassion. “Empathy is a transmission of information, compassion, and sympathy,” he says. That’s utterly separate from reaction to the information. All it is, finally, is hearing the other person out—without interrupting, disagreeing, telling them they’re crazy or that they’re wrong.

The Heart of the Matter

Voss also discusses how people in a negotiation often start with a “need” that isn’t what they need at all. That is, in negotiation, one party may put strict limitations or ask for something that seems nearly impossible—a huge monetary settlement or one-sided custody—but once they feel heard, they soften their position. On the receiving end, someone telling you that you’re being “unfair” can completely undermine your confidence.

F is for Fairness

Voss pays special attention to equity and fairness in negotiations. Why? Because in his experience in a career with the FBI is, fairness is absolutely central to negotiation. He says it’s a word that’s employed when we feel attacked or backed into a corner. And in his experience, Voss says agreement can’t come until we get out of our corners.

Mediation as a Form of Negotiation

The full Divorce Dialogues Podcast episode takes a closer look at an unexpected application of FBI negotiation skills to divorce and how it can provide a guide for leaving the table satisfied.

Divorce is all about negotiating. If you’re considering divorce but would like to try an approach that might mean a brighter future, you might consider mediation. Call Miller Law Group to schedule a confidential consultation.

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