This might be a terrible way to preface a review about a negotiation class. But as a MasterClass affiliate, I earn a commission if you sign up through one of my partner links. Hopefully, by the end, you gladly will.
The worst of all negotiations is the one you don’t know you’re in. The ability to negotiate your worth is a fundamental life skill. Even though it’s a skill that seems to be rarely taught. In this Chris Voss MasterClass review about the art of negotiation, I’ll go through the top five lessons I learned from taking the class of a true master of the craft. I’ll give you an idea of what the class entails and in the end, I’m going to answer the burning question: Is taking Chris Voss’ class worth it?
Chris Voss & MasterClass
Chris Voss is of course a former FBI hostage negotiator and author of Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It. He’s come to quite the fame in recent years. Not least due to his unique approach to negotiation, casual charisma and numerous podcast appearances. He’s not your average university professor lecturing about business negotiations from atop the ivory tower. Where he comes from, his methods had to work or people would die. His techniques are both unexpected and intuitive.
Nowadays, he has traded his radio headset for a microphone. Chris took what he learned in the field, and adapted and refined it for civilian applications. For this purpose, he founded The Black Swan Group, a company running in-person negotiation training and events. His clients come from all walks of life as he instructs C-level business people, real estate agents and the average citizen trying to get a hotel room upgrade. But what option do you have if you can’t attend one of those events? Well, you could take Chris Voss’ MasterClass lessons.
MasterClass is a leading online learning platform on which you can learn new skills from the comfort of your home. (Find my comprehensive MasterClass review here.) The platform’s unique selling point: Their instructors are the best and the brightest in their respective fields. Where else can you study the game of chess with Gary Kasparov before learning diplomacy from Madeleine Albright? Each MasterClass production has its unique atmosphere tailored to the instructor. Chris Voss’ The Art of Negotiation is no exception. His lessons feel a lot like a classified briefing.
My Top 5 Lessons Learned
The Chris Voss MasterClass briefing is full of applied knowledge. In 18 video lessons, the former federal agent covers key negotiation practices such as the importance of empathy, the secrets to using the power of your voice, and the art of saying ‘No’ without jeopardising the relationship with your counterpart.
Through case studies and mock negotiations, Voss illustrates what part each method plays in getting the most out of a deal. The sections are also reflected in a downloadable workbook. This is for you to keep even if your MasterClass membership expires.
Chris covers a lot of ground as he teaches you the communication skills you need to get what you want in everyday life. I can’t cover all of Chris Voss’ principles in this MasterClass review. So here are five of my personal top five lessons learned.
1. The Backwards Laws of Negotiation
If you’ve never given much thought to negotiation, you may think of it as a series of demands two parties throw at each other until one of them backs down. Well, not in the world of Chris Voss. Here, things seem backward. Effective negotiation is less about talking and more about listening. Because according to the former hostage negotiator, the best strategy is to gain an information advantage. By moving away from an exhausting battle of arguments to seeing the world through your counterparts’ eyes.
You may also have come to think that negotiations are about desperately getting people to say ‘Yes’ as soon and as often as humanly possible. Because ‘No’ means bad news and the end of any deal. Taking Chris’ class, however, I began to see the dreaded word ‘No’ not as an act of hostility. But an act of self-protection. An effort to reconfirm one’s autonomy and independence. Chris frames the ‘No’ as the beginning of a negotiation, one to which you should get as soon as possible.
I quickly learned that negotiation is not about adversity but collaboration. It’s not about making demands but guiding others, as Chris likes to say, to “letting them have your way”.
2. Letting Others Have Your Way
Which ideas are you more likely to implement? The ones your competitors come up with for you, or the ones you came up with yourself? Voss techniques are designed to give you the best of both worlds. The idea is to put your counterparts’ minds through the paces, so they solve your problems for you and come up with solutions. Among others, this is done through the use of so-called calibrated questions; open-ended how-questions designed to keep the conversation going.
As an example, you can either demand a receptionist to upgrade your hotel room because it’s too noisy. Or you can ask: How am I supposed to enjoy my holiday if there’s a construction site next door? This might not get you that upgrade immediately. But being prompted to ponder your situation, he’ll likely think through potential answers to your question. To the very least the exercise will give you more information to work with. Such as the receptionist’s perspective, constraints or general willingness to accommodate special requests.
3. Real-Life Jedi Mind Tricks
Even if you’re never going to negotiate a hundred million deal, it’s the little things you can try out immediately that made Chris’ lessons so valuable. Some of them are akin to real-life Jedi mind tricks. For the non-nerds, Jedis are magical space wizards from the Star Wars universe who can influence other individuals’ minds and actions. That’s what it feels like when you use, for example, the mirroring technique.
Voss illustrates how merely repeating the last 1-3 words a person says can make them feel heard and get them talking even more. (Even more…?) The same goes for intentionally making a wrong guess (mislabeling). This method can prompt your counterpart to correct you, again revealing valuable information (So you were born in 1994.). Each of these little tactics can be used in isolation. However, they unfold their full potential when incorporated into Chris’ larger philosophy.
4. Communicating With Intention
More than anything Chris Voss’ lessons are a masterclass in communication. And he provides you with a set of relevant tools you can use right away as he teaches you how to remain calm, and composed and speak with intention. One of these tools is the three voices a negotiator should know. There’s the assertive tone, the playful one and the Late Night FM DJ voice.
As the assertive voice goes against your intention to negotiate in good faith, it should rarely be used. The playful voice on the other hand is friendly and upbeat and should therefore serve as your standard tone. Then there’s the soothing, slow-paced Late Night FM DJ voice with a downward inflection at the end. It’s perfect to make declarative statements or calm people down during a heated argument — including yourself.
I found that this is where the MasterClass format really shines. Not only do you get a better sense of Voss’ attitude towards negotiation while watching him present. You can also see him put all of his techniques into action during mock negotiations. It’s one of the major downsides of merely reading his book, which I reviewed here. Watch him negotiate with a “rival” who has vastly different views and it really makes click.
5. Winning Deals, Building Relationships
It makes click because you realise Chris’ MasterClass lessons are not a manual to becoming a cut-throat negotiator. It’s not for people who cheat and manipulate their way to the best deal until there’s no one left to make deals with. Chris’ underlying philosophy is to win deals while building long-term relationships.
That being said, mastering all the principles takes a lot of practice. You have to continuously strike a balance. Your goal remains to influence others to get the best out of a deal. At the same time, you don’t want your counterparts to agree to a deal they later regret. You want them to become partners rather than opponents.
Sure. All those neat psychological tricks can certainly be used to cheat and manipulate. But the more I dived into Chris’ philosophy, the more I realised the cost that comes from sacrificing a relationship in return for a cheap win. Since the best deals are those after which the other party would deal with you again in a heartbeat.
Is Chris Voss’ MasterClass a Good Deal?
No doubt, Chris’ insights into the art of negotiation are both profound and highly practical. Over the past few years, I’ve come to trust his methods. They have simply worked for me. I’ve seen antagonism melt away when using his approach to empathy and I’ve become more confident during heated arguments. Sometimes, it’s truly eery how well his methods work.
That said, let’s address the elephant in the room of this Chris Voss MasterClass review. His methods may be effective. And MasterClass has lowered prices from $15 to $10 per month, billed annually. But why spend your money on a MasterClass membership if you can get Chris’ book and listen to his podcast interviews?
Personally, I used MasterClass to complement his other material. The video lessons are well-structured and include exclusive demonstrations of his negotiation principles. Plus, a membership gives you access to an additional MasterClass session in which Chris teaches you how to win workplace negotiations. Not to mention the 180+ other classes included in the price.
Frankly, if you’re only after one class and you’re on a budget, it’s probably not worth it. But if you do decide to sign up for MasterClass, would it be ridiculous to think you want to support my work by subscribing through one of my MasterClass partner links?