General Leadership

Why Educators need to read Chris Voss

“What were needed were simple psychological tactics and strategies that worked in the field to calm people down, establish rapport, gain trust, elicit the verbalization of needs and persuade the other guy of our empathy.  We needed something easy to teach, easy to learn and easy to execute.”

Read that quote again.  Don’t worry, I will cite the source below.

Now, read that quote again and think about it in terms of many situations you have been in as an educator or administrator.  You have been in situations that require us to calm people down, establish or re-establish rapport, gain or regain trust, and get a student/parent/staff member to elicit a verbalization of needs and persuade them that we are in fact empathetic.  That describes many of the tense, high stress situations that educators and administrators find themselves in on a regular basis.

As educators and educational administrators, we need to respond quickly and empathetically to situations.  Our students, parents, or other teachers need to know that we are listening and responsive to their needs.  We need the situation to be calm so that we can address issues, establish rapport, and gain or regain trust.  And we need something that is easy to teach and learn as well as being flexible enough to execute in a variety of situations that we face with many different audiences.

This was not taken from any of the many quality educational texts available on management or conflict resolution.  This was written by Chris Voss, renowned lead international kidnapping negotiator for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  This quote can be found in Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It. 

The natural first question is, who cares?  What does Chris Voss, FBI negotiator have to do with education or educational administration?  Educators and administrators never deal with international kidnapping negotiations or anything nearly the difficult.  True, we will most likely never be called upon to negotiate a high stakes incident in our school lor buildings, but I will put forth, you need to read this book.

Within in the school setting, we negotiate all the time.  We have been trained to find the middle, the compromise or, as the book is titled Getting to Yes.  This is what we have been trained in and taught about.  With this as our background, we negotiate in one way that may not be the best way to address situations.  Often, we are on the ones on the losing end of the actual negotiation or discussion.  We assume we are in the negotiation for one result, but the game is being played differently by the person across from us.  We compromise and work to resolve issues that the other person should be wrestling with.

Chris is a master storyteller drawing upon his years of experience in the FBI and law enforcement.  He shares specific examples of success, and even failures, as the key learning points for negotiation.  His key point is that the rules of negotiation are not what we think they are.  The strategies we use assume logical, calm, rational individuals who want what we want.  In most cases, that is not what is happening. 

Consider that in school.  Do students, parents, or teachers actually want what we want?  Do they come from the same place that we do when discussing issues or say discipline?  Rarely do they.  When we negotiate, we are communicating to gather information and influence behavior.  As Chris Voss points out, a hostage negotiator must win, but we in the educational field do not have to win all the time.  We do need to know when we need to win though.

Chris Voss draws upon years of practical field experience in dealing with hostage situations around the world to share key points about negotiation.  What he does not do is give a guidebook for how to negotiate.  Instead, he provides a few basic tools that were effective in his line of work, explains how and why they work, then provides real life examples from situations for the reader to consider.  What I found fascinating was that he explains why the worst answer the person can get is “yes” in this situation.

As educational professionals, we need to recognize that we are not always in a win – win situation.  We also need to recognize that, in key situations, we do not need to go fast. In fact, we need to slow down and listen.  In this fast-paced world of resolving issues quickly, slowing down actually makes us better at our job as we can listen, think, and process better than if we if we rush to resolve issues.

This book is full of solid, useful information backed up by key examples and descriptions.  It is not how to book though.  For the “how to” you will need to seek elsewhere.  This information provides additional tools for the toolkit when working in difficult situation.   Most importantly, the information and skills are transferrable to other situations rather than specific to anyone.

Educational professionals need to know how to negotiate and resolve conflict.  The greater the number of tools in your toolkit, the better off you are.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone seeking to improve their skills of negotiation.  Not to mention, it is just a great read overall and full of quality content.

If you want more information about Chris Voss, please see the Black Swan Group website at:

Check out his book on any of the major booksellers websites.

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