Christopher Voss was once the lead international hostage negotiator for the FBI. I can only imagine the importance of being a non-anxious presence in those situations. The situations that make us anxious may not be life or death, but there are definitely times where we feel held hostage by the anxiety of others (or our own).
Voss founded his own business communications consulting firm after leaving the FBI. Among other things, Voss suggests using three techniques in business negotiations. I believe they can be helpful when trying to maintain a non-anxious presence in your family, congregation or organization.
Voss prefaces these techniques by advising the negotiator to slow down, smile and use a friendly and/or calm tone of voice. These are outward manifestations of a non-anxious presence, even if you are feeling anxiety inside. Very few of us are able to be a non-anxious presence naturally in high stress situations. This means we have to be intentional in how we act and what we say.
So what are the three techniques?
First, Ask questions that require “No” for an answer.
This is counter-intuitive. Most negotiating advice I have seen is to try to get other people to say yes. That was certainly what I was taught when I was in insurance sales. Voss notes that most people are onto the “getting to yes” technique. They feel manipulated into committing to something, which makes them defensive.
People will do things that are counter to their own best interests just to prove they have autonomy. Letting them say “no” increases their sense of autonomy and makes them more likely to collaborate. For example, if you call someone and ask, “Have you got a few minutes to talk?” it will increase their desire to say no. It’s human nature. Voss’s approach is to ask, “Is now a bad time to talk?” Letting them answer No increases their sense of autonomy.
Some other examples include:
• Would it be a bad idea if….
• Would you be against…
• Would it be out of the question if…
These may not come naturally. Slowing down your speech may give you more time to think about how to phrase a “no” question. Preparing in advance will help, as well. You often know from whom the anxiety will come. So you can think through, or even role play, how you expect those interactions to go down, and practice your no questions in advance.
The whole point of the “no” question is to build rapport. It’s the first step in bringing the anxiety level down.
The second technique is to say, “It seems like…” or “It sounds like you…”
This is classic reflective listening. It shows that you understand what the other is saying and how they are feeling. This communicates empathy, which helps to foster emotional connection. Notice that when you make this kind of statement you are not agreeing, you are showing you understand.
Again, you may be able to practice this in advance. You can certainly practice this in low-stress situations in your family, congregation or organization. It’s never bad to show you understand another.
Finally, you can ask, “How am I supposed to do that?” but not in a whining or sarcastic sense.
The idea is to help the other person see your side of the situation. So rather than getting defensive you can ask, “How would you suggest I achieve this?“
This creates what Voss calls "reverse empathy." It forces the other to think about your situation and helps them to feel a sense of control. He also suggests saying this deferentially, noting that there is great power in deference. The key to this question is it will help you find out how likely the other person will collaborate with you.
I should caution that these techniques are not for the purposes of manipulation but facilitate collaboration. Leading change in the church is hard. When you face resistance, remain a non-anxious presence, stay focused on where you believe God is leading and show respect to those who are resistant. These techniques can help you do this.