by | Oct 28, 2021


You slam the brakes and your unmarked Chevy Caprice skids to a stop in the middle of the intersection of 5th and Washington. The place is crawling with cops, reporters and wide-eyed onlookers. 

The call over your police radio was loud and clear. One armed and very hostile assailant, 6 bank employees and 6 customers. From behind a barricade the Sergeant hands you the cell phone. 

You have one job – get the hostages out alive. 

You might not be negotiating with armed criminals on the daily, but you are in a constant mental battle with someone much scarier. If that little voice inside your head is holding you back from kicking ass like you know you can, and I know it is, I’ve got a five step plan that will change everything. 

I’ve written about Battling The Bully in Your Head which offers a very different approach to the problem, but this one is slightly more cerebral and you don’t need a bachelor’s degree in psychology to do it. 

Never Split The Difference

Former lead international hostage negotiator for the FBI & author of Never Split the Difference:  Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, Chris Voss hosts a MasterClass called The Art of Negotiation. This fascinating and compelling series demonstrates the power of persuasion used from the most deadly of situations to negotiating with your teenage daughter. 

With his steely eyes and slow intentional delivery, Voss could talk a snowman into buying a popsicle franchise in Antarctica. This badass has worked on over 150 cases in his 24 year career and you could safely say that he’s seen it all when it comes to rationalizing with the human psyche. 

But there’s someone he doesn’t ever mention having to match wits with, himself. We all have that voice inside our heads that doesn’t always agree with our best laid plans. It tries to convince us that perhaps we aren’t worthy of a pay raise, we’re not educated enough, or that we don’t have the balls to pursue a goal.

The internal voice has our best interests at heart, which by the way is safety, but it rarely cooperates when it’s time to try something new, like pursuing a dream or going out on tour with Mötley Crüe. 

Many years ago, the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit developed what they call the Behavioral Change Stairway Model (BCSM) as a basis in the negotiation process. This model has been used in life or death situations with great success and I believe it can be applied to the craft of negotiating with oneself as well. 

How To Negotiate With Yourself

Shit, if it works for the FBI it can work for us too. It sounds a little nuts for this particular application but it goes like this:

  1. Active Listening: Actually listen to what the voice in your head is saying, don’t just wait for your turn to talk. This is crucial because you need to know why the voice is saying what it’s saying, and let the voice know that you care.

  1. Empathy: Understand where they are coming from and why they feel the way they do. Try to get into the mind of the voice to really understand their motivations (the voice is your subconscious by the way). 

  1. Rapport: When the voice knows that you understand their side and that you can relate, you build trust. Trust is the key to any working relationship and even more so with yourself. 

  1. Influence: Problem solving can now begin once both sides have rapport and trust each other. If you haven’t completed the first three steps you can’t have influence. 

  1. Behavioral Change: If the above steps have been taken you may now propose solutions to the conflict that will affect the desired behavioral change. Now that you are both on the same page you can likely win the argument with that little bastard. 

I’m aware that this probably sounds like I had been over to Snoop Dogg’s house one too many times back in the day, but I’ll tell you what—it works. 

You need to assume the role of a hostage negotiator because that’s what the little voice is trying to do—take you hostage. He’s in there holding your dreams, goals, ambitions and greatness prisoner and demanding a ransom in exchange for their release. Ransom in the form of safety, security and certainty. But Chris Voss never splits the difference, and neither should you. 

Much like a bank robber trapped inside a failed robbery attempt swarming with feds and snipers, the little voice is holed up inside the walls of your comfort zone demanding an exchange for his escape. Give him food and he’ll let one of the tellers go free. Give him a helicopter and he’ll let the bank manager live. Let go of your dreams, and he’ll make sure you never have to worry about failing. 

You don’t need to exchange your dreams for certainty if you master the Behavioral Change Stairway Model however. In fact, if done correctly you can have the robber walk out of the bank with his hands in the air without anybody getting hurt in the process. And that’s what we want here, a positive behavioral change in your counterpart, and a peaceful resolution to the conflict. 

As Voss says in his book Never Split The Difference “Negotiate in their world. Persuasion is not about how bright or smooth or forceful you are. It’s about the other party convincing themselves that the solution you want is their own idea. So don’t beat them with logic or brute force. Ask them questions that open paths to your goals.

Learning to negotiate with yourself takes practice, but your dreams, and lives of 12 innocent people, depend on it.

Don’t forget to grab my new book!


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