An Ex-FBI Negotiator Used 2 Simple Questions to Sell to ‘Shark Tank’ Investor Robert Herjavec

Robert ​Herjavec on the set of Shark Tank
Robert ​Herjavec on the set of Shark Tank. Getty Images.

Chris Voss isn’t your typical negotiations expert.

Now a successful entrepreneur and CEO of negotiations training company the Black Swan Group, Voss earned his stripes over two decades working with the FBI–including four years he spent as the bureau’s lead international kidnapping negotiator.

Voss is now sharing some of the secrets he learned negotiating with terrorists, kidnappers, and other hardened criminals in an online course hosted on MasterClass.

Eager to see what new negotiation techniques I could learn from Voss, I completed the course in a few days. I wasn’t disappointed.

Reflecting back on the course, one story really sticks out in my mind. Voss relates how he was introduced to Shark Tank star Robert Herjavec a few years ago. Herjavec took Voss out for lunch to see if the Black Swan negotiation approach would be a good fit for Herjavec’s sales team.

As a gesture of goodwill, Voss offered Herjavec a free ticket to an upcoming negotiation training session his company was hosting in New York, so Herjavec could see everything for himself. (Tickets to Voss’s events currently go for over $2,000 a day.)

“And to show what a decent, generous guy he is,” relates Voss, “his response is, ‘How many can I buy?’ You know, a lot of people if you offer them one thing that’s free, they want more free things. Again, he’s saying, ‘How many can we buy?'”

But as time went by, explains Voss, somehow the deal didn’t materialize. One day, Voss got a call from a director at his company saying the Herjavec group needed to buy tickets immediately if they wanted them because the event would soon be sold out.

“So, 5:03 [on a Monday] afternoon, I send Robert Herjavec a two-line email,” explains Voss.

The two questions were:

“Are you against committing to three tickets now?

“Is it a ridiculous idea for you to pay for the tickets before the business day starts in New York tomorrow?”

At 5:04, Voss got a reply directly from Herjavec.

“No, we’ll make the commitment for three tickets now. No, we got no problem paying for them right now. My assistant will be in touch within the hour.”

Payment was made by 5:23 p.m.

“How often do you get that kind of decision making from someone at any time of the day, let alone after 5 o’clock?” asks Voss.

Voss was only able to get that type of commitment, that quickly, by using the power of “no.”

The power of ‘no’

In his Masterclass, Voss explains exactly why the simple word “no” can be so powerful when it comes to trying to influence or persuade. It’s all about collaboration.

“Shared ideas are the ones that get done,” asserts Voss.

But collaboration takes time. So how do you get your counterpart to come along for the ride? Voss advises to flip “yes” questions around and turn them into “no”‘ questions.

For example, instead of asking “Do you agree with this?” Voss asks, “Do you disagree?”

Instead of asking, “Is this a good idea?” Voss asks, “Is it a ridiculous idea?”

Instead of asking, “Are you for this idea?” Voss asks, “Are you against this idea?”

By using strategic “no” questions like these, you empower your partner. You bring them along on the journey, building trust and rapport along the way.

But there’s another reason a “no” is more valuable than a “yes,” argues Voss.

“When you say ‘no,’ you feel safe and protected. You feel like you’ve made no commitment at all. So, you’re going to give me a lot more information.”

This additional information, claims Voss, is extremely important.

For example, consider the simple question: “Does this deal work for you?”

A salesperson likely believes they want the other person to say yes, no matter what–because they’ve been trained to get a commitment.

But the last thing in the world you want is for someone to commit before they’re ready. Why is that? Because when your partner says “no,” says Voss, they feel no reservations sharing with you what they feel is still missing, what problems they still need to solve. And it’s that information that can help you tailor your product or service to best solve that problem.

And once they truly are ready to commit, that commitment carries a lot more weight–because it’s based on a more solid foundation.

And that’s the power of “no.”