Chris Voss: FBI Hostage Negotiator | Lex Fridman Podcast #364 | Summary and Q&A

March 10, 2023
Lex Fridman Podcast
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Chris Voss: FBI Hostage Negotiator | Lex Fridman Podcast #364


Former FBI negotiator Chris Voss emphasizes the importance of empathy in negotiations, highlighting the need to understand the other party's perspective and articulate it before expressing disagreement.

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Key Insights

  • The key to kidnapping negotiations is understanding the emotions and feelings of the kidnappers.
  • Negotiating for a hostage with a kidnapper is tough, especially when the situation looks bad from the beginning.
  • Difficult negotiations involve situations where the other party wants to appear as negotiators but aren't actually interested in a reasonable outcome. This makes negotiations challenging and puts the hostage in a vulnerable position.
  • Negotiations with terrorists occur more often than people realize, but they aren't always publicized. Negotiations and communication are essential for resolving such situations.
  • Understanding the value of human life differs from person to person and can't be easily quantified. Negotiations involving human life require considering the perspectives and priorities of both sides.
  • Empathy and understanding the other side's perspective play a crucial role in negotiations. It allows negotiators to see where the other party is coming from without agreeing or sympathizing with them.
  • Human decision-making is driven by emotions and what individuals care about. Reasoning is influenced by emotions and personal values.
  • The brain is wired to be negative, and the best way to deactivate negativity is to call it out. Addressing negativity head-on can lead to more effective communication and understanding.
  • Meeting in-person for negotiations can be beneficial, as it allows for better communication and understanding. There may be an energetic feel or connection that is difficult to replicate virtually.
  • The policy of not negotiating with terrorists is often misunderstood. Negotiation and communication are still crucial, even if concessions are not made.
  • Walking away from a negotiation can sometimes be the best choice if there is no chance of success. It is important to recognize when to end a negotiation and accept that not every deal can be made.
  • Hope exists for resolving conflicts like the Israeli-Palestinian issue by focusing on a better future for both sides' children. Open dialogue and understanding can lead to progress.
  • The power of empathy and understanding can transform conversations and prevent them from devolving into arguments or vitriol. Focusing on articulating the other side's position first can lead to more productive discussions.
  • Achieving empathy and understanding in negotiations requires a willingness to see the other person's perspective and state it accurately. It can help prevent misunderstandings and promote productive conversations.
  • Difficult negotiations involve dealing with strong emotions, and it is important to approach them with empathy and clarity. Acknowledging emotions and understanding where they come from can help navigate challenging situations.


  • A crazy thing in the kidnap business. We used to get asked by FBI leadership, "When is this gonna be over?" And the answer would be, "When the bad guys feel like they've gotten everything they can." Now dissecting that statement, you're talking about when they feel like they got everything they can. So the key to kidnapping negotiations are the f... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What is the importance of understanding the other party's perspective in negotiations?

Understanding the other party's perspective is essential in negotiations because it allows for empathy and a deeper connection. By grasping their viewpoint, negotiators can address their concerns, validate their feelings, and establish trust. It also helps negotiators tailor their approach to align with the other party's needs and motivations, increasing the chances of reaching a mutually beneficial agreement. Overall, understanding the other party's perspective fosters better communication, collaboration, and the potential for successful negotiations.


In this video, former FBI hostage and crisis negotiator Chris Voss discusses the importance of understanding emotions and empathy in negotiations. He emphasizes the need to listen actively and empathetically, and highlights the significance of meeting in-person for negotiations. Voss also challenges the notion of "not negotiating with terrorists" and discusses the value of collaboration and communication in resolving conflicts. Furthermore, he delves into the neuroscience behind empathy and the power of feeling understood in negotiations.

Questions & Answers

Q: What is the toughest part of negotiating for a hostage with a kidnapper?

The toughest part is engaging in the negotiation process even when it looks bad from the beginning.

Q: What makes a negotiation difficult in a hostage situation?

Difficulty arises when kidnappers make demands that are impossible to meet and intentionally block communication.

Q: Can negotiations be conducted in public as opposed to a private channel?

Yes, negotiations with kidnappers can occur in public, especially when they use the media as a channel to make statements and appeal to specific groups.

Q: How do you quantify or determine the value of human life in negotiations?

The value of human life is subjective and depends on what the other side believes they can gain. It is influenced by factors such as the person's market value, the effort required to obtain the desired outcome, and the speed of achieving it.

Q: In negotiations, is reason or emotion more important?

Emotion plays a significant role in negotiations because decisions are ultimately made based on what individuals care about. Reason is influenced by emotion and is subjective to each person's perspective.

Q: How does empathy play a role in negotiations?

Empathy is about understanding where the other side is coming from, even if you don't agree or sympathize with their views. It allows negotiators to build rapport and create a conducive environment for collaboration.

Q: Is compassion necessary in negotiations?

Compassion can be helpful but is not essential. Understanding and acknowledging the other person's perspective is more important than expressing compassion. It's about showing that you genuinely comprehend their position without necessarily agreeing or sympathizing with it.

Q: How do you actively listen and truly hear another person in negotiations?

Active listening involves proactively anticipating what the other person is saying and being fully present in the conversation. By focusing on understanding their perspective, you can react and respond effectively.

Q: Is meeting in-person important for negotiations?

Yes, meeting in-person can enhance negotiations by allowing individuals to connect on an energetic and intuitive level. Although technology like Zoom can provide some communication benefits, it does not fully replicate the experience of being together physically.

Q: Can negotiations help resolve geopolitical conflicts?

Negotiations have the potential to resolve conflicts, even in tense geopolitical situations. By fostering empathy, understanding, and open dialogue, world leaders can work towards peaceful resolutions.


Negotiations, whether in hostage situations or geopolitical conflicts, rely on emotions and empathy. Active listening, understanding perspectives, and finding common ground are crucial for productive negotiations. Meeting in-person can deepen connections and enhance understanding. Instead of strictly adhering to the notion of "not negotiating with terrorists," communication and collaboration should be prioritized. Overall, negotiations aim to find collaboration and implementable solutions for all parties involved.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Kidnapping negotiations are driven by the kidnapper's feelings, emphasizing the importance of understanding their perspective.

  • It is crucial to identify when negotiations are difficult, such as when the party is not truly interested in negotiating or when demands are impossible to meet.

  • Negotiations can occur in public or private, with each approach being strategic depending on the context.

  • The value of human life in negotiations is subjective, varying based on what the other party can gain and how quickly it can be obtained.

  • Negotiations are heavily influenced by emotions rather than reasoning, making empathy and understanding crucial for success.

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