Want to Be a Great Interviewer? Think Like a Hostage Negotiator (PART II)

In our last post we introduced FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss and the interviewing insights gleaned from his book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if your Life Depended on It. Here are a few more:

– Use Labelling… In psychotherapy a therapist pokes and probes to understand the patient’s issues and then turns the responses back towards the patient to get him or her to go deeper and hopefully change his or her behavior. Interviewers do some of this as well.

The essence of labelling is to recognize and then verbalize the emotions of the situation. This is not just putting oneself in the other’s shoes but rather spotting the feelings, turning them into words, and then calmly and respectfully repeating their emotions back to them. Labelling is effective because it validates. It gets the interviewer closer to someone without asking about external factors they know nothing about (for example, How is your family?).

Labelling involves using terms such as ‘it seems like’, ‘it sounds like’, and ‘it looks like’ in order to acknowledge the issue at hand. For example, ‘It sounds like you feel this was promised to you when you joined the organization’. Or, alternatively, ‘It sounds like you have a great handle on how the business should have operated’. Labelling negatives defuses or diffuses them while labelling positives reinforces them. Labelling is especially effective when the other person is tense. For example, ‘It sounds like you really don’t want to experience that again’.

Labelling demands that the interviewer ‘open up their senses, talk less, and listen more’. It also requires a degree of empathy. Empathy is paying attention to another human being, asking what they are feeling, and making a commitment to understand their world. This is different than agreeing with the person’s values, beliefs etc. which Voss notes is ‘sympathy’. Voss advocates the use of ‘Tactical’ empathy which is understanding the mindset and feelings of another person as well as what is behind them so as to increase your influence in the moments that follow. In other words, it is a powerful tool made so through purposeful skill development and practice.

Voss cautions against using ‘I’, as in ‘I think what you are saying is’, because this gets people’s guards up. Neutral statements on the other hand encourage your counterpart to be responsive. They will usually give longer responses than yes or no. If they disagree that is fine. You can always step back and say ‘I did not say that is what is was. I just said it seems like that’. As noted in Part 1 of this post, the use of silence is also critical in eliciting follow-up, more expansive responses

– Use open ended questions – Voss repeatedly notes the importance of getting the other party to ‘open up’. He thus strongly advises against asking questions that include words such as ‘can’, ‘is’, ‘are’, ‘do’ or ‘does’ as these inevitably lead to yes/no answers. Instead, he advocates posing questions using words such as ‘who’, ‘what’ ‘when’’, ‘where’, ‘why’ and ‘how’. For example, ‘What approach did you take to completing your mandate’ or ‘What were you trying to accomplish and how did you go about it’?

Voss goes even further to suggest using predominantly ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions and only sometimes ‘why’. This is because Voss views ‘Why’ as accusatory in nature which prompts the other person to close up. Instead of asking ‘why did you do it that way’ Voss recommends taking the emotion out of the question by posing it as ‘what caused you to do it that way’.

Voss also recommends always using a script. In other words, know what you want to find out ahead of time and carefully structure the specific questions you will use to get elicit the information. In other words don’t wing it.

A couple final nuggets from Voss…

– Good interviewers, going in, know they have to be ready for possible surprises; great interviewers aim to use their skills to reveal the surprises they are certain exist.

– Be aware of your counterpart’s overuse of personal pronouns – we/they or me/I. The more important your counterpart makes himself (I did this, I did that etc.), the less important they probably are (and vice-versa).

About the Author

Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements.

Contact Robert by email at [email protected] or call (1) 416-365-9494 EXT 777

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