The Atlantic

Ask a Hostage Negotiator: What's the Best Way to Get a Raise?

It's possible to get a higher salary without taking anyone captive.
Source: Amr Dalsh / Reuters

The question that most people ask themselves as they walk into their boss's office to negotiate their salaries is likely some variant of "What am I going to say?" But according to hostage negotiator Chris Voss, that might be the least important thing to keep in mind when negotiating.

Voss, now an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, spent 24 years at the FBI. It was as an FBI agent that he started to get interested in hostage negotiations. At the time, a supervisor told him to start by volunteering at a suicide hotline to gain the set of listening abilities that a hostage negotiator needs. By 1992, he was training at the FBI's school for negotiators, and from 2004 to 2007, he was the FBI's lead international hostage negotiator. After retirement, Voss founded The Black Swan Group to bring negotiation know-how to the business world.

I recently spoke with Voss about how to use negotiation strategies to better ask for raises at work. The transcript of our conversation has been edited for clarity.


Bourree Lam: Is there a disconnect between what people commonly think a negotiation is and what it actually involves?

Chris Voss: Absolutely. The most dangerous negotiation is the one you don't know you're in. We use that at my company. People typically only believe they're in a negotiation when dollars are involved. And maybe sometimes they're smart enough to see if there's a commodity that you can count being exchanged. And of course the commodity that we most commonly exchange is money.

In reality, every single negotiation involves another commodity that's far more important to us which is timeminutes, hours, our investment in time. So even if you're talking about dollars, the commodity of time is always there because there has to be a discussion about how the commodity of dollars is moved ... This is what I learned in hostage negotiation, a ransom demand is irrelevant. Trying to get the money is the challenge ... Price is only one term in any negotiation. In a job negotiation, your salary is only one term. And typically you could take almost any price, or any salary and make that a great deal or a lousy deal depending

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