Salary Negotiation Tips From a Former FBI Hostage Negotiator

Interrogation Room
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So you’ve been offered a great new job. Terrific, but you’re not done yet. You still have to settle on pay—and for most of us, the art of negotiation is intimidating to say the least.

Not for Chris Voss. He’s trained in the art of getting what he wants—and absolutely nothing less.

Formerly the lead international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI and now a professor of business negotiation at University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business and Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, Voss is the author of the new book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It. Monster turned to him to get some advice on how to make your salary demands like a pro — so that you can walk away with a king’s ransom.

Q: For starters, what’s a good way to approach a salary negotiation?

A: The first rule of any negotiation is to not take ourselves hostage.

The secret is to have a calm and cool demeanor. Calm is contagious, and that was the strategy of hostage negotiation—to immediately gain the upper hand with a contagious calm, even deferential demeanor. There is great power in deference.

We might feel like the employer has all the leverage—the job we want—and we have nothing because of our need [for the job]. But the dynamic is really based on what is in our own head. In my job as a hostage negotiator, I knew that if a terrorist was communicating with us in any way, he wanted something I could control. That means I have leverage, no matter how it outwardly appears. It’s the same dynamic with a salary negotiation.

Q: Ok, so let’s get inside the head of the hostage-taker…er, employers. What are they thinking as they negotiate with a candidate?

A: Your boss or management will want to see if you can persist on your own behalf without offending them. They want to know you will be both a good co-worker and a good ambassador who champions their best interests. They don’t want their ambassadors to be unpleasant or pushovers.

There is great power in likability. In my company’s experience and estimates, being “likable” in your demeanor increases the chance you will get a favorable deal, by as much as six times.

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Q: What’s the most important thing a person should keep in mind while negotiating salary?

A: Salary pays your mortgage, terms make your career. The price term (salary) in any deal is only one term. The rest of the terms either make or break the deal.

Q: What if you’re turned down for your requested salary?

A: Push with deference on non-salary terms [such as benefits and job perks]. As you reach the limits of the non-salary terms in a way that shows your boss or the management that you can stand up for yourself without offending them, the more likely they will be to give on the other terms (including salary) as a result.

For example, one of my MBA students pushed persistently for more vacation. [Her employer] couldn’t give it to her, so they raised her salary instead.

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