October 5, 2023

For ex-FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss human factor is crucial

To negotiate is to try to reach an agreement or compromise by discussion, or, find a way over or through an obstacle or difficult path. Bearing this definition in mind, one meets Christopher “Chris” Voss, the FBI’s former top hostage negotiator and lead international kidnapping negotiator for all of 24 years.

Also, if ever there is a stereotype image of an American FBI hostage negotiator then Voss fits the bill to the tee!

With a lean build, and smartly attired, he strides purposefully into the meeting space, immediately taking in all there is to see and quietly assessing every possible ‘security risk’ while also noting any advantage he could gain from having to confront with an ‘adversary’.

Old FBI habits do not die or fade away – that much one discerns from Voss’ calm and composed demeanour. After all, he has time and again come face-to-face with desperate bank robbers, violent gang leaders, and suicidal terrorists, negotiated with them, and in doing so, saved numerous lives and property.

Soon after delivering his in-person keynote address to renowned global cyber security experts attending the hybrid Acronis #CyberFit Summit Dubai event on December 8, 2021, and as the co-author of the #1 international bestselling book ‘Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It’ Voss exclusively tells MENews247 that people and companies throughout the world can learn and rely on “using proven hostage-negotiating tactics to solve communications problems in any business environment”.

Chris Voss with his bestselling book at Acronis #CyberFit Summit Dubai on December 8, 2021

Currently, the founder and CEO of The Black Swan Group – the Philadelphia headquartered consulting company that trains global businesses, Fortune 500 companies, and governments in negotiation coaching, communication, and marketing – Voss quietly says: “A black swan is something very subtle; seemingly very small, yet, has a massive impact!”

Read between the lines here?

Having the FBI, Scotland Yard, and Harvard Law School train him in the art of international crisis and high-stakes negotiations, and having the distinction of once being told by an international terrorist, “I hope they’re paying you a lot”, Voss, 64, says he enjoyed being at the Acronis #CyberFit Summit Dubai event “because it’s about human performance and cyber security as it evolves, which affects everything and where the world is going”.

Drawing a parallel between negotiation and cyber protection, Voss admits that “cyber protection is ultimately about protecting people. No matter how far advanced we get, be it quantum computing, artificial intelligence or offering SaaS [Software as a Service], people are always going to be involved”.

He adds: “In the cyberworld an algorithm may control certain functions, but, there still remains the human factor. Human decision-making is never going to go away. Ultimately, it’s still about human interactions, relationships, how you use empathy to establish a better relationship with someone who you’re trying to serve, and to protect, with your cyber protection, with your anti-ransomware. Whatever you have to deal with it’s still all about human decisions and empathy is about human decisions.”

Chris Voss delivers his keynote address at Acronis #CyberFit Summit Dubai on December 8, 2021

Referring to his decades-long experience in the FBI involving life-or-death situations throughout the United States, Middle East, Asia, Central and South America, Voss insists that emotional intelligence and empathy must be injected into any negotiation process if desired objectives are to be achieved.

Having been awarded the US Attorney General’s Award for Excellence in Law Enforcement, in addition to the FBI Agents Association Award for Distinguished and Exemplary Service, Voss again admits its human being versus human being in the high stakes game of cyber-attacks and cyber protection.

In this context, and by way of advice to digital asset managers and owners, he emphasises: “First of all, do not be intimidated. Because for the bad guys, their business too goes through problems. They cybercriminals invariably have got the same business problems as everybody else; which is undertrained people, people who aren’t working hard enough, etc.

“This means that the criminal masterminds must also make decisions on their side. If you look at the threat as just another threat in the business landscape, you must prepare for the threat, you must prepare to mitigate it, and you must prepare to recover after the threat is no more. So, as you can see, it’s all about human beings against human beings.”

With a Bachelor of Science from Iowa State University and Master of Public Administration from the Harvard Law School John F. Kennedy School of Government under his belt, Iowa-born Voss is proud of the international reputation that his company The Black Swan Group enjoys, and backs this up by saying that his book ‘Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It’ and which has sold over two million copies worldwide is “one of the reasons why I love being in Dubai is because people from every part of the world come up to me with my book”.

Over 2 million copies of Chris Voss’ book on negotiation have been sold worldwide

“And they use it [the book] in China, they use it in Pakistan, and they use it in India – the negotiation skills in my book work everywhere. My company, The Black Swan Group, we’re not just about training people, but we’re coaching people in successful negotiations in every part of the world.”

Increasingly a frequent business traveller to the Middle East, Voss relates how “human beings are human beings, no matter where you go. We have different words for the same ideas. Arabs are famous for saying, ‘Inshallah’, when trying to get somebody to commit to something in a business negotiation.

“In a business negotiation Americans say, ‘I’ll try’. It’s the same thing. We are all human beings at the end of the day and the world is driven by the same ideas, the same wants and needs. One of the things I love about being in the Middle East is coming across human beings with the same goals and desires that everybody else has in all parts of the world.”

Having delivered his keynote address on the theme of ‘Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It’ to a spell-bound audience at the Acronis #CyberFit Summit Dubai event, and after having played a key FBI role in more than 150 international hostage cases Voss is appreciative that Acronis – one of the world’s leading advanced cyber protection solutions providers trusted by more than 750,000 companies, top-tier professional sports teams and 5.5 million home users – “has the desire to stay ahead of the game”.

“They [Acronis] have a real passion. Their work culture has helped to keep their business competitively ahead of everybody else. You want people that are led, who are driven by enjoying what they do; to be able to count on them no matter what happens. This is Acronis!”

Chris Voss delivers his keynote address at Acronis #CyberFit Summit Dubai

Speaking with reference to how the pandemic has impacted the digital world, Voss notes that during the global health crisis “some organisations and individuals did become more careless with their online security on the one hand, while on the other hand cybercriminals have had more time on their hands to create bigger problems for everyone.

“I think the pandemic is an accelerator of sorts because it just hastened the inevitable dynamics of digital technology and human interface in one go,” says Voss.

Turning his attention to the UAE, the country boldly spearheading the digital revolution in the Middle East, and as an adjunct Professor at Harvard Law School, Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, and a lecturer at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business and at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, Voss acknowledges that the country is fast becoming “a global hub for innovation and business while still preserving the Arabian culture and heritage.

“In addition to being easily accessible to key international markets and destinations – a win-win for global trade and commerce – the UAE has also always had a government that had the vision and foresight of supporting business. Taking advantage of the country’s physical location and business-friendly philosophy has enabled the Emirates to prosper,” concludes Voss.

Chris Voss is founder and CEO of The Black Swan Group
Arnold Pinto

Arnold Pinto

Arnold Pinto is an award-winning digital-first journalist with wide-ranging Middle East and Asia experience in the tech, space, aerospace, aviation, defence, luxury watchmaking, business, fashion, and automotive verticals. He is passionate about conserving endangered native wildlife globally and protecting the world’s oceans from plastic pollution, overfishing, and climate change. Arnold enjoys 4x4 off-roading and camping.
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