How to bargain like a CIA hostage negotiator

This is my first “how to” post. I dislike the “7 way to [insert trendy term here]” type of post. They do not seem authentic. You see them everywhere and most feel like a trick to get clicks.

What makes this post authentic? After 16 years in negotiation, this is one of the rare moment I thought to myself:  “This detailed cookie cutting approach makes sense to me”.  The Ackerman Group came up with this approach and I heard through Chris Voss.  So here it is:


  1. Set your target price as a nonround number.
  2. Anchor your counterpart at 65% of your target price. Still, use a nonround number.
  3. Follow with another offer of 85% of your target price. Again, use the nonround number.
  4. Offer 95% of your target price. Remember, nonround number.
  5. Best and final offer of your target price.  This is the most important time to use a nonround number.
  6. Never go above your target price. But, throw some nonmonetary value at the end.

It may sound simple but there is a lot of science behind. Even better it forces you to prepare and gives you a script for it.  Let’s unpack it:

  • Nonround numbers.  A price of $4,659 tells your counterpart that you have detailed calculations to support this offer.
  • It starts low but yet is reasonable.  It means you won’t get shut down with your initial ask
  • The closer you get to the target price, the smaller the concession.  It sends a subconscious message.  I am offering less and less because I have less and less to give. We are getting close to by best offer.
  • Stick to your best offer.  Do not deviate. Offer things that have little value to you and may or not have value for your counterpart.  The point is to show you are still in the discussion. Keep the discussion going.  It can only create more opportunities
  • No need for “tit-for-tat”.  In that scenario, you do not have to wait for a counteroffer before making another offer.  You are in control, you lead the negotiation.
  • Use empathy in between offers.  You most likely have to send some tough messages. Soften them.  Avoid irritating him or her.  Use phrases like “I know I am asking for a lot”, “Sorry I do not know how I could do that”.

Try it and share your experience in the comments section.