The FBI’s Behavioural Change Stairway Model

2 min readJul 13, 2018

Keen to become a better negotiator? Then follow this 5-step approach.

How does an FBI hostage negotiator get a terrorist to change their mind?

It’s a good question.

After many years of real world experience, the FBI’s hostage negotiation unit developed a five step approach called the Behavioural Change Stairway Model.

Of course, this tool can be used in any form of disagreement. It’s not something that only works with assault rifle wielding terrorists.

In his excellent book Never Split The Difference, Chris Voss outlines these five steps that any successful negotiation must pass through.

They are as follows:

1. Listen Actively: Listen to their side and make them aware that you’re listening. Let them do the talking.

2. Be Empathetic: Get an understanding of where they’re coming from and howthey feel. What are the emotional needs that lie behind their words?

3. Build Rapport: Empathy is what you feel. Rapport is when they feel it back. They will start to trust you.

4. Begin Influencing: Now that they trust you, you’ve earned the right to work on problem solving with them and recommending a course of action.

5. Affect Behavioural Change: They act. (And, if they are a terrorist, come out with their hands up)

Ineffective negotiators tend to stumble on points 1 and 2. They approach things with a clear idea of what they want to get out of the situation but they don’t attempt to understand what the underlying factors are that are motivating the other side.

Without empathy (seeing things from the other person’s point of view) it is impossible to build trust which is a prerequisite for being able to influence their behaviour. I.e. getting them to do what you would like them to do.

Next time you find yourself in a standoff situation resist the urge to fight fire with fire. Pause to collect yourself and focus initially on truly listening to the other person. Build up a clear picture of where exactly they are coming from.

In doing so, you set a solid foundation for effective negotiation and give yourself the best chance of achieving the desired outcome.


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