This video is a part of our ClassroomX educational series on the nuts and bolts of building a startup today. From defining your business model to growth, product strategy, and building your community, these 15 lessons by domain experts aim to equip young founders with crucial insights to transform their early-stage products into viable businesses.

What are the keys to successful negotiations?

When it comes to establishing trust in the startup world — during meetings or calls with investors and partners — focus and active listening are key.

What you'll learn from this session:

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About Chip Massey

Chip Massey is a partner at the When & How agency, which advises business leaders on crisis risk and assessment, healthy conflict resolution, client retention & acquisition, and how to accelerate the sales process by building strong, powerful, and trust-based relationships. For more than two decades, Massey served as an FBI Special Agent and hostage/crisis negotiator. During his tenure, his work ranged from collaborating with the CIA to crack espionage rings to high-profile corruption cases, to post-9/11 counter-terrorism investigations at key Washington, D.C. sites.

Start by building trust

In his 22 years working with the FBI as a special agent, Chip spent much of his career as a crisis hostage negotiator. He was tasked with managing high-stress situations and having to quickly establish trust with hostile parties.

"I knew that going into a kidnapping or a hostage scenario, I had about 10-to-15 seconds to establish trust with that person," recalls Chip. "If you can't quickly establish trust or rapport, then that person feels they don't need you, and you're a goner."

A singular focus is needed for building trust. "Dismiss multitasking when you're trying to connect with a client, partner, or in developing any other important relationship," Chip advises. "They're going to say little, key things that you can pick up on and jot down. You don't want to miss out on those opportunities for connection."

Know your negotiating partner

Doing your homework and coming to the meeting with some small details, such as the name of an investor's dog or where they like to vacation in the winter, often pay dividends as more interactions occur. Remembering personal details and bringing them up during meetings demonstrates that you've been paying attention and can help build higher levels of trust over time.

Chip compares building trust to making it into a bank savings account. "Establish trust by putting those deposits in," he says. "The time will eventually come where they'll come back around to help you. We call it a turnaround. And all of a sudden they shift focus and look up at you like, 'All right, what can I do for you?'"

But building trust isn't simply about remembering that a potential investor owns a vacation home in the Caribbean. Chip says the best — and the quickest — way to lay a strong foundation of trust is with empathy.

Using empathy to connect

But Chip draws an important distinction between empathy and sympathy. While sympathy is generally about feeling bad for someone, the focus of empathy is being able to place oneself in another person's shoes, see their point of view, and effectively express and communicate those sentiments.

"Empathy doesn't contain judgment," Chip says. "You can empathize with somebody and not agree with their actions or belief system, but still look for commonality. When I was interviewing murderers, I'd use empathy to connect with them. I'd talk to a drug cartel member from the perspective of someone in business, for example."

From a startup perspective, having empathy means being able to internalize what investors, employees, or customers all want out of the relationship with you and your company. But Chip cautions, these motivations often need uncovering with deep questioning and active listening.

"Everyone has recordings playing in their head that they apply to interactions with various people, an unstated narrative," he says. "Wouldn't it be advantageous to know what that recording was?"

To get deeper insight into what investors are saying to you during a pitch, for example, you might ask them open-ended questions and listen actively to tap into what they're really feeling and access the unstated narrative playing in their minds. Chip also recommends techniques, such as strategic pauses in the conversation, that force the other person to speak their mind, or physically mirroring their posture to subconsciously build rapport. Most importantly, he says, focus on building trust, rapport, and empathy as the foundation for productive discussions. "Save the demands for later," Chip suggests. "Listening is actually your best ROI in most scenarios. It costs you nothing — just time. Be the person that's so interested in them that they feel like the only person in the room."