PRODUCTHEAD: 60 seconds to negotiate

PRODUCTHEAD: 60 seconds to negotiate

PRODUCTHEAD is a regular newsletter of product management goodness,
curated by Jock Busuttil.

product police #

every PRODUCTHEAD edition is online for you to refer back to


When negotiating, don’t pitch, listen

To minimise residual influence, negotiate each point independently

When trust is low, consider making a concession contingent on the other party reciprocating

Conceding because you don’t want to upset the other party is a losing scenario


If you were to imagine the kind of hostage negotiator you tend to see in movies, you’d probably think of someone hard-bitten, gritty and level-headed, who knows when to give ground and when to push back on demands. Former FBI negotiator Chris Voss looks and sounds the part. It’s as if he’s been pulled straight out of a tense thriller. He’s no caricature, though.

I was first made aware of him by Lisa Long, one of the generous people who have taken the time to chat with me for my book research. (Let me know if you’d like to help also.) In that chat, we talked about how to negotiate with stakeholders who — for a variety of reasons — are reluctant to negotiate with you. So I thought I would delve a bit deeper into negotiating skills, because they seem to be a necessary core skill for product people to have.

Decision capacity and attention #

People only have a certain capacity for decision making during a day, and it tends to be depleted before the end of a day. You’re only making life difficult for yourself if you try to get an agreement from someone (= a decision) towards the late afternoon, because they simply may have no decisions left in the tank.

Whether you have their attention is another important consideration. People are terrible at multitasking, so if they have something else weighing on their mind, they’re not going to be terribly focused on you. Chris Voss suggests asking, “Is now a bad time to talk?”, as it tends to lead either to their suggestion of a better time to talk, or to them giving you their full attention.

Avoid asking, “Do you have a few minutes?”, because they will immediately be distracted, thinking about all the times ‘a few minutes’ turned out to be quite the opposite, and how much that annoyed them. You’ve already lost their attention and made them negative to you. Not a great start.

Agree on smaller things #

In our chat, Lisa Long also shared a piece of advice I found particularly eye-opening: when faced with a colleague who just doesn’t want to engage with you, work backwards and try to agree on smaller things first.

To illustrate what she meant by this, Lisa told me about an independent negotiator faced with a complex peace negotiation. Rather than starting with the main point, the independent negotiator asked both parties what kind of room they would like to be in. Should it have windows or no windows? Chairs? What kind? A round table or square table? And so on.

Rather than butting heads on the main issue from the outset, each side was able to find a modicum of common ground on minor points, making them more receptive to the possibility of negotiating on the bigger issues.

So while it may feel like you’re moving backwards, each small agreement is actually a tiny step forward from where you started. (Although I concede that not every negotiation can be successfully progressed by discussing furniture.)

For you this week #

I’ve included two videos featuring Chris Voss this week. In the first, he goes through his top ten negotiating phrases, providing a bit of explanation about the context in which they could be used, and how they really are a means of employing emotional intelligence and empathy to understand more about the other person and their position.

The second video, (over-)dramatically titled “60 Seconds or She Dies”, has Voss roleplaying as a hostage-taker, while his interviewer Steven Pesavento attempts to negotiate with him. Next they swap roles and Pesavento, still on an adrenaline high, tries to ‘punish’ Voss by refusing to negotiate. It’s worth watching the subsequent discussion about understanding when there’s no way you’re going to make the deal, and the reasoning behind the self-sabotage.

Initially I found Chris Voss to be a little too direct, perhaps even gung-ho — almost like the exaggerated movie negotiators he reminded me of. (This could just be down to differing UK-US sensibilities at play.) He reminds me a little of Marty Cagan: both seem to have a habit of baldly stating something provocative, but then soften their message by providing more context. So if this is your first impression of him, try to suspend your judgement a little longer than normal and give him a chance.

Speak to you soon,


what to think about this week

The top 10 negotiating lines and how to use them

In this engaging talk, Chris [Voss] delves into the power of saying ‘no’ in negotiations and how it can lead to better outcomes. Drawing from his extensive experience, Chris discusses the importance of understanding decision fatigue and using it to your advantage.

[VIDEO] Let ‘no’ out a little at a time

[Chris Voss / Joe Polish]

Negotiation drill

What is it like negotiating against one of the world’s lead negotiators?

[VIDEO] 60 seconds …

[Chris Voss / Steven Pesavento]

Negotiation tactics: Unraveling dirty tricks and gaining the upper hand

Huthwaite’s research shows that the most successful negotiators don’t entertain dirty tricks in negotiation but instead strive to reach agreements that are satisfactory to both parties, a perspective mirrored by Harvard Law School.

Recognise it’s happening, bring it to a better place

[David Freedman / Huthwaite International]

Four strategies for making concessions in negotiation

Skilled negotiators know that making strategic concessions at the right time can be an effective tactic in a negotiation. In this article, Deepak Malhotra, a professor at Harvard Business School and PON-affiliated faculty member, suggests four ways to make your concessions work to your best advantage.

Build goodwill and reciprocity

[Deepak Malhotra / Harvard Law School]

How to negotiate nicely without being a pushover

We all want it both ways: to get what we want from a tough negotiation and to walk away with our relationship intact. The good news is that kind of outcome is possible. But how exactly do you drive a hard bargain while also employing soft skills? How do you advocate for what you want without burning important bridges?

Negotiation is a dance

[Carolyn O’Hara / Harvard Business Review]

recent posts

Moving up to a CPO or VP Product role

Stepping up to a Chief Product Officer (CPO) or VP Product role doesn’t so much change what you do. Rather it amplifies everything. This guide lets you know what to expect.

Liberating and terrifying in equal measure

[I Manage Products]

I want to update my pricing strategy. Where do I start?

“My product currently has one tier of per-seat pricing for all customers. I want to change my pricing strategy to cater differently for SMEs and enterprise customers. Where do I start?”

A few pricing concepts to consider + further reading

[I Manage Products]

How do I make my product roadmap a better communication tool?

“My product roadmap is not getting the right information across to other people in my company. In particular, my customer success and marketing teams are struggling to plan their work for upcoming product releases. I’m also not sure how I can show my roadmap’s relationship to the half-yearly OKRs we set. How can I improve it?”

Your product roadmap is a communication tool

[I Manage Products]

can we help you?

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PRODUCTHEAD is a newsletter for product people of all varieties, and is lovingly crafted from tech saved from landfill.

Read more from Jock

The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management book cover

The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management

by Jock Busuttil

“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”

— Lyndsay Denton

Jock Busuttil is a product management and leadership coach, product leader and author. He has spent over two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, which provides product management consultancy, coaching and training. Its clients include BBC, University of Cambridge, Ometria, Prolific and the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). Jock holds a master’s degree in Classics from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of the popular book The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management, which was published in January 2015 by Grand Central Publishing in the US and Piatkus in the UK. He writes the blog I Manage Products and weekly product management newsletter PRODUCTHEAD. You can find him on Mastodon, X (formerly Twitter) and LinkedIn.

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