Former FBI negotiator Chris Voss to receive 2022 Notable Iowan Award at Hancher lecture

Voss will speak tonight with the University of Iowa Lecture Committee about his work with the FBI and other endeavors that he has pursued in the field of negotiations.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Former lead FBI negotiator Chris Voss talks with a Daily Iowan reporter in The Daily Iowan conference room on Tuesday, April 12 2022. Voss is giving a lecture titled “Negotiating In Their World: Learning to Never Split the Difference” in Hancher Auditorium on Tuesday. (Ayrton Breckenridge/The Daily Iowan)

Jami Martin-Trainor, Arts Reporter

When Chris Voss was working as a hostage negotiator with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, one of his colleagues — Frank Pellegrino — was given the task of finding Ramzi Yousef, one of the perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Yousef had managed to evade apprehension for years. 

Pellegrino chased Yousef around the world, challenged with finding information in places where the title of United States official had no real sustenance. Yet, Pellegrino prevailed. When Voss asked him how, the answer was simple: he was compassionate.

Voss took that advice from his colleague, as well as his own findings working with the FBI, and turned it into a career. Now the author of Never Split The Difference, a book on successful negotiations, Voss has honed his craft to teach others how to negotiate in the real world. 

On Tuesday night, Voss will speak at Hancher Auditorium to share his knowledge with students. The lecture presented by the UI Lecture Committee, the Pearson Leadership Lecture Series, and the Tippie College of Business is at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are free for all. 

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The UI Lecture Committee also determined that because of Voss’ work with the FBI and other disciplines, he will receive the 2022 Notable Iowan Award at the lecture.

Adam Burghduff, a fourth-year student and member of the University of Iowa Lecture Committee, said that the Notable Iowan award recognizes the talented individuals that come from Iowa and highlights to students the potential success that awaits. Creator of “1619 Project” Nikole Hannah-Jones and Infinity War director Joe Russo have won the Notable Iowan award in the past. 

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“We make sure that they get recognized for all the hard work they’ve done, whether it’s certain accomplishments that are very large or very small scale,” Burghduff said. “We feel, as a lecture committee, that it’s really important to make sure that Iowans come back to Iowa and speak.”

In an interview with The Daily Iowan, Voss said that there is a great misconception when it comes to negotiation. He estimated that an individual will encounter around three to five negotiations on a daily basis — a negotiation, he said, takes place any time someone believes they want or need something from someone else. 

“The most dangerous negotiation is the one you don’t know you’re in,” Voss said. “People most of the time think they’re in a negotiation when you’re talking about money, but money is a commodity that is occasionally involved. A commodity that’s always involved is time.”

Voss also focuses on kindness and compassion when teaching people how to strategically communicate. Voss said that people generally tend to believe that being aggressive is the best route to pursue in an interrogation. In reality, Voss said that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

“That may be the biggest detriment that a lot of people that are very aggressive don’t see,” Voss said. “The amount of their negativity they leave in their wake of people, paying them back in a visible way, ultimately destroys most negotiators.”

The lecture is planned to be interactive, with a question-and-answer segment planned for the end portion. Voss and members of the lecture committee said that they are looking forward to forging a connection between Voss and the audience through a variety of means. 

Lilly Stark, a third-year student at the UI and member of the UI Lecture Committee, said that the age demographic is important for the topics that will be discussed in this lecture. She said that amid the current social climate, it is difficult to find real people to form connections with. 

“I think we live in a society where we kind of struggle to find mentors that have diverse perspectives or can bring something else into our lives that can help us kind of just live day-to-day and be the best version of ourselves,” Stark said. “I think Chris Voss really is someone that can show us ways that we can go through life and really get the best out of every situation we’re in.”

Voss said that he wants to be honest with his audience. He plans to connect with them through humor that is applicable to the subject, but he also has serious lessons planned for the attendees to take away. 

Failure was a common theme that Voss discussed, highlighting that hardships are inevitable. Yet, he said he wants the audience to take away the message that one does not need robust advantages or outside resources to achieve, rather, he wants people to understand that trust is worthwhile, and a vast majority of people will reciprocate kindness. 

“I’m an unremarkable human being. I don’t have a particularly high IQ. I did not come from a wealthy background. I got a degree from a public school. I don’t have this set of great connections,” Voss said. “On balance, the stuff that I’ve done in my resume is not bad. To me, [that] indicates that you don’t really need to be given any advantages to start with.”