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The Parallels Between Undercover Work and Negotiation

Undercover work and negotiation

Fortunato spent 23 years working at the FBI as a Hostage Negotiator and Undercover Agent. In 2023, she transitioned to conflict resolution training. In episode #341 of the Negotiations Ninja podcast, Melissa shared what it took to get into the right headspace to navigate undercover roles. Interestingly, many of the same shifts in mindset that she embraced can be applied to negotiation.

Undercover work and negotiation require preparation

Melissa notes that when you go undercover, you have to fall into the role and view the world from that person’s perspective. You have to speak as that person. Melissa had a case where she was attached to a mob hitman who had killed eight people. She had to shift into a different mindset to take on that undercover role.

So Melissa spent a lot of time thinking about the person she was supposed to be, the goal she was trying to accomplish, and then tried to roleplay it in her head. She had to think each scenario through. You have to do the same thing as you prepare for a negotiation. What are your goals? What are you trying to accomplish?

Undercover work and negotiation require roleplaying

To go undercover or become a hostage negotiator, you go through extensive training and roleplay different scenarios. You don’t need to roleplay a conversation that’s flowing naturally. Nine times out of ten, you have to roleplay how things could go bad. It’s when you get stressed, panicked, worried, and start questioning yourself that you need to play out how you’ll respond.

When you prepare for a negotiation, you need to prepare questions, concessions, your BATNA, and more. If it’s a high-stakes negotiation, roleplaying what the other party might say or do just might prepare you to succeed.

Undercover work and negotiation are easier when built on relationships

Melissa points out that it’s harder to do one-time drug deals with someone as opposed to building a long-term relationship with the target. They get to know you, and once people like and know you, they ask fewer questions and are less confrontational. She shares that there were certainly moments of fear and concern. And there were times it flowed great, and it felt like a relationship.

Undercover work and negotiation require stepping out of your comfort zone

Everyone hates being uncomfortable. Melissa had gotten comfortable in her role at the FBI and was confident in her abilities. Now that she’s transitioned into a new phase where she’s training others, while it’s in her wheelhouse, it’s a different type of negotiation.

Change is hard for everyone, but the more you challenge yourself, the better you’ll get at it. You’ll get to a point where you’re confident enough in yourself that you can handle whatever comes your way.

As Melissa went through her career, she was comfortable with not having all of the answers immediately. She was confident she could come up with solutions. She points out that the more you focus on fear and doubt, the more you struggle to succeed.

Your energy and mind have to shift toward your goal. You have to stop “feeling” and just do what you’ve set out to do. Once you learn to manage uncomfortable emotions and focus on your end goal, negotiation feels less like conflict.

Learn more about navigating negotiations like an FBI agent in episode #341 of Negotiations Ninja with special guest Melissa Fortunato!