What High-Stakes Negotiation Can Teach You About Caring for a Person with Dementia

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As a long-time admirer of former FBI hostage negotiator, Chris Voss, and his book "Never Split the Difference," I was thrilled to discover the wider applications of his techniques beyond high-stakes negotiations. At YouMeCare, we have found that some of Voss's strategies can be adapted to manage the unique challenges of caring for individuals with dementia, particularly those who exhibit agitated or aggressive behaviors. In this article, we will explore how Voss's tactics can be applied to the specific challenges of dementia care, providing practical tips for managing behavioral changes related to agitation and aggression.

Negotiating with Empathy

Caring for a person with dementia can be akin to a high-stakes negotiation, as their behavior can be unpredictable and emotion-driven. However, applying negotiation tactics to dementia care can be transformative. The underlying principles of effective communication, empathy, and active listening are paramount in both contexts. By using these tactics, caregivers can build meaningful connections with their clients and better understand their needs.

Active Listening and Emotional Validation

Active listening is a cornerstone of Chris Voss's negotiation strategy, and it is equally crucial when caring for individuals with dementia. By giving full attention to the speaker and understanding the emotions behind their words, caregivers can de-escalate potentially tense situations. Validating the person's emotions by labeling them and expressing empathy further fosters a sense of understanding and helps calm them.

Avoiding "Why" Questions

For individuals with dementia, asking "why" questions can lead to confusion and frustration, as they may struggle to recall reasons for their actions. Caregivers should opt for open-ended or choice-based questions that encourage expression without judgment. Redirecting the person's attention through unrelated questions can also be effective in diverting agitation.

Cultivating Patience and Building Rapport

Negotiations and dementia care both require patience. Taking the time to listen to concerns, work collaboratively, and find solutions reinforces a sense of trust and reduces future agitation. Building a rapport with the person, beyond immediate problem-solving, establishes a supportive relationship that positively impacts their well-being.

Creating a Supportive Environment

A safe and calming physical environment is vital in dementia care. By maintaining a consistent routine, providing sensory stimulation, and ensuring a clutter-free space, caregivers can minimize the likelihood of agitation and aggression.


Caring for individuals with dementia can be challenging, but integrating negotiation tactics into caregiving strategies can lead to profound improvements. Active listening, emotional validation, and empathetic communication help caregivers establish meaningful connections with their clients. By avoiding potentially triggering questions, cultivating patience, and focusing on building rapport, caregivers can create a safe and supportive environment, enhancing the quality of life for those under their care.

At YouMeCare, we understand the challenges of caregiving and are here to help. Our platform connects family caregivers with qualified and compassionate professionals who can provide the support and care they need. If you're feeling burned out, consider reaching out for help today.