Book Club: Never Split the Difference


Book Club: Never Split the Difference

September 18, 2019 | Education

In Never Split the Difference, we learn how to get the competitive edge from former FBI hostage negotiator, Chris Voss. He takes you inside his mind during the most high-stakes negotiations imaginable–think bank robbers, kidnappers and terrorists–and transfers the skills he learned to everyday life, including buying a car, negotiating a freelance rate or dealing with a landlord.

We were ready to read a hyper-masculine diatribe about dominating your counterpart and how to use trickery and deception to get what you want, but what followed was the importance of listening, good communication skills and fostering a high EQ, “When you radiate warmth and acceptance, conversations just seem to flow.”

Here are a few lessons we learned:

“We are emotional, irrational beasts who are emotional and irrational in predictable, pattern-filled ways.”

  • Label your counterpart’s feelings
    Saying “it sounds like you’re worried about X,” shows you’re listening, that you’re empathetic and can even get ahead of fears they might have about you with an accusation audit:
    – Think of every bad thing they could say about you
    – Fearlessly label them, “I know it must seem like I’m trying to get one over on you.”
    – Ask them for feedback and input
    That will allow you to replace it with a positive idea or solution. 
  • Tone matters
    Use a playful, positive, and tempered voice most of the time. If you need to drive home a point, then you can use the “Late Night DJ Voice”, which is still slow-paced, but at a lower register with no inflections, to show you’re not asking a question.
  • No is only the start of the conversation
    When someone is free to say no, it puts them in a place of control and allows them to feel safe. From there, you can find out more about what’s important to them with questions like, “What about this doesn’t work for you?”. Voss even advises prompting the person to get to no quicker by being more direct about their wants or purposefully but gently mislabeling their feelings to elicit a response.
  • Resist the urge to take the middle ground
    Good negotiation isn’t about everyone getting a little piece of what they want. The perception of fairness is essential, but a split down the middle often benefits neither party.
  • Most deadlines are artificial and can change
    Don’t rush into something – no deal is better than a bad deal. Sometimes we’re afraid to lose out, and that fear leads us to the middle ground.
  • Use extreme anchors to bend the other person’s perception of reality
    An extreme anchor sets your counterpart’s expectations low and changes the nature of the conversation. If you go into the negotiation having already labeled the other person’s fears, and gotten them to name a price first, you can start negotiating up from 65% of your original target price. Them thinking that your 65% is your 100% will make them feel good about your 85%.
    If you’re trying to set a salary or a sale, set a high range where your target figure is below the bottom. For example, if your closing price $500, you could say, “These items often reach $700 – $850 at auction.” You’ll often find in negotiation people end up settling closer to the bottom range.
  • If appropriate, use a precise number
    Saying, “my absolute highest price is $4,570” could make your counterpart think you’ve come to that number through some close budgeting, with no wiggle-room. 
  • Identify their ‘black swan’
    The black swan is “a small or large piece of information that has a high impact on the implementation of a negotiated agreement.” It’s those “unknown unknowns.” Maybe the person doesn’t really have the authority to close a negotiation, or maybe there’s a significant attitude or belief they hold which will an effect. Finding a black swan is tough, but is significantly easier face-to-face. It means sharing candid or unguarded moments before or after a scheduled meeting and paying real attention when your counterpart says something unexpected. 

Our book club thought this one was well-paced, engaging, and gave some actionable advice for starting a negotiation practice. We also agreed that we’d love to read a Chris Voss memoire. If you’d like to read the book, let us know. We’re happy to send you one of our copies in the post. Also, please get in if there’s something you think we have to read, we love a recommendation! 


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