Never Split The Difference by Chris Voss

Coming from someone who has worked as a negotiator for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for 14 years, been part of the investigating team for the World Trade Center attack and several such terror plots and over 150 hostage cases, the book sounds interesting from the word go. 

Never Spilt the Difference by Christopher Voss, a hostage negotiator for the FBI and adjunct professor at Harvard Law School, tells you all about high stakes negotiations, as if your life is dependent on it. 

After being a street cop, Voss worked for the FBI as the chief kidnap negotiator and was called by Harvard to check if he could teach a course in negotiation skills. There, he experienced for the first time those negotiations like the ones he did with kidnappers where money and life was at stake, happen all the time everywhere in diverse settings. His techniques worked everywhere and made sense intellectually. 

What negotiations hold for humans

Many things to many people, but primarily it shows that it all boils down to how the smartest one deals with human psychology, rational thought and controls impulses. Separate the emotion from the problem, rather than focusing on what they (the other party) is asking for, focus on why they’re asking for it, all amidst highly volatile mind play. 

How negotiations play out

Voss plays out a few secrets of the game of negotiations.

1.Listen. When people feel listened to, they listen to themselves better and can rationally evaluate their own thoughts. It’s a fine balance of the emotional intelligence and assertive skills of influence at play between two parties. People want to be heard and accepted. Hostility only turns all communication off and never leads to solutions. 

2.Mirroring. You can change someone’s mind and thoughts by mirroring, repeating what they said with a questioning tone. That hits on the person who is forced to rethink what he just said and bring a different perspective within a few seconds. So you’re actually changing rationale without any effort. Focus on the other person and try to unveil the voices in his head. 

3.Don’t feel their pain, label it. People crave for clarity. In tactical empathy, one tries to understand the feelings and mindset of a person and also the reason behind those feelings so that you’re more in control to influence his thoughts and actions thereafter. Giving words to people’s innermost fears at that moment, like saying ‘you feel I will counter you at this time’ or ‘it seems like you don’t want to find a solution to this impasse’ takes the person by surprise because it’s just what he’s feeling but doesn’t identify it himself. He’s shocked and unarmed to confront this label for his feelings. That moment of vulnerability is the right moment to seed an alternative in his mind. 

4.Beware ‘yes’—master ‘no’ Negotiations usually begin with a ‘No’. But all ‘No’s have different meanings. It could be that they’re not yet willing to agree, uncomfortable, can’t afford the solution, want something else, want someone else to talk to, etc. Find out what is it that is making them say no from them and then work in their world towards a ‘Yes’. Their NO is just a façade of protection before they give in to a Yes. Don’t push people to say Yes right away, it makes them more defensive. 

5.Trigger the two words that immediately transform any negotiation
As deadlocks proceed, both parties are averse to ceding territory to the other. At such times, all tactics like listening, mirroring, paraphrasing, using minimal encouragers and finally summarizing helps the other person to come to that one phrase ‘That’s right’. It’s because you have subtly changed the course of the narrative by reworking it to your advantage. So he won’t say “you are right” but rather ‘That’s right’ which still keeps his dignity intact while agreeing you were right in what you said. 

6.Bend their reality – most negotiations begin from desires and needs buried deep within. Use emotional anchors from the beginning to show how bad it will be to do what they intend to do and then insert your plan. People take great efforts to minimize loss than realize the gain. 

7.Create the illusion of control – calibrate questions that suit your direction. Ask questions that make the other person hold on to an illusion that you’re taking directions from him while all you’re doing is getting him agree on what you intend to do. ‘What about this is important to you’ which makes him start pondering upon what’s actually important. Ask ‘How can we solve this problem’ which immediately triggers him towards finding a solution. Get him to agree to your solution while allowing him the luxury of thinking it’s his. Remember that aggressive confrontation is the enemy of constructive negotiations. 

8.Guarantee execution – merely agreeing “what” to do is not enough, get a “how” too.

Key takeaways

  1. Negotiations happen not just in the extremely dangerous world of crime but in everyday life. Businesses are fraught with situations that require you to negotiate and bargain hard to get things your way
  2. Never settle halfway through. Always get what you want by making the other person feel he has won.
  3. Understand human psychology. All stalemates have solutions that lie deep within way people behave in a way they do.
  4. Use rationale, but play on human needs and hidden desires. Everyone wants to be heard and understood. Everyone wants to feel victorious. Good negotiators play on human mind rather than money. 

Why I recommend this book

Because I learned some staggering facts about how human mind plays a key role in accepting or rejecting something based on how it makes them ‘feel’. Do read this book if you encounter situations that decide yours or your company’s fate. It’s  a master document from someone who has been there and done that. Though not all negotiations turn out successful for both parties, learning how to steer them towards a win-win outcome is still a better way to begin. 

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