5 Powerful Negotiation Tips From Never Split The Difference
Chris Voss was an FBI agent for 24 years. He worked his way up to being the top kidnapping negotiator in the entire FBI organization. In his best-seller ‘Never Split The Difference’, he shares the essential negotiation tips that he used to successfully negotiate with terrorists, bank robbers and other criminals who had taken a hostage. Ordinary people will learn how to best negotiate in their own lives, with their spouse or at work.
Most of the things you know about negotiation up to this point are probably wrong.
Never Split the Difference is a primer on the art of negotiation, and Chris Voss is not just any random person to tell us about this; he has the experience to back it up. We spend a lot of our lives unknowingly negotiating, so we might as well get better at it. Never Split the Difference provides a strong foundation for negotiation with many easy and useful takeaways. What sets this book and techniques in it apart from others is the focus on empathy and emotional intelligence. These leanings were game-changers for FBI, and Chris Voss brings them into real-life situations with lively examples and stories from his clients.
Imagine you’re thrown into a negotiating situation. You’re asking for $1000, but you’re only being offered $500.
What do you do? Most people are going to end up meeting in the middle at $750. According to Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss, this is what you absolutely must not do! This all comes down to the time Chris spent as an FBI negotiator. Let’s say the bad guys have 10 hostages. The FBI can’t split the difference and compromise; anything less than 10 hostages released is a failure.
Life is a series of negotiations you should be prepared for: buying a car; negotiating a pay hike; buying a home; renegotiating rent; deliberating with your partner.
Taking emotional intelligence and intuition to the next level, Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss aims to give you the competitive edge in any discussion. Being on the phone with bank robbers and terrorists forced Chris Voss and the FBI to find negotiation strategies that work no matter what. And these are the exact same strategies you’re about to learn.
By using these tactics and other tools discussed in the book, you will be able to get things while negotiating that you otherwise would not have been able to receive.
There are a lot of lessons and negotiation tips in Never Split The Difference, but the five most important ones to me are the following. The book contains a lot of actionable advice. The following are the techniques that provided me the most value.
Negotiation Tip #1: Listen Deeply
Hollywood movies often depict good negotiation as being aggressive or adversarial. Two people pushing hard to get what they want. However, Chris Voss says a forceful approach usually gets you nowhere and only invites resistance. The FBI has found the most effective negotiation approach starts with empathy. This means listening to the other side with your full attention.
A good negotiation can sound very similar to a conversation with a therapist, at least in the beginning.
The first step is to understand their position, feelings, needs and worldview as deeply as you can. It’s only when they feel understood that the negotiation can begin. By the way, this doesn’t mean agreeing with everything they say. Don’t agree, but just show you understand their position. Before negotiations can begin you want to know as much information as possible about the situation and the person or people you’re going to be negotiating with. You want to know their needs, goals, and motivations. Creating an amicable connection with the other person is a must hence why you always see FBI agents talking to the criminal. This allows them to learn about their counterparts needs, goals, motivation, as well as their personality whilst also gaining trust which is essential for gaining information.
Chris Voss is really big into what he calls, Tactical Empathy. That begins by listening to what the other side is saying.
Many sales reps have been trained to get to “yes,” no matter what your prospect says. If you have a rebuttal for everything that your prospect says that will lead them into yes and that they need your solution, you aren’t really listening to them. It might seem ridiculously obvious, but people get upset when they aren’t heard. If you go into a negotiation so determined to be heard, how can you listen to your prospects? In your next meeting, before you go into your value-prop or your pitch and why they should do business with you, take some time to really understand what your prospects are looking for. Use pauses appropriately, summarize what you heard from them and ask follow up clarifying questions.
In every negotiation there are at least two parties, and the only way to bring it to a successful conclusion is to understand who the other party is and what it is that they want exactly.
All people want to be understood; they want you to understand what motivates them and why they’re doing something. Ideally, they want you to understand their cause and agree with them. This is why any negotiation is going to quickly run into the ground without empathy and without an attempt to understand the other party. Listening is the main part of empathy. You don’t have to agree with the other party, and you don’t have to give into their demands, but you are going to have to listen to them.
Active listening is not easy, and the urge to jump in and say something is going to be great. So bite your tongue. Take a moment to reflect.
And only when you’re absolutely certain about what you want to say, should you actually say it. Second, there are ‘tricks’ you can use. One of the most useful tricks is called mirroring. Simply repeat the last few words (or the last critical word) someone said and this will signal to the other party that you’re listening. It helps the other person to connect their thoughts, and it gives you a chance to think and prepare your response. Mirrors also work because it reflects understanding and empathy. It lets the other side do the talking, and the more talking is happening, the bigger the chance that they will reveal a piece of information or strategy.
Negotiation Tip #2: Get a ‘No’ at the Start
Sometimes people are so keen to find a resolution to a conflict that they end up with a result that is not convenient. To ensure you don’t find yourself in this situation don’t compromise, don’t rush, and don’t accept a bad deal — don’t ‘split the difference’. The problem with rushing and presuming is that sometimes the counterpart has needs that we are not even aware of which can skew the request and outcome when we wade in fast with a compromise.
“No” can be a powerful instrument in a negotiation when it uncovers unknown points of the contention.
Pushing for a hard “Yes” doesn’t get you any closer to a victory. It only irks the other party. Contrary to popular belief, “No” is the start of the negotiation, not the end of it. In a negotiation scenario, “No” provides a great opportunity for you and the other party to clarify what you really want by eliminating what you don’t want. Saying “No” makes the speaker feel safe, secure, and in control, so trigger it. That’s why “Is now a bad time to talk?” is always better than “Do you have a few minutes to talk?” If a potential business partner is ignoring you, contact them with a clear and concise “No”-oriented question that suggests that you are ready to walk away. “Have you given up on this project?” works wonders.
Throughout the book, Chris Voss presents ideas that seem contrary to conventional wisdom.
You’ll possibly have heard that you should ask innocuous questions to get a ‘yes’ at the start of a negotiation; really obvious things that no one can say no to, such as ‘do you enjoy food?’ He claims that this puts us on guard and we’re less open to considering the offer. I’m confident most of us have experienced a pushy salesman doing this at some point. I know I don’t respond well to this approach. Instead, he wants us to get a no as quickly as possible. He claims that “‘No’ is the start of the negotiation, not the end of it.” There’s a lot of value in this idea. The central idea is that by getting to a no we’re starting a dialogue. Once I understand what you don’t want, I can offer you something that better meets your needs.
The problem with the “Yes” pattern is that we don’t like it when we are cornered by “Yes” questions.
Some sales people use a “Yes” pattern with their customers; they ask, one after another, simple questions where the obvious answer is “Yes,” and then in the end slip in the final ask hoping that by now their customers will say yes to pretty much anything. We will start to lose our sense of control if we don’t have a chance to stand our ground and say “No” to the sales person. Seek a “No” from your counterpart to make them feel in control, slow things down, and really consider what you’re proposing to them. When you get the “No,” don’t treat it as rejection but as an opportunity to improve the communications with your counterpart.
Have you ever been in a hurry to settle a negotiation that you ended up unhappy with the result?
Remember, accepting a bad deal or even compromising is always a mistake. Pushing hard for “Yes” doesn’t get a negotiator any closer to a win; it just angers the other side. Great negotiators seek “No” because they know that’s often when the real negotiation begins. Saying “No” makes the speaker feel safe, secure, and in control, so trigger it. Sometimes the only way to get your counterpart to listen and engage with you is by forcing them into a “No.” That means intentionally mislabeling one of their emotions or desires or asking a ridiculous question — like, “It seems like you want this project to fail” — that can only be answered negatively.
Negotiation Tip #3: Uncover Black Swans
Chris Voss named his company the Black Swan Group as a reference to the unknown unknowns that always have a chance to surface during negotiations, and that you should actively try to seek out. Every negotiation or case that you’re working on is unique due to the details and the people involved. This means that you cannot rely a 100% on your past experiences or on some predefined script.
Let your known knowns guide you, but don’t let them blind you from what you don’t know. Every case is new, so be open, flexible, and adaptable.
Move the discussion away from the deal, dig into worldviews. Take the discussion away from the negotiation table and into the emotions and life of the other party. That’s where Black Swans live. People find comfort in similarity. They are more likely to concede to someone who they have common beliefs with. You need to try and find that common ground.
There are always a few “game changers” in negotiating that would totally change the situation or turn the tables when discovered. It’s finding these black swans that can really help your case.
In Never Split The Difference, Chris Voss gives an example from his career as a hostage negotiator, when a man went into a bank and held several employees hostage. The hostage-taker demanded that the police have a shoot-out with him at exactly 3 o’clock or he would kill a hostage. Up to that point, no hostage-taker had ever shot a hostage right on time. But at 3 o’clock the man took one of his hostages, walked up near to the window and shot her. He then walked in full frontal view of the window, looked at the sniper positioned across the street, and was shot. The hostage-taker didn’t want money, fame, or planned an escape. It was the first death-by-cop case in the United States, and a perfect example of an unknown unknown taking place. This is a piece of black swan information that, if the negotiators had known the intent of the hostage-taker, would have totally altered the situation.
Black swans are unknown unknowns that you must expect.
The more your counterpart talks, the more are your chances to uncover their true desires and use them to your advantage. Using the combination of mirroring, labeling and open-ended questions to keep people talking and reveal what matters most to them (Chris Voss calls it using their ‘religion’). Best negotiators not only expect surprises but go to the table with the core objective of exploring all the surprises. If you ever find yourself saying ‘they’re crazy’, know that you are having trouble understanding the position of your counterpart. People are not crazy and the fact that you feel this is a signal that you need more information to find their vulnerability and making them open to influence. This is most often caused by bad information or information asymmetry.
In many ways, negotiation is all about finding the Black swans.
To discover them, you must open your mind, maintain endless curiosity, and be on the lookout for surprises. Black swans are present in every sort of negotiation, from a high-stakes hostage negotiation between FBI agents and kidnappers to a local real estate deal between two small business owners. A black swan can be any piece of information directly or tangentially related to a negotiation that you think you can use to shift a negotiation in your favor. If you’re about to start a longer series of negotiations or business deals, it’s important to plan when you’re going to deploy the black swans you’ve found. Using a black swan at the right moment can give you a competitive edge and help you gain the upper hand at a critical point of a negotiation.
Negotiation Tip #4: Do an Accusation Audit
Do an ‘accusation audit’ to bring out all the stuff that your counterpart may find unattractive about your deal. This works when you have an offer people will most likely not like. You can start with something like ‘I have a rather crappy offer for you and you will probably feel I am a really bad business partner once you hear it.. but still..’. This lowers their emotional expectations. Combining this with some ‘loss aversion’ by offering something, the refusal of which seems like a loss is a great strategy.
A negotiation audit is about being prepared for the worst your negotiating partner might throw at you and ensuring you have a ready response.
Not necessarily to have a counter, but simply to be prepared to play back the other persons concerns so they see you have heard them. Voss highlights that you don’t need to justify your position relating to these accusations, simply repeating them back and letting them pick up on any points, either revealing useful information for further negotiation or taking the heat out of potentials landmines that might derail the negotiation.
People’s emotions have two levels. A “presenting” behavior, which is the part above the surface that one can see and hear; and the “underlying” feeling which is the motivation behind the behavior.
Great negotiators address those underlying emotions by labeling. Labeling negatives diffuse them, and labeling positives reinforce them. Labeling helps de-escalate situations because it acknowledges the other party’s feelings rather than continuing to act them out. The golden rule is to understand that you’re dealing with a human who wants to be appreciated and understood. Labels can help reinforce positive perceptions and dynamics. Giving someone’s emotion a name, otherwise known as labeling, gets you close to someone without asking about external factors you know nothing about. By using labeling, you are rearticulating what is said to you, which often results in correction or further explanation from your opponent. Sometimes things sound great in our heads, but when we hear them from someone else, it no longer makes sense.
The neuroscience that does back up the effectiveness of the accusation audit is from Alex Korb’s book — “The Upward Spiral.”
They did an experiment where they monitored the brain activity in the part of the amygdala that conducts negative emotions. When they had the subject self-label (merely identify) the negative emotions, the negative emotions diminished. Every time. That’s why it’s critical you don’t DENY the negative when you use this strategy. You have to induce a contemplation of it by your counterpart to trigger the effect. In many cases, when you effectively clear the negatives, the positives, or reasons for doing something will take over for you and make the deal. You might have to pitch the value after, but if you do, it’s much easier.
The fastest and most effective means of establishing a quick working relationship is to acknowledge the negative and defuse it.
Don’t be afraid of sounding weak or apologizing. Unless you’re holding all the cards, making them feel you’re on the same page produces more concessions in the long run than making them feel you don’t care or understand. If you’re dealing with a loved one or a business negotiation that’s headed south, the other side probably has made some accusations about you. “You don’t listen” or “You’re being unfair.” And the common response is to start your reply with “I’m not ____.” You deny their feelings. Boom — you just lost the patient, doctor. They now assume you’re not on the same page. That they can’t trust you.
Negotiation Tip #5: Ask Calibrated Questions
Calibrated questions, in my opinion, are the most powerful tools given in the book. The power to force your opponent to solve your problems makes them want to come to a resolution that not only works for them but also works for you. By the way, open-ended questions have become one of the most powerful tools of the FBI. An open-ended question is basically a question that requires a longer response, while a close-ended question can be answered with “yes” “no” or a short fact.
Calibrated questions also make your opponent feel like the one with all the answers because you are the one asking them questions.
When your opponent responds, their response can help you learn more about their inner thoughts and the so-called “Black Swans,” which we have talked about earlier. Never use ‘why’ and closed ended questions, as in those cases people can give simple responses and then they will want something from you too. Simple questions like ‘how am I supposed to do that’ are great openers and it establishes an environment of problem solving where your counterpart starts to help solve the problem at hand and may offer suggestions, you didn’t even know existed.
Why are open-ended questions so great? Because they let you say no and disagree with the other person, without sounding like it!
You actually sound like you’re asking them for help respectfully. For example, in hostage negotiations, if the kidnapper says how much money they want, Chris Voss does not disagree with them directly. Instead he often asks the open-ended question, “How am I supposed to get that kind of money?” Immediately the focus of the negotiation shifts and the kidnapper starts to concentrate on Chris’s problem of affording the ransom. In many cases, they will immediately decrease how much money they’re demanding, without being asked to!
Open-ended questions also essentially get the other person creating the plan for solving YOUR problems.
For example, if you’re a freelancer not getting paid on time, you can ask “How am I supposed to accept that?” In Chris’s experience, they will often start talking about a payment plan to get you paid. Compare this approach to what many people might say, like “This is unacceptable” or “You have to pay us on time!” both of which would probably incite pushback. As a side benefit, when the other person invests their own thought into a plan, they will be much more committed to it. Chris Voss says too often in negotiations, people may give a fake “yes” just to get rid of you for a while, but they do not follow through with the plan because they feel no ownership of it.
Besides, the Rule of Three is simply getting the other guy to agree to the same thing three times in the same conversation.
The first time they agree to something or give you a commitment, that’s No. 1. For No. 2 you might label or summarize what they said so they answer, “That’s right.” And No. 3 could be a calibrated “How” or “What” question about implementation that asks them to explain what will constitute success, something like “What do we do if we get off track?” The three times might also just be the same calibrated question phrased three different ways, like “What’s the biggest challenge you faced? What are we up against here? What do you see as being the most difficult thing to get around?”
Never Split the Difference might be your key to a better salary or happier relationship. This book has a ton to offer to absolutely anyone and does so in easy to understand manner. Chris Voss’s writing is easy to follow, and all the concepts are clear, with plenty of examples and proofs.
I enjoyed Never Split the Difference.
The fact that Chris Voss negotiated professionally for the FBI lends a lot of credibility to the book. All the techniques were easy to understand due to personal anecdotes showing them in action. It’s super practical; since reading the book, I’ve used these techniques successfully in business negotiations. Even if you only take one or two ideas from the book you’ll be better prepared for future negotiations.
Never Split The Difference is full of great information on the art negotiating and becoming a better negotiator, even if you’ve never had much experience in it.
What people might not realize is that a lot of things in life are a negotiation. Negotiating is not just a skill you use to talk to hostage-takers, but also when deciding who is going to cook tonight. It’s not just about terrorists, but also about discussions with employees, bosses, or clients. This is why everyone could potentially benefit from becoming a better negotiator, and Never Split The Difference is an excellent primer for that.
As Chris Voss says, “Life is negotiation.” Do you want to split the difference or get the best deal possible?
Remember: Negotiation isn’t just something business people and criminals do. Negotiation is all around you in all parts of your daily life in some form or another. By subtly using the various techniques listed in this book, you will have an arsenal of tools that can be deployed standalone or as part of an important negotiation.
Digital Dandy. Hacker From Heart. Workaholic. Coding Artist. Self-made.