Book Summary – Never Split the Difference

Book Summary – Never Split the Difference

After an extensive career in high-stakes hostage situations, former FBI lead international hostage negotiator Chris Voss shares his key insights and learning about negotiation in his book, Never Split the Difference. For Voss, traditional methods and convention approaches to negotiations always miss a key factor in the situation – the human negotiating on the other side. Instead, negotiators need to build trust with the other party through tactical empathy.

Key takeaways:

  • Rather than an argument or a battle, negotiations are a discovery process; set your objective to uncover as much information as possible rather than outright winning.
  • The worst thing you can do when negotiating is compromise and or accept demands; take the negotiation as slowly as you need to get the outcome you want.
  • Negotiating to a successful outcome requires that you build trust with other party; to do this, you need to be emotionally intelligent and empathetic.

Establish Tactical Empathy

The first key lesson in the Never Split the Difference book summary, is to establish trust with the other party through tactical empathy in negotiations. Voss describes tactical empathy as the ability to understand the mindset, emotions, and motivations of the other party. Being able to understand this will better position you in the negotiation. There are different tools for reaching tactical empathy. One way to practice this is through active listening.

Another tool Voss offers is labelling emotions. This means acknowledging how someone feels by saying “it seems likes…” or “it looks like…” Labeling is an effective way to diffuse a tense situation. It also scientifically known to activate the part of the brain that is rational. Use labeling to signal to the other party that you are aware and attune to their situation and to break through to their rational side.

Mirroring is another technique that Voss recommends for building tactical empathy. To do this, you want to repeat the last three words the other party has said. Similar to labeling, this signals to the other party that you are being empathetic. Additionally, it can help the other party create a bond with you. Your tone of voice is another important factor for establishing tactical empathy. Having a deeper softer voice (think FM DJ) can reassure people, making them feel comfortable. Whereas a playful voice signals that you are easy going, which may help make you seem more empathetic.

“No” is the Beginning of the Negotiation

According to Voss, the word “no” is actually the beginning of a negotiation rather than the end. When you hear no, this can become a tool for understanding what the real stakes are for the other party. Take advantage of this no by asking for clarification. For example, no can mean no I am not ready to agree, or no I don’t understand. By asking clarifying questions, you can widen your understanding of what the counter party is really looking for.

Bending reality

In order to maintain control, one must manage and even bend the reality. Part of this also means you must be perceived as fair. To demonstrate this, you can make it seem like you have something to lose. Voss offers a number of tactics to help establish control over the reality of the negotiation. Let the other party start – we randomly know where the other party is starting with. By inviting the other party to begin with their offer, you can get a sense of where they are at. Often times it may surprise you. One thing to note is professional negotiators understand this tactic. Therefore, choose to use this wisely.

Use odd numbers – providing a number, such as $101,233, is received differently than say $100,000. Odd numbers give the impression that they are thought through rather than a placeholder. Finish with a non-monetary item – in place of negotiating with monetary items, pick terms or items that are not value to you but maybe valuable to the other party.

Provide them the illusion of control

Use calibrated questions in order to provide the other party with an illusion of control. For example, instead of telling the other party what you can do for them, ask them “How can I help make this better for us?” Such questions will serve as a facilitator of information between you two, enabling…***

Never accept demands and do not compromise

Aptly given away by the title of the book, one of Voss’s key tips is to never ever compromise. In Voss’s situations, there was no way to split the difference on a hostage’s life. For the rest of us, taking no deal is actually better than taking a bad deal. This will help avoid buyers’ remorse and even regret. One of the common tactics that parties will use to force a compromise is through time. They will threaten that they are running out of time. Truth is most deadlines are meaningless. Effective negotiators recognize this and set the pace of the negotiation.

Getting verbal commitment and execution

Getting agreement is one thing. But having the person fulfill or execute that agreement is another. Afterall, negotiating to an agreed state is useless if the other party does not uphold their word. For this, Voss highlights different ways to identify if the person is being truthful about their “yes”. One rule Voss goes by is the 7-38-55 rule by Albert Mehrabian. This rule proposes that our communication is 7% words, 38% tone, and 55% body language. This means that in order to understand if the other party is truly in alignment with you, you’ll need to hear more than just a simple “yes.”

Another tell that Voss provides us is that liars often use more words than truth tellers. They may explain or speak to a situation with third person pro-nouns. Checking for how concise someone is explaining their position may give you great insight on in their commitment is genuine. Finally, while empathizing with your counter party is key, it is important that they view you as a human as a ways to empathize with you. Known as the Chris Discount, the use of your own name can help humanize you in the exchange.

About Chris Voss

Chris Voss is a former FBI hostage negotiator responsible for leading international kidnapping negotiations. He is the current CEO of The Black Swan Group, where he synthesizes his global training and 24-year experience in the bureau into a tactical and actionable courseware for organizations. In addition to professional courses, Voss also serves as an adjunct professor for Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and lectures as USC Marshall School of Business.

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