Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss TLDR

The beauty of empathy is that it doesn’t demand that you agree with the other person’s ideas.” — Chris Voss

Chris Voss, former international hostage negotiator for the FBI offers a new, field-tested approach to high-stakes negotiations—whether in the boardroom or at home. Never Split the Difference takes you inside the world of high-stakes negotiations and into Voss’s head, revealing the skills that helped him and his colleagues succeed where it mattered most: saving lives. In this practical guide, he shares the nine effective principles—counterintuitive tactics and strategies—you too can use to become more persuasive in both your professional and personal life. Below are some notes I jotted while reading the book. For more Big Brain TLDR’s:

Life is a series of negotiations you should be prepared for: buying a car, negotiating a salary, buying a home, renegotiating rent, deliberating with your partner. Taking emotional intelligence and intuition to the next level, Never Split the Difference gives you the competitive edge in any discussion.

A good negotiator prepares, going in, to be ready for possible surprises; a great negotiator aims to use their skills to reveal the surprises they’re certain to find.

Don’t commit to assumptions. Instead, view them as hypotheses and use the negotiation to test them rigorously.

Slow it down. Going too fast is one of the mistakes all negotiators are prone to making. If we’re too much in a hurry, people can feel as if they’re not being heard. You risk undermining the rapport and trust you’ve built.

Put a smile on your face. When people are in a positive frame of mind, they think more quickly, and are more likely to collaborate and problem-solve (instead of fight and resist). Positivity creates mental agility in both you and your counterpart.

There are three voice tones available to negotiators: First, the late night FM DJ voice: Use selectively to make a point. Inflect your voice downward, keeping it calm and slow. When done properly, you create an aura of authority and trustworthiness without triggering defensiveness. Second, the positive/playful voice: Should be your default voice. It’s the voice of an easygoing, good-natured person. Your attitude is light and encouraging. The key here is to relax smile while you’re talking. The third is the direct assertive voice: Used rarely, as it will likely create pushback.

Mirrors work magic. Repeat the last three words of what someone has just said. We fear what’s different and are drawn to what’s similar. Mirroring is the art of insinuating similarity, which facilitates bonding. Use mirrors to encourage the other side to empathize and bond with you, keep people talking, buy your side time to regroup, and encourage your counterparts to reveal their strategy.

The system was so easy to follow and seductive, with four basic tenets. One, separate the person— the emotion—from the problems; two, don’t get wrapped up in the other sides position (what they’re asking for) but instead focus on their interests (why they’re asking for it) so that you can find what they really want; three work cooperatively with to generate win-win options, and four, establish mutually agreed upon standards for evaluating those possible scenarios.

For those people who view negotiation as a battle of arguments, it’s the voices in their own head that are overwhelming them. When they’re not talking, they’re thinking about their arguments, and when they’re talking, they’re making their arguments. Often those on both sides of the table are doing the same thing, so you have what I call a state of schizophrenia: everyone just listening to the voice in their head. It may look like there are only two people in a conversation, but really it’s more like four people all talking at once.

There’s one powerful way to quiet the voice in your head and the voice in their head at the same time: treat two schizophrenics with one pill. Instead of prioritizing your argument— in fact, instead of doing any thinking at all in the early goings about what you’re going to say—make your sole and all-encompassing focus the other person and what they have to say. In that mode of true active listening—aided by the tactics you’ll learn in the following chapter—you’ll disarm your counterpart. You’ll make them feel safe. The voice in their head will begin to quiet down.

The goal is to identify what your counterparts actually need (monetarily, emotionally, or otherwise) and get them feeling safe enough to talk and talk and talk some more about what they want. The latter will help you discover the former. Wants are are easy to talk about, representing the aspiration of getting our way, and sustaining any illusion of control we have as we begin to negotiate; needs imply survival, the very minimum required to make us act, and so make us vulnerable. But neither wants nor needs are where we start; it begins with listening, making it about the other people, validating their emotions, and creating enough trust and safety for a real conversation.

Imagine yourself in your counterparts situation. The beauty of empathy is that it doesn’t demand that you agree with the other persons ideas. But by acknowledging the other persons situation, you immediately convey that you’re listening. And once they know you’re listening, they may tell you something that you can use.

The reasons why a counterpart will not make an agreement with you are often more powerful than why they will make a deal, so focus first on clearing the barriers to agreement. Denying barriers or negative influences gives them credence; get them into the open.

Pause. After you label a barrier or mirror a statement, let it sink in. Don’t worry, the other party will fill the silence.

Label your counterparts fears to diffuse their power. We all want to talk about the happy stuff, but remember, the faster you interrupt action in your counterparts amygdala, the part of your brain that generates fear, the faster you can generate feelings of safety, well-being, and trust.

List the worst things that the other party could say about you and say them before the other person can. Performing an accusation audit in advance prepares you to head off negative dynamics before they take root. And because these accusations often sound exaggerated when said aloud, speaking them will encourage the other person to claim that quite the opposite is true.

Remember when you’re dealing with a person who wants to be appreciated and understood. So use labels to reinforce and encourage positive perceptions and dynamics.

Extracting information means getting the other party to feel safe and in control. And while it might sound contradictory, the way to get there is by getting the other party to disagree, to draw their own boundaries, to define their desires as a function of what they do not want.

I encourage you to use the anti-“niceness ruse”, not in the sense that you’re unkind, but in the sense that they’re authentic. Triggering “no” peels away the plastic falsehood of “yes” and gets you to what’s really at stake.

Break the habit of attempting to get people to say “yes”. Being pushed for “yes” makes people defensive. Our love of hearing “yes” makes us blind to the defensiveness we ourselves feel when someone is pushing us to say it.

“No” is not a failure. We’ve learned that “No” is the anti-“Yes” and therefore a word to be avoided at all costs. But it really just means “Wait” or “I’m not comfortable with that.” Learn how to hear it calmly. It’s not the end of the negotiation, but the beginning.

“Yes” is the final goal of negotiation, but don’t aim for it at the start. Asking someone for “Yes” too quickly will I’ll put the counterparts guard up and paints you as an untrustworthy salesman.

Saying “No” makes the speaker feel safe, secure, and in control, so trigger it. By saying what they don’t want (i.e. a glass of water), your counterpart defines their space and gains the confidence to listen to you. That’s why “Is this a bad time to talk?” is always better than “Do you have a few minutes to talk?”

Negotiate in their world. Persuasion isn’t about how bright or smooth you are, it’s about the other party convincing themselves that the solution you want is their own idea. So don’t beat them with logic or brute force, ask them questions.

“That’s right” is better than “Yes”. Strive for it. Reaching “that’s right” in a negotiation creates breakthroughs.

Effective pauses, minimal encouragers (Yes, ok, uh huh, I see), mirroring, labeling, paraphrasing, and summarizing all serve as social lubricants, but can go against if they’re thrown out too early in the negotiation.

Humans have an innate urge toward socially constructive behavior. The more a person feels understood and positively affirmed in that understanding, the more likely that urge for constructive behavior will take hold.

All negations are defined by a network of subterranean desires and needs. Don’t let yourself be fooled by the surface.

Splitting the difference is wearing one black and brown shoe, so don’t compromise. Meeting halfway often leads to bad deals on both sides.

Approaching deadlines entice people to rush the negotiation process and do impulsive things that are against their best interests.

The F word— “Fair”—is an emotional term people usually exploit to put the other side on the defensive and rain concessions. When your counterpart drops the F-bomb, don’t get suckered into a concession. Instead, ask them to explain how you’re mistreating them in the first place.

You can bend your counterparts reality by anchoring their starting point. Before you make an offer, emotionally anchor them by saying how bad it’ll be. People will take more risks to avoid a loss than to realize a gain. Make sure your counterpart sees that there’s something to lose by inaction.

In two famous studies in what makes us like or dislike somebody, UCLA psychology professor Albert Mehrabian created the 7-38-55 percent rule: that is, only 7% of a message is based on the words, while 38% comes from the tone of voice, and 55% from the speakers body language and face.

Getting to Yes by Fisher and Ury was published to basically systematize problem solving so that the negotiating parties could reach a mutually beneficial deal. Their core assumption was that the emotional brain (the animalistic, unreliable, and irrational beast) could be overcome through a more rational, joint problem solving mindset.

Two professors from the University of Chicago named Amos Tversky, an economists, and Daniel Kahneman, psychologist, were looking at everything from economics to negotiation from a far different angle. Together, they launched the field of behavioral economics, where Kahneman earned the Nobel Prize by showing that man is a very irrational beast.

It was a period when the worlds top academic economists declared that were all “rational actors”. And so it was in negotiation class: assuming the other side was acting rationally and selfishly in trying to maximize ones own value. This mentality baffled Kahneman, who from years in psychology knew, “It’s self evident that people are neither fully rational nor completely selfish, and that their tastes are anything but stable.”

Through decades of research with Tversky, Kahneman proved that humans all suffer from Cognitive Biases; unconscious and irrational Brain processes that literally distort the way we see the world. Together, Daniel and Amos discovered over 150 cognitive biases. Some examples include the Framing Effect, Loss Aversion, and Prospect Theory.

Kahneman later codified his research in his 2011 book, Thinking Fast & Slow, where he wrote that Man has two systems of thought; system one is our animal mind, it’s fast, instinctive, and emotional. Where as system two is a slow, deliberative, and logical. System one is far more influential and it serves to guide and steer our rational thoughts. System one’s inchoate beliefs, feelings, and impressions are the main sources of the explicit beliefs and deliberate choices of system two. They’re the spring that feeds the river. We react emotionally (system one) to a suggestion or question. Then that system one reaction informs and creates the system two answer.

In one of the most cited research papers in psychology, George A. Miller persuasively put forth the idea that we can process only about seven pieces of information in our conscious mind at any given moment. In other words, we’re easily overwhelmed.

In Rene Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio explained a groundbreaking discovery he made. Studying people who had damage in the part of the brain where emotions are generated, he found that they all had something peculiar in common: they could make decisions. They could describe what they should do in logical terms, but they found it impossible to make even the simplest choice.

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