WISDOM – Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss – Book review

Do you think a former FBI negotiator may have something to teach you about negotiation? That is what Never Split the Difference is all about. Here is the summary and some practical knowledge from the book.

In no more than 300 words

In Never Split the Difference, former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss shares his field knowledge of high stakes negotiations. Personal experiences illustrate the wide range of skills and techniques that anyone can leverage on. Cornerstone of all techniques is to engage into deep active listening and encourage counterpart to keep talking. To achieve the later, Chris Voss relies on open-end calibrated questions (“how” and “what”), repetition of words just pronounced by its counterpart (mirroring) and empathy expression (labeling). This helps to uncover information about what the counterpart truly wants to achieve. Knowing such piece of information, seldom disclosed at first, gives the upper hand.

Contrary to popular wisdom, Chris Voss encourages to refrain from trying to achieve “yes” answers. Such answers may not signify compliance with your goals, but merely the desire of your counterpart to stop the conversation. On the flip side, the author urges to find the “no”, a genuine disagreement. From this clear line, one can use open questions such as “what about this does not work for you?”. Breakthrough is said to happen when you achieve a “that’s right”. This signifies a genuine understanding of your counterpart’s situation. Previously mentioned techniques are designed to ensure conversation reaches such situation.

The book refers at length to Prospect Theory (see Thinking, Fast and Slow for further information on this concept) and illustrates how to successfully tap on loss aversion and certainty effect (if these concepts are foreign to you, just get back to the link above). In practice, unfolding negotiation in a way the counterpart can see what he has to lose from a non-deal provides leverage.

Instead of cornering the counterpart into an agreement, it may be more effective to create an “illusion of control”, encouraging him or her to voice the design of the final solution, which can be achieved through “how” questions.

Finally, two “tips” for effective negotiation.
1 – Keeping emotions under control at all time, as rational thinking is only possible when you remain calm
2 – make a conscious effort – and train – to use voice inflection.

Final word: “no deal is better than a bad deal”.

Three takeaways

  • Frontal negotiation and traditional battle of arguments is unlikely to lead to a true successful negotiation. Research has found more efficient ways of leading someone to comply
  • Cornerstone of a successful negotiation is to uncover key pieces of information and to use them in a way that can lead your counterpart to comply. Techniques focus on keeping the counterpart actively engaged and actively speaking. Negotiator needs to pay extreme attention to every single details, including non-verbal elements.
  • Preparation and implantation of negotiation techniques considerably increase probability of successful outcome. Abundant ressources and regular practice can dramatically increase negotiation skills.

Bridging the implementation gap

  • Make a conscious effort to listen and encourage the counterpart to speak. Rely on mirroring, open-end calibrated question and labeling to keep the discussion going
  • Establish tactical empathy as the “default mode” (which is different from sympathy) and requires to understand your counterpart’s feelings
  • Don’t settle for compromise: leverage on the Ackerman model and keep bargaining hard. Keep in mind that “no deal is better than a bad deal”

Personal bonus implementation points

  • My negotiation type is assertive. This means I tend to come off as harsh. This reduces dramatically the changes of successful negotiation and the chances of collaboration. To reduce this biais, I need to work to intentionally soften the tone of my voice, in order to make it pleasant. Calibrated questions and labels will help me to be perceived as more approachable.
  • Shift from “is this a good time to talk?” To “is this a bad time to talk?

Do I recommend this book? Definitely, especially for all sales professionals

View the book (or ebook) on Amazon: Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

See how Never Split the Difference, ranks on the #neverendingbooklist

Never Split the Difference is part of my Sales toolkit

How useful was this article? Do you think your friends or colleagues may also get one or two insights from this short read? If so please help to share, that would be really appreciated!

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