2016 Aug 27
A former international hostage negotiator for the FBI offers a new, field-tested approach to high-stakes negotiations - whether in the boardroom or at home.
After a stint policing the rough streets of Kansas City, Missouri, Chris Voss joined the FBI, where his career as a hostage negotiator brought him face-to-face with a range of criminals, including bank robbers and terrorists. Reaching the pinnacle of his profession, he became the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator. 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.
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.
Notes & Highlights
It’s the same voice I might use in a contract negotiation, when an item isn’t up for discussion. If I see a work-for-hire clause, for example, I might say, “We don’t do work-for-hire.” Just like that, plain, simple, and friendly. I don’t offer up an alternative, because it would beg further discussion, so I just make a straightforward declaration. That’s how I played it here. I said, “Joe’s gone. You’re talking to me now.” Done deal. You can be very direct and to the point as long as you create safety by a tone of voice that says I’m okay, you’re okay, let’s figure things out.
It’s almost laughably simple: for the FBI, a “mirror” is when you repeat the last three words (or the critical one to three words) of what someone has just said. Of the entirety of the FBI’s hostage negotiation skill set, mirroring is the closest one gets to a Jedi mind trick. Simple, and yet uncannily effective.
A good negotiator prepares, going in, to be ready for possible surprises; a great negotiator aims to use her skills to reveal the surprises she is certain to find.
People who view negotiation as a battle of arguments become overwhelmed by the voices in their head. Negotiation is not an act of battle; it’s a process of discovery. The goal is to uncover as much information as possible.
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.
The late-night FM DJ voice: Use selectively to make a point. Inflect your voice downward, keeping it calm and slow.
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 and smile while you’re talking.
The direct or assertive voice: Used rarely. Will cause problems and create pushback.
Mirrors work magic. Repeat the last three words (or the critical one to 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.
But Ben’s a smart guy, so instead of totally swapping scripts he had a small group of his grassroots guys test-market a “No”-oriented script. FUND-RAISER: Hello, can I speak with Mr. Smith? MR. SMITH: Yes, this is he. FUND-RAISER: I’m calling from the XYZ Committee, and I wanted to ask you a few important questions about your views on our economy today. Do you feel that if things stay the way they are, America’s best days are ahead of it? MR. SMITH: No, things will only get worse. FUND-RAISER: Are you going to sit and watch President Obama take the White House in November without putting up a fight? MR. SMITH: No, I’m going to do anything I can to make sure that doesn’t happen. FUND-RAISER: If you want do something today to make sure that doesn’t happen, you can give to XYZ Committee, which is working hard to fight for you.
We’ve all been through it: You send an email to someone you’re trying to do business with and they ignore you. Then you send a polite follow-up and they stonewall you again. So what do you do? You provoke a “No” with this one-sentence email. Have you given up on this project? The point is that this one-sentence email encapsulates the best of “No”-oriented questions and plays on your counterpart’s natural human aversion to loss. The “No” answer the email demands offers the other party the feeling of safety and the illusion of control while encouraging them to define their position and explain it to you.
Saying “No” makes the speaker feel safe, secure, and in control, so trigger it. By saying what they don’t want, your counterpart defines their space and gains the confidence and comfort to listen to you. That’s why “Is now a bad time to talk?” is always better than “Do you have a few minutes to talk?”
It’s not just with hostage negotiations that deadlines can play into your hands. Car dealers are prone to give you the best price near the end of the month, when their transactions are assessed. And corporate salespeople work on a quarterly basis and are most vulnerable as the quarter comes to a close.
A few years ago, I stumbled upon the book How to Become a Rainmaker, and I like to review it occasionally to refresh my sense of the emotional drivers that fuel decisions. The book does a great job to explain the sales job not as a rational argument, but as an emotional framing job. If you can get the other party to reveal their problems, pain, and unmet objectives—if you can get at what people are really buying—then you can sell them a vision of their problem that leaves your proposal as the perfect solution. Look at this from the most basic level. What does a good babysitter sell, really? It’s not child care exactly, but a relaxed evening. A furnace salesperson? Cozy rooms for family time. A locksmith? A feeling of security. Know the emotional drivers and you can frame the benefits of any deal in language that will resonate.
As an old Washington Post editor named Robert Estabrook once said, “He who has learned to disagree without being disagreeable has discovered the most valuable secret of negotiation.” This same technique for suspending unbelief that you use with kidnappers and escaping patients works for anything, even negotiating prices. When you go into a store, instead of telling the salesclerk what you “need,” you can describe what you’re looking for and ask for suggestions. Then, once you’ve picked out what you want, instead of hitting them with a hard offer, you can just say the price is a bit more than you budgeted and ask for help with one of the greatest-of-all-time calibrated questions: “How am I supposed to do that?”
But let me cut the list even further: it’s best to start with “what,” “how,” and sometimes “why.” Nothing else. “Who,” “when,” and “where” will often just get your counterpart to share a fact without thinking. And “why” can backfire. Regardless of what language the word “why” is translated into, it’s accusatory. There are very rare moments when this is to your advantage.
Having just two words to start with might not seem like a lot of ammunition, but trust me, you can use “what” and “how” to calibrate nearly any question. “Does this look like something you would like?” can become “How does this look to you?” or “What about this works for you?” You can even ask, “What about this doesn’t work for you?” and you’ll probably trigger quite a bit of useful information from your counterpart.
Even something as harsh as “Why did you do it?” can be calibrated to “What caused you to do it?” which takes away the emotion and makes the question less accusatory.
Here are some other great standbys that I use in almost every negotiation, depending on the situation:
- What about this is important to you?
- How can I help to make this better for us?
- How would you like me to proceed?
- What is it that brought us into this situation?
- How can we solve this problem?
- What’s the objective? / What are we trying to accomplish here?
- How am I supposed to do that?
You can do this directly by saying, in an encouraging tone of voice, “Let’s put price off to the side for a moment and talk about what would make this a good deal.” Or you could go at it more obliquely by asking, “What else would you be able to offer to make that a good price for me?”
And if the other side pushes you to go first, wriggle from his grip. Instead of naming a price, allude to an incredibly high number that someone else might charge. Once when a hospital chain wanted me to name a price first, I said, “Well, if you go to Harvard Business School, they’re going to charge you $2,500 a day per student.”
Threats delivered without anger but with “poise”—that is, confidence and self-control—are great tools. Saying, “I’m sorry that just doesn’t work for me,” with poise, works.
Black Swans are leverage multipliers. Remember the three types of leverage: positive (the ability to give someone what they want); negative (the ability to hurt someone); and normative
When the pressure is on, you don’t rise to the occasion—you fall to your highest level of preparation.
Prepare three to five labels to perform an accusation audit. Anticipate how your counterpart feels about these facts you’ve just summarized. Make a concise list of any accusations they might make—no matter how unfair or ridiculous they might be. Then turn each accusation into a list of no more than five labels and spend a little time role-playing it. There are fill-in-the-blank labels that can be used in nearly every situation to extract information from your counterpart, or defuse an accusation: It seems like _________ is valuable to you. It seems like you don’t like _________. It seems like you value __________. It seems like _________ makes it easier. It seems like you’re reluctant to _________.
There will be a small group of “What” and “How” questions that you will find yourself using in nearly every situation. Here are a few of them: What are we trying to accomplish? How is that worthwhile? What’s the core issue here? How does that affect things? What’s the biggest challenge you face? How does this fit into what the objective is?
QUESTIONS TO USE TO UNEARTH THE DEAL-KILLING ISSUES What are we up against here? What is the biggest challenge you face? How does making a deal with us affect things? What happens if you do nothing? What does doing nothing cost you? How does making this deal resonate with what your company prides itself on?