Never split the difference

You know what you want, but you are unsure how to get it? In Never Split the Difference, former FBI lead negotiator Chris Voss provides the necessary tools that will help you re-negotiate everything in your life.

Voss explicitly rejects negotiation strategies based on cold mathematical models and sterile rational choice theory. While rationality is undoubtedly critical, the idea is not boundless. Drawing on the insights of behavioral economics and psychology, the author convincingly shows that humans are biased decision-makers (see also here). Although we calculate what is most beneficial to us, we are also affected by variables that have little to do with rationality: emotions, body language, tone of voice.

The author offers numerous strategies that all of us can use to (re)negotiate better pay or to repair a souring relationship. The theme of the book is: listen, listen well. If you listen intently, you are in control of any conversation. Arguably all of us want to be heard and understood, so if you can master listening, you will become a relationship guru. From that point on, new possibilities will emerge.

Voss offers commonsensical but difficult advice on how to fix your mistakes. Instead of blaming others just say, “look, I’m an asshole.” You can repair any damage you have caused from that point on. However, if you were at fault but refuse to accept the responsibility for your actions, the relationship at hand will be undermined.

On the other hand, sometimes you know you are right. Yet your kids, spouse, or coachee simply do not take your advice. You talk to them and outline your perfectly rational reasoning, and they say: “you are right.” As soon as you hear “you are right” you are in trouble. “You are right” means I listen to you, but I do not hear you; therefore I am sticking with my own ideas. Thus in any conversation, you should strive for the other side to admit “that’s right.” It is only then that the other side understands and accepts your ideas as objectively true. After “that is right” your thoughts become their thoughts. Going forward, don’t convince yourself of something you already know. Instead, strive to help others understand – on their own terms – what is it that you want them to know and why. This takes time, but the alternative is no progress at all.

Perhaps the most important insight of the book is the idea of the black swan (see also here and here). In any negotiation, there are unknown unknowns. Your goal is to discover them. If you do, you will gain the upper hand in any negotiation. Even more importantly, you will learn about the possibilities that were not on the table before. You will uncover the unknown unknowns. The best way to approach any negotiation is to reject your prior assumptions about the other side. Treat any bargaining as a hypothesis testing exercise, and accept facts that are shown to be true while dismissing disproven claims.

Most of us experienced black swans before, and I am no different. Years ago I was competing for a critical position – my continued education depended on getting that job. During the interview, I learned that the position was already offered to another candidate. I nonetheless decided to be as professional as I can and wrote a thank you note, and a follow-up email to the person who interviewed me. We exchanged several emails, but at that point, I did not have much hope to land the position. And then the black swan happened. The initial candidate turned out to be not eligible for the opening. The follow-up emails turned out to be the deciding factor that helped me land the job.

In any case, if you are ready to learn new skills that will help you renegotiate lower bills, better relationships, and make you a more attentive listener, then you should certainly take a look at Never Split the Difference.

About the author

Translate »

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)