Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It – Chris Voss

Here’s an interview with the author, Chris Voss:

Here are 5 other tips/tactics to become a better negotiator:

How do you negotiate as if your life depended on it? In his book Chris Voss, an adjunct Professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California teaching negotiation in both MBA programs, a past instructor of International Business Negotiation at Harvard University, a retired FBI special agent who was the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator from 2003 to 2007, and founder of a negotiation consulting firm, the Black Swan Group, gives a plethora of strategies he has used over his career as a negotiator for the FBI. Some of these strategies include mirroring, labeling emotions, creating the illusion of control, bargaining hard, and finding the black swan. Here are some of the points to the book:


1. Ask open-ended questions as opposed to “Yes” or “No” questions as it’ll give the responder perceived control. In addition, it buys you time and wears them down.‘I really am sorry, but how can I get you any money right now, much less one million dollars, if I don’t even know he’s alive?’ It was quite a sight to see such a brilliant man flustered by what must have seemed unsophisticated foolishness. On the contrary, though, my move was anything but foolish. I was employing what had become one of the FBI’s most potent negotiating tools: the open-ended question. Today, after some years evolving these tactics for the private sector in my consultancy, The Black Swan Group, we call this tactic calibrated questions: queries that the other side can respond to but that have no fixed answers. It buys you time. It gives your counterpart the illusion of control—they are the one with the answers and power after all—and it does all that without giving them any idea of how constrained they are by it.


2. Why should you learn how to better negotiate? As I’ve once learned, you will never make or save more money on a per hour basis than in anything else. For example, you wanted to buy a car and you were able to negotiate a $2,000 price reduction in 20 minutes. That effectively works out to be $6,000/hour after taxes too. For the average person, I don’t think s/he makes that kind of money.While you might be curious how FBI negotiators get some of the world’s toughest bad guys to give up their hostages, you could be excused for wondering what hostage negotiation has to do with your life. Happily, very few people are ever forced to deal with Islamist terrorists who’ve kidnapped their loved ones.But allow me to let you in on a secret: Life is negotiation. The majority of the interactions we have at work and at home are negotiations that boil down to the expression of a simple, animalistic urge: I want. ‘I want you to free the hostages,’ is a very relevant one to this book, of course. But so is:
‘I want you to accept that $1 million contract.’
‘I want to pay $20,000 for that car.’
‘I want you to give me a 10 percent raise.’
‘I want you to go to sleep at 9 p.m.’
Negotiation serves two distinct, vital life functions—information gathering and behavior influencing—and includes almost any interaction where each party wants something from the other side. Your career, your finances, your reputation, your love life, even the fate of your kids—at some point all of these hinge on your ability to negotiate. Negotiation as you’ll learn it here is nothing more than communication with results. Getting what you want out of life is all about getting what you want from—and with—other people. Conflict between two parties is inevitable in all relationships. So it’s useful—crucial, even—to know how to engage in that conflict to get what you want without inflicting damage.


3. Being focused, attentive, and present is just as vital as the tactics you employ when negotiating. If you miss out on what the other party is saying, then you won’t be able to learn about their true intention behind their message. Students of mine balk at this notion, asking, ‘Seriously, do you really need a whole team to . . . hear someone out?’ The fact that the FBI has come to that conclusion, I tell them, should be a wake-up call. It’s really not that easy to listen well. We are easily distracted. We engage in selective listening, hearing only what we want to hear, our minds acting on a cognitive bias for consistency rather than truth. And that’s just the start. Most people approach a negotiation so preoccupied by the arguments that support their position that they are unable to listen attentively. 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 are easily overwhelmed. 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 are 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 (and not well, because they’re doing seven or eight other things at the same time). 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 just 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 chapters—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 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 to begin.


4. We like those who are similar to us more and as a result, treat them more favorably. Knowing this, try to mirror the other negotiating party’s words and actions to increase your chances of being liked more. Mirroring, also called isopraxism, is essentially imitation. It’s another neurobehavior humans (and other animals) display in which we copy each other to comfort each other. It can be done with speech patterns, body language, vocabulary, tempo, and tone of voice. It’s generally an unconscious behavior—we are rarely aware of it when it’s happening—but it’s a sign that people are bonding, in sync, and establishing the kind of rapport that leads to trust. It’s a phenomenon (and now technique) that follows a very basic but profound biological principle: We fear what’s different and are drawn to what’s similar. As the saying goes, birds of a feather flock together. Mirroring, then, when practiced consciously, is the art of insinuating similarity. ‘Trust me,’ a mirror signals to another’s unconscious, ‘You and I—we’re alike.’ Once you’re attuned to the dynamic, you’ll see it everywhere: couples walking on the street with their steps in perfect synchrony; friends in conversation at a park, both nodding their heads and crossing the legs at about the same time. These people are, in a word, connected. While mirroring is most often associated with forms of nonverbal communication, especially body language, as negotiators a ‘mirror’ focuses on the words and nothing else. Not the body language. Not the accent. Not the tone or delivery. Just the words. 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. By repeating back what people say, you trigger this mirroring instinct and your counterpart will inevitably elaborate on what was just said and sustain the process of connecting.


5. Empathize your negotiating party. By better understanding their feelings, you’ll better understand their position and the reasons behind their logic. Empathy is a classic ‘soft’ communication skill, but it has a physical basis. When we closely observe a person’s face, gestures, and tone of voice, our brain begins to align with theirs in a process called neural resonance, and that lets us know more fully what they think and feel. In an fMRI brain-scan experiment, researchers at Princeton University found that neural resonance disappears when people communicate poorly. The researchers could predict how well people were communicating by observing how much their brains were aligned. And they discovered that people who paid the most attention—good listeners—could actually anticipate what the speaker was about to say before he said it. If you want to increase your neural resonance skills, take a moment right now and practice. Turn your attention to someone who’s talking near you, or watch a person being interviewed on TV. As they talk, imagine that you are that person. Visualize yourself in the position they describe and put in as much detail as you can, as if you were actually there. But be warned, a lot of classic deal makers will think your approach is softheaded and weak. Just ask former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. A few years ago during a speech at Georgetown University, Clinton advocated, ‘showing respect, even for one’s enemies. Trying to understand and, insofar as psychologically possible, empathize with their perspective and point of view.’ You can predict what happened next. A gaggle of pundits and politicians pounced on her. They called her statement inane and naïve, and even a sign she had embraced the Muslim Brotherhood. Some said that she had blown her chances at a presidential run. The problem with all of that hot air is that she was right. Politics aside, empathy is not about being nice or agreeing with the other side. It’s about understanding them. Empathy helps us learn the position the enemy is in, why their actions make sense (to them), and what might move them. As negotiators we use empathy because it works. Empathy is why the three fugitives came out after six hours of my late-night DJ voice. It’s what helped me succeed at what Sun Tzu called ‘the supreme art of war’: to subdue the enemy without fighting.


By Ryan Timothy Lee


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