Ten takeaways from Chris Voss’ book, “Never Split the Difference”

A black swan on water

I remember picking this book up two years ago at Dymocks in Sydney, Australia because of the very intriguing title and the bright yellow book cover. However, after purchasing the book, it sat in my bookshelf for a while and got de-prioritised in my reading list for no standout reason.

Two years later, I took an online course from Harvard Business School Online, “Negotiation Mastery”, and Chris Voss made an appearance in the course, which reminded me of the book that I purchased.

I finally got around to reading it and I was blown away by the insights that a former FBI hostage negotiator, Chris Voss, shares. I loved it so much that I recommended this to my husband, colleagues, and friends. And I even made a Youtube video out of it!

If, however, you’d rather read this blogpost than watch my annoying face, my ten takeaways are the following:

1. Use the late-night FM DJ voice

Without going to the other end of the spectrum, like Elizabeth Holmes’ voice, my first key takeaway here is that practising a deep, slow, and reassuring voice makes a ton of difference when talking to people. You sound more confident, and assertive.

2. Be a mirror

Mirrors work like magic, as Chris Voss teaches. When you repeat the last three words, or the key words, of what the other person just said, they will tend to explain more of what they said. It also shows you’re paying attention (of course, make sure you actually are). People love being listened to and when you repeat a few of their words, they will think more about it and divulge something they otherwise wouldn’t have. Good to have this up your sleeve when in a negotiation!

3. Use labeling

All this time, my husband has been using this trick on me. “It seems like there’s something bothering you”, when I would arrive home from work. And he’s almost always spot on. Labeling, as Chris shares, enables you to give your counterpart’s emotion a name, without getting creepy. Similar to mirroring, it shows you are paying attention and people crave attention.

4. “No” is the start of the negotiation

I work in software sales and the amount of time I hear sellers (in and outside our company) go for a YES answer is ridiculously high. Going for an early yes from your counterpart can be very expensive and hurtful.

There are three types of YESs: Counterfeit, Confirmation, and Commitment. A counterfeit yes is when someone can’t say, “No” because they feel they can’t get out of a conversation easily, or want to carry the conversation because they are fishing for information, only to end in a “No”. A confirmation yes is an innocent yes, such as “yes I have time now” or “yes we use another product today but keen to understand what your product can do”. However, “keen” doesn’t close deals.

Chris shares that we need a commitment yes, but to get it, you need a “No” to start a negotiation. When people can say no early, this means they feel safe and confident to say no and you can work your way to getting them a yes!

I love this strategy and have used this so many times and it always works. Check this page out for a list of No-oriented questions you can use from Chris Voss’ website.

5. Aim for “That’s right”, but not “you’re right”

When you hear your counterpart say to you, “That’s right”, this means you’ve had a breakthrough in the negotiation or conversation. When they say this, they are ready to work with you. However, you can only get this, if you’ve genuinely listened and understand where the other party is coming from. “You’re right”, however is not the same thing as they may just be giving you an illusion of control.

6. Bend their reality

This is the from the 6th chapter of the book, which blew my mind the most. It taps into the biases that exist in the human brain.

  • Never compromise, because when you do, no one really wins.
  • Make time your ally, don’t be a hostage to deadlines
  • Use the “Fair” word in the right situations
  • Anchor emotions
  • Let the other guy go first… most of the time
  • Establish a range, and a high one when it comes to salary negotiations
  • Pivot to non-monetary terms
  • Use odd/non-whole numbers

7. Create an illusion of control through calibrated questions

When you’re in a conversation, the person controlling it is not the one talking; the one who’s listening is. And there’s power in calibrated questions; questions that start with how, or what. For example, in a hostage situation, don’t start negotiating without proof. Questions like, “How do I know if the person you have hostage is alright/alive?”, or “How am I supposed to come up with that money when…”, will make your counterpart think of a solution. They are not questions that threaten; instead, they engage the counterpart to work with you to come up with a solution.

To apply this to my work, if someone is complaining about a problem, I would now ask, “how do you think we should fix the problem?”

8. Guarantee execution

If, as part of the negotiation, you have promised to do something so you can get whatever is in return, honour that. Have integrity. The counterpart will, most of the time, respect you for that. Not delivering will make negotiations worse and your work will become much harder.

9. Bargain hard

This is something I am not used. I feel like this is for the thick-skinned. However, Chris Voss shares a few methods, such as the Ackerman-style of bargaining. Concessions become smaller but there’s a formula to it.

10. Find the black swan

Just like in my video, I’m keeping this a mystery! Hint: if you do find the black swan, then you have a winner!

There’s so much that I have learnt in this book and I believe everyone should read this. The strategies he shares are very easy to apply to day-to-day life. The book is also a very easy read as he weaves personal stories into the teachings. The bonus is that it it feels like you’re reading a suspense novel because he shares hostage stories from the United States, Africa, Philippines, etc. You can buy the book from Amazon, here.

Thanks for making it to the bottom of my blogpost and please leave a comment if you have any thoughts or questions on this topic!

%d bloggers like this: