Book Review 001: Never Split the Difference - Chris Voss

Never split the difference, negotiating as if your life depends on it is a book by Chris Voss, former international hostage negotiator for the FBI. This book is written with key concepts and ideas with multiple stories to support the claims. It provides readers with a field-tested approach to high stakes negotiation that we can all use and leverage whether we are at home, at work, or working on our real estate business.

Key Ideas:

1) Be an active listener
In the beginning of the book, Chris discusses how the way we perceive negotiation may be different from fact. Although we may view negotiation as mathematical, it is one of the most emotional exercises we can go through. People have a innate need to be understood and accepted, as such we must learn to demonstrate empathy and show a sincere desire to understand the other person’s emotions and what they are going through. One mistake a lot of people make is talking too fast. If it appears that you are in a rush, people might feel as if they are not being heard and you may end up losing the trust and rapport that was built. Chris talks about three types of tone and voice that may be heard in negotiations:

- Late night DJ voice: By using the right tone and voice, you can create an aura of authority and trustworthiness without triggering defensiveness from the counterparty.
- The positive/playful voice: By using the voice of an easygoing, good-natured person you are conveying to the other party that you are positive and encouraging (“let's figure this out together”)
- The direct or assertive voice: This voice should rarely be used as it will trigger the other party's defenses.

2) Mirroring

Chris discusses an effective way to make the other party reveal secrets by using the skill of “mirroring”. Mirroring is simply revealing the last (or critical) 3 words said by the other person. It's in our human nature to fear what's different and draw closer to what we view as similar. As we insinuate similarity through mirroring, it helps facilitate bonding with the other party and also may lead to the other person revealing their strategy.

Being a good negotiator means asking probing questions to uncover more information to leverage in making the deal. It is not a process of battling or a give and take, but more a process of discovery and getting people to feel safe and secure to talk about what they really want.

3) Labeling
Labeling is a way of validating someone’s emotion by acknowledging it. Give someone’s emotion a name and you show you identify with how that person feels. It gets you close to someone without asking about external factors you know nothing about.

The first step is to sense the other party’s emotional state and understand where they may be coming from by using words such as “it seems like, it sounds like, it looks like….” Typically, the other person will give a longer answer than a simple yes or no. If they push back and don’t agree with the label, you have room to take a step back and say, “sorry, it just appeared that way” and relabel the situation. Finally, use the power of silence to listen quietly and hear the other person speak and present their emotions, as emotions will guide their behavior.

The power of labeling is that it allows the user to diffuse any negative emotions and help reinforce positive emotions. The best way to establish a working relationship is to acknowledge the negative and diffuse the situation. Remember that when you are dealing with people and their emotions, they want to be appreciated and understood, so use labels to create a bond and build rapport.

4) The 7-38-55 Percent Rule
The 7-38-55 rule created by Albert Mehrabian, states that only 7% of a message is based on words that are said, 38% based on the tone of your voice and 55% relates to our body language and facial expressions. This means we need to monitor people’s tone and body language to ensure that it agrees with the words that are being said. When you detect a mismatch, use labels to discover why there is disagreement and show the other party you are actively listening and empathizing with them.

Dubbed the “Pinocchio effect”, Harvard Business School professor Deepak Malhotra and his coauthors found that liars, on average, use more complex sentences and third-person pronouns such as them, he, she, they, than truth tellers. They are attempting to create distance between the lie and themselves and it is a good indicator when looking for clues of a mismatch between your observation of the speaker and the words that they are saying.

5) Bargaining using the the Ackerman Model
Chris discusses the use of the Ackerman model to execute a six-step offer counteroffer with the seller as show below:

  1. Set your target price (i.e. $100, with a listing price of $150)

  2. Set your first offer at 65% of your target price ($65)

  3. Calculate three raises of decreasing increments to 85, 95, and 100% ($85, $95, $100)

  4. Use lots of empathy before sharing your offer

  5. When presenting the final amount, use precise, non-round numbers like $65.80 or $85.67. It will feel more permanent to the seller and appearance that you have carefully thought of the offer.

  6. With your final number, add in a non-monetary item that the seller may not want, to show you’re at your limit.

Using this six-step process will give you opportunities to stand your ground and not be lured by the first counter-offer being made. Further it will give you opportunities to take deeper discounts when provided and use the aforementioned steps of actively listening, mirroring, and labeling to allow the seller to reveal their thoughts and strategy.

I highly recommend anyone looking to enhance their negotiation skills to pick up a copy of this book and start applying it in their daily lives whether it be a traffic ticket, upgrades at a hotel, or negotiating your salary, Never Split the Difference will give you tangible skills to apply and get more of what you want.

Good Luck!

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