Never Split The Difference

December 26, 2023 [books] #management

Book: Never Split The Difference
Author: Chris Voss

This is really a book about listening and getting along with others despite disagreeing with them masquerading as a book about high powered negotiation. The core messaging reminded me of an anecdote attributed to Abe Lincoln, who when chastised by a lady for not calling Southerners irreconcilable enemies during the civil war, responded “Why, madam, do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” The first few chapters are devoted to strategies around effective listener. When you radiate warmth and acceptance, conversations flow. And during a negotiation, you want to keep the other party talking. So smile and display enthusiasm. Mirror what the other party is saying. Verbal combat is not going to persuade anyone, while showing empathy can make the other person amenable to your stance.

Do not force the other party to admit they are wrong. This is sometimes the side effect of the negotiation strategy that's come out of Harvard, articulated in the book "Getting to yes". More often than not, this angers the other side. One way to circumvent this is by getting the objections out of the way right at the beginning. Specifically, Chris Voss suggests that one say "I want you to feel like you are being treated fairly at all times. So please stop me at any time if you feel I'm being unfair, and we'll address it." Voss also disagrees with another aspect of "Getting to yes" - that of a win/win negotiation. You do not ever have to settle for anything less than what's most favourable to you. There's no half-way point. Everything is negotiable. The world is more pliant than one would think.

You want to give your counterpart the illusion of control. When talking about specific demands, start with “what,” “how,” and sometimes “why.” “Who,” “when,” and “where” will often just get your counterpart to share a fact without thinking. When you are attacked in a negotiation, bite your tongue. Pause and avoid angry emotional reactions. Instead, ask your counterpart a calibrated question, one that starts with “what” and “how”. E.g: “How do you propose I do that?”. Your job in a negotiation is not just to get to an agreement, but getting one that can be implemented. Never say “no” to a demand. A “How” question is a gentle and graceful way to say no and guide your counterpart to develop a better solution — your solution. A gentle How/No invites collaboration and leaves your counterpart with a feeling of having been treated with respect.

Before you head into the weeds of bargaining, you'll need a plan of extreme anchor, calibrated questions, and well-defined offers. Voss uses what he calls Ackerman plan. Raise stakes in specific percents: 65, 85, 95, 100 percent. Decreasing raises and ending on non-round numbers will get your counterpart to believe that he's squeezing you for all you're worth when you're really getting to the number you want.

When you are getting into a negotiation, you must prepare. Know what’s at stake, who is on the other side, and who is really behind the person talking to you. Learn as much as you can. Work to understand the other side’s “religion.” Digging into worldviews inherently implies moving beyond the negotiating table and into the life, emotional and otherwise, of your counterpart. The more you know, the better you can play. This is probably the most non-counterintuitive of the strategies detailed in the book.

As with most books of this style, each tactic is reinforced with countless anecdotes. I do not have any hard reservations, and I am somewhat thrilled by the amorality of it. This would make a perfect double billing with Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals.

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