My Review of 
“Never Split the Difference; Negotiating as if Your Life Depended On It” 
by Chris Voss with Tahl Raz  © 2016

I hate to haggle. I attribute this to spending a number of my formative years in Germany where the price on the tag is the price you shall pay.  If you do not want to pay the marked price, then just walk out of the shop please. I always think that a lot of thought has gone into deciding how to price something, so I generally view the price on the tag as final.

My husband, on the other hand, is an expert haggler. Look for me to regale you with some of his finer haggling moments. That, however, is a story for another day.

I have realised that I live in a world where haggling is a part of life.  I have come to appreciate that it does not only apply to deciding on price points, but on so many other things. I have accepted that I do not like to haggle, but I have to learn how.

So, I went out and looked for a book on negotiation. I prefer the word ‘negotiation’ as it has a less primal sound to it than ‘haggle’; it is more sophisticated and palatable.

Here are some of the lessons that I picked from this book and why I recommend it to you as a great read.

The book is written by a former FBI negotiator! I may never have met one, but I have watched enough movies that I have a healthy respect for what they do. The by-line for the title of the book is therefore very apt; when you are negotiation on the life of a person, you definitely do not want to ‘split the difference’.

As Chris Voss says, “If (he) could dominate the country’s brightest students with just one of the many emotionally attuned negotiating techniques (he) had developed and used against terrorists and kidnappers, why not apply them to business?”. I sure want to learn how to negotiate like him.

He says that the first step to achieving a mastery of daily negotiation is to get over your aversion to negotiating. You don’t need to like it; you just need to understand that’s how the world works. I feel like this was written directly to me. He may as well have been sitting opposite me after coffee and cake (yes, FBI agents can eat cake too) and having listened to one of my many sob-stories of how I got out-negotiated, just slightly leaned forward and said, “Carol, you don’t have to like it, just understand it and make it work for you!

How can I use something I hate?!

Answer? Right in the book! Effective negotiation is applied people smarts, a psychological edge in every domain of life: how to size someone up, how to influence their sizing up of you, and how to use that knowledge to get what you want. Again, this I can do. People smarts … I have that! In fact, one of my former bosses told me I had off the charts EQ before it became such a buzz word. Sizing people up? That I can do! I love people watching, it just means doing it with people across the table from me, not those walking 20 metres away from me. Using that knowledge …that is the skill I need to build up.

His advice … “Do not get impatient!” Negotiating is a long game; more like Monopoly than Poker.

Just remember, to successfully negotiate it is critical to prepare. You need to know what your end game is … what do you want out of the negotiation? (“write it down and carry it into the negotiation”)  What obstacles are you likely to encounter along the way? What do you stand to lose if the negotiations do not go according to plan? What does your negotiating companion want?

Seek information in advance and then during the negotiation, get more information. If possible, get someone to role play with so that you can see how your prepared questions play out from the other person’s point of view. “If you approach a negotiation thinking that the other guy thinks like you, you’re wrong.

Great negotiators aim to use their skills to reveal the surprises they are certain exist.” Yes, despite all the homework and preparation, you may still find that you unearth something new. Chris Voss urges us to be willing to “change your approach, based on new evidence, along the way.”   He further warns us that “when someone seems irrational or crazy, they most likely aren’t. Faced with this situation, search for constraints, hidden desires, and bad information.” Question everything! Clarify everything!

Part of asking questions means that you cannot be a yes-man.  The trick is learning how to “disagree without being disagreeable. One of the skills that I found useful was that of labelling negativity. I used it recently and the result was that my negotiating companion could not bring up the negativity because I had already stated it. This again goes back to preparation. Thinking about all the negative elements of the negotiation, calling them out (nicely) and countering them with “positive, compassionate, and solution-based thoughts.

From the foregoing, you can see that negotiation has EQ deep in its DNA.  It is about knowing who you are and being able to recognise what moves your negotiation companion. “Identify your counterpart’s negotiating style. Once you know whether they are Accommodator, Assertive, or Analyst, you’ll know the correct way to approach them.” Your listening and observation skills need to be finely honed, your tone of voice must be modulated, you need to know when to mirror and when not to.  In negotiation, “emotion is a tool which is why “instead of denying or ignoring emotions, good negotiators identify and influence them.

EQ also helps you know when your negotiation companion says ‘yes’ just to get rid of you.  The book offers some tips to help you avoid falling in this trap. One way is to get them to agree to the same thing in different ways. It is unlikely that someone will say yes to you in 3 different ways if they do not mean it.  Another way is to get them to say “That’s right as opposed to a simple ‘yes’.  “That’s right” is a confirmation that comes harder than a simple yes.

Using your observation skills will also help to determine if you are negotiating with the right person.  It is important to “always identify the motivations of the players ‘behind the table’.” They may not be at the table, but their ability to influence or veto a decision cannot be understated. “The deal killers often are more important than the deal makers.

Chris Voss says “‘Yes’ is nothing without ‘How’. Asking ‘How’, knowing ‘How’, and defining ‘How’ are all part of the effective negotiator’s arsenal. He would be unarmed without them.”  Getting to “Yes” is therefore not the end of the negotiation, but an opportunity to solidify the relationship by showing the benefit of having come to an agreement.

“Most important, we learned that successful negotiation involved getting your counterpart to do the work for you and suggest your solution himself. It involved giving him the illusion of control while you, in fact, were the one defining the conversation.” 
This is achieved by asking “calibrated questions; questions designed to lead your negotiating companion to come to the same page as you. In asking questions, it is advised to steer away from questions that ask “Why?” as these tend to make people defensive.  Even when looking for motivation, we are advised to try and couch them in ways that start with “What” and “How”.

Further, EQ ensures that we are aware that decisions are not made based on logic alone. Emotion plays a large role and it is for us to be observant enough to sense this and unearth the real driving force behind a decision. This also helps us understand that for most people, they want to ‘feel’ that they have been treated fairly in a negotiation.  Even where logic is in our favour, if the other side feels like they have been treated unfairly, they are likely to reject our solutions.  The book urges us to “know the emotional drivers (of our negotiating companion) and …frame the benefits of any deal in language that will resonate (with them).

I was glad that the book did not leave out the element of negotiating around money.  Like I mentioned this is one of my pet peeves. The pieces of advice that stood out the most for me in this are:-
  • We don’t compromise because it’s right; we compromise because it is easy and because it saves face.  I must admit that I generally will not push back because I think it is embarrassing. Now that I know that this may be used against me, I can push back without fear.  I can lead with … “This may be embarrassing, I cannot pay that. Could you give me a better deal?”
  • What else would you be able to offer to make that a good price for me?  It is not all about money. See if there are non-monetary things that can sweeten a deal: time, recognition, titles …
  • If you offer a range (and it’s a good idea to do so) expect them to come in at the low end. Tailor your offer accordingly.
Finally, the element of timing it right is vital. End of year sales, end month reductions are not a coincidence. We need to work the element of timing into our negotiations.

As I conclude this review, here are some quotes that really resonated with me:-
  • “No deal is better than a bad deal.”
  • “Splitting the difference is wearing one black and one brown shoe, so don’t compromise.”
  • “Hope is not a strategy”– Prepare, prepare, prepare.
  • “To be good, you have to learn to be yourself at the bargaining table. To be great you have to add to your strengths, not replace them.”
  • “Use your own name to make yourself a real person to the other side.”  It is harder for someone to ignore you or be mean to you when they know your name.
  • The best find ways to actually have fun engaging in it. My goal is to get good enough to start enjoying negotiating rather than persevering through it.
(all italicised words and phrases are taken straight from the book)
Watch Chris Voss’s TedTalk here: Chris Voss – Never Split the Difference
Get more information on the book here: Never Split the Difference