Never Split the Difference

"He who has learned to disagree without being disagreeable has discovered the most valuable secret of negotiation" - Chris Voss


Everything is a Negotiation


During the last century, hundreds of negotiation principles were established and employed in both law enforcement and business scenarios. With 25 years of experience in the FBI, leading the international hostage negotiation team, author Chris Voss realized that the textbook negotiation tactics failed to understand that negotiation is everything but rational. Throughout the book, Voss draws on his experiences to illustrate his unconventional negotiation techniques while offering scores of examples of how they translate into our working lives.

An Injection of Emotional Intelligence

“The beauty of empathy is that it doesn’t demand that you agree with the other person’s ideas”- Chris Voss

We spend most of our days at work negotiating for something. Knowing the most successful approaches to the process will ensure the conversation more frequently goes our way. You might have heard of acronyms like ZOPA (Zone of Possible Agreement) or BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement) in business classes, and how they facilitate the negotiation process.


According to Voss, the academic negotiation paradigm wrongfully addresses negotiations as logical, sequential problems. Approaching negotiations with emotional intelligence is a game-changer.


Active Listening

“Negotiation is not an act of battle; it’s a process of discovery. The goal is to uncover as much information as possible.” - Chris Voss

Before you can turn human emotions to your advantage, we need to make the other person feel heard and understood. Most of us only use "passive listening", we only hear what we want to hear.


Active Listening is radically different from what you are used to doing in everyday life — hearing what you want to hear and filtering out the rest. Concentrating on formulating your answer while the other person is still talking is a common habit we have in day-to-day conversations. This is not really paying attention. Instead, focus on muting your internal voice and focusing 100% on what the other person is saying, and then, trying to acquire more information based on what the other person said.


Active Listening Technique: Mirroring


Mirroring is an extremely effective way to demonstrate your listening skills. This tactic consists of replying to someone with the last 3 or 4 words of what they said, even if you are simply reestating what they just said. By imitating their speech patterns you are signaling (on an emotional level) to the other person that you are not only hearing them, but you are similar to them. This creates trust, and trust wins negotiations!


Behavioral scientist Rick Van Barren led a series of psychological experiments which revealed that when servers repeated an order back to guests their tips rose by over 68%. The reason that restating an order boosts a server’s tips is because when a server confirms that he or she has accurately understood the guest’s food order, they display competence and create the trust that the order will be carried out correctly.


Tactical Empathy

"Tactical empathy is understanding the feelings and mindset of another at the moment and also hearing what is behind those feelings so you increase your influence in all the moments that follow." - Chris Voss

Active listening is the first step in establishing better negotiations, and, therefore, relationships. After you made your counterpart feel heard, the next step is to make them feel understood.


Tactical empathy is It is understanding someone else’s perspective and then vocalizing it. This subtle, yet crucial detail, might be the difference between landing an internship or getting rejected. Author Chris Voss recommends we “label” and then vocalize the emotions of our counterpart with a neutral third-person phrase such as:

  • It seems like you…

  • It looks like you…

  • It sounds like you…

Labeling is fundamental in creating an empathetic environment in negotiations.


Tactical Empathy Technique: Calibrated Questions


Calibrates questions are open-ended “how” and “what” questions that can help us get out of sticky situations while debating. Instead of openly disagreeing, try to make your counterpart empathize with your situation. The following calibrated questions are some of the examples given by Chris Voss in his book:

  • “How am I supposed to do that?”

  • “What are we really trying to accomplish here?”

Questions like this put the other person to work helping you solve your problem, instead of generating unnecessary conflict.

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