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This Book Will Teach You the Art of Negotiation (Start Getting What You Want)

Just don’t use ‘Never Split the Difference’ for the wrong reasons

This Book Will Teach You the Art of Negotiation (Start Getting What You Want)

Take advice from the master of negotiations!

The book, ‘Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss’ reminded me of the docuseries Waco Apocalypse on Netflix.

The docuseries shines a light on negotiations between authorities and David Koresh, the cult leader. Law enforcement had issues coordinating with one another. Sadly, this led to the Waco disaster, a fiery death for many men, women, and children.

I’d never wish for anyone to be in such a situation where people’s lives depend on their negotiation skills.

But that is not the case for Chris Voss, the writer of this book and a seasoned FBI hostage negotiator. He has dealt with 150+ international hostage situations. In his book, he spills the beans on all the negotiation tips and tricks he learned in his career.

Here are the key lessons from the book for getting what you want.

We are all crazy

Think of the last time you were having a heated discussion with your spouse.

Whether it was about household chores or diaper duties, it is easy to adopt a ‘me vs you’ approach.

‘I am right and you are wrong.’

Negotiation is not a mathematical theorem. You can’t use logic, rationality, and science to solve the conundrum that faces you.

Accept the diversity of human nature and the pitfalls of human emotions. When you do that, you’ll be able to deal with situations accordingly.

This is one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Without a deep understanding of human psychology, without the acceptance that we are all crazy, irrational, impulsive, emotionally driven animals, all the raw intelligence and mathematical logic in the world is little help.”

Keep in mind that Chris Voss dealt with people lying on the fringes of society. Those who we consider to be a bit cuckoo.

The key to getting what you want is to apply the lessons from human psychology. This will help you negotiate like a pro in no time.

Shut up and listen!

All my life I have been a very talkative person.

I admit that sometimes I talk over other people.

What a shame!

My intention was never malicious. I just wanted to share my thoughts. But… that’s not enough.

For successful communication, we have to ‘shut up and listen’. I am glad that I have been able to incorporate active listening in my life as I grew older.

Don’t judge me! I was immature before.

What is active listening?

“Contrary to popular opinion, listening is not a passive activity. It is the most active thing you can do.”

The author tells us not to listen passively to the other party. Passive listening is when you hear what you want to hear and filter out everything else.

On the contrary, active listening is when you have a sincere desire to understand the other person.

When the other person feels secure and understood, then they will let their guard down and share more information. Getting them to share as much as they can is the goal here.

P.S. Take it slow. Don’t rush the other person.

The power of a smile

Smile is a universal language.

Voss tells us about the three voices of negotiators.

  1. The late-night FM DJ voice

  2. The positive/playful voice

  3. The direct or assertive voice

The late-night FM DJ voice is “deep, soft, slow, and reassuring.” It communicates trust and authority.

The positive/playful voice should be the default. It is when you relax and smile. Your demeanor is that of an easy-going and good-natured person.

I understand the emphasis Chris put on the positive voice. Even in emotionally heightened times, when you use a light-hearted approach, it disarms the other person.

In my interactions, I have seen people’s serious facial expressions melt away through this approach.

“When people are in a positive frame of mind, they think more quickly, and are more likely to collaborate and problem-solve (instead of fight and resist). It applies to the smile-er as much as to the smile-ee: a smile on your face, and in your voice, will increase your own mental agility.”

The last voice is something that the author warns us about. It creates problems and pushback so it is rarely used.

Negotiation is a discovery process

Emotions and tension tend to run high in negotiations.

But they don’t help much.

Then what does?

Treat negotiation as a discovery process, Voss tells us. Make it all about the other person. Focus on them and what they are saying.

Like peeling the layers on an onion, peel back the layers of the other person’s true motives.

“Negotiation is not an act of battle; it’s a process of discovery.”

This requires patience and emotional maturity.

Voss lets us in on an amazing negotiation technique. This one is my favorite from the book.


“Mirroring is the art of insinuating similarity, which facilitates bonding.”

Mirroring means saying back what the other person says. The author tells us to repeat the last 3 words that the other person just said.

“We fear what’s different and are drawn to what’s similar.”

This helps build connections and gets the other person to trust you.

Put a label on it

Acknowledge the other person’s emotions.

Voss tells us to use phrases like:

  • It looks like…

  • It seems like…

  • It sounds like…

“The best way to deal with negativity is to observe it, without reaction and without judgment. Then consciously label each negative feeling and replace it with positive, compassionate, and solution-based thoughts.”

The author did this in a negotiation with four fugitives. The authorities believed they had automatic weapons in their dwelling.

Voss labeled their emotion as fear of being shot or being sent to prison.

The fugitives surrendered and admitted that talking to Voss calmed them down.

“The last rule of labeling is silence. Once you’ve thrown out a label, be quiet and listen.”

If the other party responds negatively to your label, respond by saying, I didn’t say it IS that, I said it SEEMS like that.

And then… try again!

Say the bad things about yourself

The author calls this tactic an ‘accusation audit’.

It means verbalizing the negative before the other party says it. For example, I know you think I am lying.

“List the worst things that the other party could say about you and say them before the other person can. Performing an accusation audit in advance prepares you to head off negative dynamics before they take root.”

This is a way of bringing all their concerns to the table.

When said out loud, the accusations sound exaggerated.

This allows the other party to say positive things about you. For example, you’re not that bad.

Don’t say ‘why’

‘Why’ is accusatory.

It puts the other party in a defensive mode.

Instead, use ‘what’ and ‘how’ to ask calibrated questions. For example:

  • What about this is important to you?

  • How can I help to make this better for us?

  • How would you like me to proceed?

  • How am I supposed to do that?

“…calibrated questions avoid verbs or words like “can,” “is,” “are,” “do,” or “does.” …”

This gives your counterparty an illusion of control. They think they are in charge but in fact, it is you who is steering the conversation.

When people feel that they are not in control, they adopt a hostage mentality. This means they will either become defensive or lash out.

That is not what a negotiator wants.

“It comes down to the deep and universal human need for autonomy. People need to feel in control.”

‘No’ is not a bad thing

No is an opportunity.

It sounds counterintuitive at first. When you listen to what Voss is saying, it starts making sense.

“When you preserve a person’s autonomy by clearly giving them permission to say “No” to your ideas, the emotions calm, the effectiveness of the decisions go up, and the other party can really look at your proposal.”

Getting a ‘no’ signals the start of real negotiation. It gives opportunity to both parties to identify what they don’t want.

The right response to ‘no’ is asking solution-based questions. For example: What about it doesn’t work for you?

“That’s right” is better than “yes.” Strive for it. Reaching “that’s right” in a negotiation creates breakthroughs.”

Get the other person to say ‘That’s right.’ Achieve this by summarizing. The summary should include paraphrasing and labeling.

Identify the Pinocchio’s nose

This little insight will save you a lot of hassle.

When someone is telling the truth, they use ‘I’.

When someone is lying, they use third person pronouns like ‘he’, ‘she’, and ‘it’. This is a way to create distance between the lie and themselves.

Similarly, when someone is lying, their sentences become more complex and wordy.

This is dubbed ‘The Pinocchio Effect.’

Just like Pinocchio’s nose becomes longer with every lie, a human’s sentences become longer.

Look for the black swan

Everyone’s got something to lose.

Don’t get stuck in what you know. Every case is unique.

“Black Swans are events or pieces of knowledge that sit outside our regular expectations and therefore cannot be predicted.”

Persuade your counterpart that they have the most to lose if the negotiation falls through.

What is a black swan?

Black Swan is an unknown that will give you leverage over the other person.

Take discussion away from the negotiation table, the author says. Instead, explore the emotional and personal life of the other party.

There, you will find the black swan.

When I think of a black swan, here is what I imagine:

I am a law enforcement official standing outside a building. There is a gunman insiding holding someone hostage.

While talking to the gunman, I discover that he has a young son. This is a black swan.

I tell him that if he kills the hostage or someone else, he will go to jail forever. He wouldn’t be able to spend time with his son ever. ‘The only memory your son will have of you, will be behind bars’, I say.

That ladies and gentlemen, is the side effect of watching too much true crime.

Closing thoughts

I love the fact that this book has a strong focus on empathy.

Even when you are setting boundaries, the author warns us not to be hateful.

“Your response must always be expressed in the form of strong, yet empathic, limit-setting boundaries — that is, tough love — not as hatred or violence.”

Secondly, the tips are coming from someone who has lived the reality of negotiations in life vs death situations. Hence, they are grounded in wisdom and experience.

Many of us won’t ever be in the situation that Chris Voss faced.

But we are negotiating almost every day whether it is with our spouse, children, or our boss.

The book also provides us with practical steps to use the insights in everyday life. For example, the writer gives us steps for negotiating salary in a job offer.

One thing is for sure. This book will teach you a lot about human psychology and thought processes.


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