Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss
And so begins this surprising book. The author begins the book by relating his experience at a prestigious seminar at Harvard University. Several of the college's top negotiators put him on the spot to see how he would negotiate in a hypothetical hostage negotiation.
The author held his own against the expert negotiators, surprising the professors. How did he do so well? Mr. Voss explains that the methods used by the FBI were developed over time, "products of experiential learning; they were developed by agents in the field, negotiating through crisis and sharing stories of what succeeded and what failed." In other words, these tactics HAD to work. If hostage negotiators failed, people literally DIED.
The author discovered that the same techniques used in life and death situations could be generalized--they "made great sense intellectually, and they worked everywhere...In the twenty years I spent at the Bureau we’d designed a system that had successfully resolved almost every kidnapping we applied it to."
NEVER SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE is not just about tricky negotiation tactics, or ways to "outwit" your adversary in battle. Whether you are negotiating with kidnappers, or just negotiating a raise, the principles are the same. For example, people always want to be understood and accepted. "Remember you’re dealing with a person who wants to be appreciated and understood." This is true no matter the type of negotiation.
This also means careful listening, or what the author calls, the martial art of "Tactical Empathy." It's nearly impossible to listen to the other side; so, you have to deliberately change your focus: "Make your sole and all-encompassing focus the other person and what they have to say. In that mode of true active listening."
Each chapter in NEVER SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE begins with a real-life example from the author's involvement with hostage negotiations. Warning: Many of these cases are brutal, and oftentimes people are hurt, or even killed. After the real case is presented, the author then explains what negotiating techniques worked, and which didn't. At the end of each chapter, there is a nice wrap-up of the key lessons learned.
One of the key techniques recommended is to "Be a mirror." You simply try to reflect back what is said: "The intention behind most mirrors should be 'Please, help me understand.' Every time you mirror someone, they will reword what they’ve said. "
The book's title reflects the author's position that compromise, or "Splitting the Difference" is actually a lazy way to conclude a negotiation. It often gives bad results: "We don’t compromise because it’s right; we compromise because it is easy and because it saves face." However, a simple compromise is often "ineffective and often disastrous. At best, it satisfies neither side. And if you employ it with a counterpart who has a win-lose approach, you’re setting yourself up to be swindled."
Instead of taking the easy way, Chris recommends working relentlessly to see "what is really motivating the other side." The negotiation is not so much a battle, as a process of "Discovery." Figure out as much as you can about what the other sides really needs. Even when the other side says, "No," that's okay. Use that to clarify what the parties really want. Figure out the other side’s “religion," or what truly matters to them.
Finally, the Appendix contains detailed steps for preparing for an important negotiation. For instnace, list your goals, as well as the negotiating "tools" you will be using. Chris explains that in the heat of discussion, you will otherwise forget your tactics.
All in all, I found NEVER SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE to be an impressive book, filled with practical knowledge, tips, and just plain WISDOM about how to deal with people. I like the fact that the tips and tactics are PROVEN techniques--not just some theoretical ideas. If you've negotiated with kidnappers, I'm pretty sure that qualifies you as an experienced negotiator.
Advance copy for review courtesy of Edelweiss Book Distributors.