Book Review – Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss with Tahl Raz

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One of the things that fascinates me in business is consumer behaviour. This contains both the wonders of human psychology and behavioural economics. Understanding what makes us tick as consumers gives us tools that we can use to influence and negotiate purchasing decisions in customers, performance improvements in team members, or partnership development with suppliers. This is the framework with which I approached this book, hoping to add to my “communicating for success” toolkit.

What I found was that Chris Voss’s Never Split the Difference is not a typical negotiation or influence guide. It doesn’t contain any “scientific” rules or rigid formulas because Voss is a former FBI hostage negotiator, and his exploration of emotional intelligence, empathy, and their impact on achieving successful outcomes is very bloody interesting!

The foundation of the book is the emphasis on understanding and addressing the emotional needs of your negotiation counterparts. Here Voss introduces the concept of calculated empathy, providing practical techniques (some we are all familiar with) like active listening, mirroring, labelling emotions, and conducting accusation audits. These tools help build rapport, establish trust, and create a safe space for open communication.

Using some very compelling real-world examples of hostage negotiations, Voss takes us through the nuances of attracting specific responses. This includes the power of “No” and how encouraging it can empower your counterpart, setting healthy boundaries and fostering independence. Similarly, prompting the confirmation “That’s right” leverages the Consistency Principle, subtly guiding counterparts towards your desired outcome.

The book delves into the psychology of negotiation, exploring cognitive biases like the framing effect and loss aversion. By understanding these inherent tendencies, negotiators can present choices in a way that resonates with their counterparts, ultimately influencing decisions in their favour.

One of my biggest takeaways is the emphasis on transforming counterparts into problem-solving partners. Using open-ended questions with “Can you help me” or “How can I do…” questions to engage their participation and ownership and ensure commitment to agreements.

Never Split the Difference doesn’t ignore the darker side of negotiation either, offering tools to identify deception in a counterpart. Voss explains how verbose and evasive language, coupled with the use of third-person pronouns, can be telltale signs of a liar. He also provides insights into understanding different negotiator personalities, allowing for tailored approaches based on individual styles.

Toward the end of the book, is the big underline: the importance of information and preparation. Voss introduces the concept of Black Swans, unknown unknowns that can impact negotiations. He emphasises utilising tactics like face-to-face interactions and the Similarity Principle to gather information and build rapport, to gain insight into counterparts’ perspectives to communicate effectively and avoid misinterpretation.

Never Split the Difference is an essential read for anyone looking to improve their negotiation skills. With a combination of fascinating examples, practical scenarios, and insightful psychological principles, the book is a powerful framework for achieving success in any negotiation. The insights and techniques contained in the book are invaluable for anyone looking to improve their communication skills, build stronger relationships, and achieve success in both personal and professional negotiations.

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