Never Split The Difference

Chris Voss has been a recurring guest on Negotiations Ninja. As the former Chief Hostage Negotiator of the FBI, Chris has highly specialized insights into human behavior. Neuroscience plays a role in all decision making, including at the negotiating table. A lot of how-to books present theories that are opposite to what Chris has learned throughout his extensive career. But do they hold up? Through his book, Never Split the Difference, Chris highlights how to use psychology to affect decision-making and negotiations.

There is a misconception in negotiations that hearing no is the worst thing that can happen. But it is actually a good thing. Instead of wearing down your counterpart, the small yeses that many of us shoot for, make the other side feel trapped and bullied. Furthermore, we inadvertently become yes addicts because our brains become addicted to the dopamine that is secreted when we hear the word yes. Small meaningless yeses draw out the negotiation process, which becomes toxic to a resolution. “No,” on the other hand, is powerful. Saying no makes people feel secure and empowered. Allowing the opposite side space to say no means you are more likely to navigate the negotiation to a favorable resolution.

Your tone of voice in negotiations plays a more significant role than you would expect. Chris refers to it as the “Late-night DJ voice.” Using a smooth and positive tone when speaking triggers involuntary mirror neurons in the brain, affecting the mood of who you’re talking to. Speaking this way allows you to state your case and get results. Emotions impact decisions. It is impossible to decide without emotion, even if you know you’re being influenced by it.

High anchoring (emphasis on high) is a well-advocated practice in negotiation, but one you should be wary of. Occasionally, it helps, but more often, it is jarring to the other side, and frequently it ends negotiations on the spot. Chris recommends calibrated questions as an alternative. Learning the emotional effect of the questions you ask is a much more targeted way of reaching the number you want rather than starting high and gradually moving lower. “The secret to gaining the upper hand is giving the other side the illusion of control,” Chris says.  “If you don’t know the emotional effect [of your questions], you’re firing a weapon without knowing what you’re hitting.”

Too often in negotiations, being nice is identified as being weak. It is possible to walk the line between being a straight shooter while still being courteous. You are 37% more likely to close your deal favorably if the other side is in a positive frame of mind, so remember that when you are at the table. “You want to be a straight shooter; you don’t want to be a blunt force brick that people have to fend off. That’s really good advice,” Chris says.

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