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Episode 43 – Never Split the Difference

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If you don’t know who Chris Voss is, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of his book: Never Split the Difference. It will change the way you look at negotiation forever. In this episode, Chris and I talk about some of the finer nuances and intricacies behind the tactics he teaches in his book.

Voss spent 24 years working in the FBI Crisis Negotiation Unit and was the FBI’s chief international hostage and kidnapping negotiator from 2003 to 2007. Before that, Voss worked on NYC’s Joint Terrorist Task Force investigating terrorist activities and attacks. After working on more than 150 international hostage cases he retired from the FBI in 2007 and founded The Black Swan Group.

Outline of This Episode

  • [2:18] Chris’s background in FBI Crisis Negotiation
  • [3:48] Why you want an early “no”
  • [6:50] Two needs: to be understood and accepted
  • [8:57] What is the late-night DJ voice?
  • [12:36] The major failure in negotiation training
  • [16:56] Why you should NEVER split the difference
  • [20:01] The concept of extreme anchoring
  • [21:48] Calibrated “How” questions
  • [23:14] Why you want to hear “that’s right” NOT “you’re right”
  • [25:14] Be as assertive but nicer
  • [28:02] Don’t take yourself hostage

Why you want a “No” over a “Yes”

The prevailing theory is that to close a deal, we should be getting little yeses throughout the negotiation. But Chris thinks we need to get to an early “no.” Why? The little yeses (tie-downs, commitments, etc.) are a complete violation of human nature. Chris believes that it contributes to long negotiations that go nowhere and is the biggest toxin for relationships. Human beings are so battered by “yes” that they can’t help but instinctively react negatively. We think: Where’s this going? What’s the trap? What’s the hook?

Why is it important for someone to be able to say no? Chris points out that people feel protected and safe when they can say no. Kids—as human beings—have learned that once their parents have already said no once, they’re more likely to follow it with a yes. If that’s human nature, you should take advantage of it.

We equate “yes” with positive emotions, but it’s not necessarily true. Hearing yes makes us happy, but we don’t like the process of someone else trying to get a yes from us. The goal should always be to help the other person feel like they’re in control of the conversation. You should help people feel safe and protected.

The primary driver of human behavior

Chris points out that the primary driver of human behavior is the fear of loss. There’s nothing we can do that will change that amygdala wiring in our brains. So let’s take advantage of it. Seventy percent of buy decisions are made based on the avoidance of loss.Chris emphasizes that you should “Stop trying to get people to say yes. Let’s give them the opportunity to tell us the truth in the negotiation and find out early on whether there’s a deal to be had.” People respond far more positively to your request if you frame it as a loss versus a reward.

The late-night DJ voice and mirror-neurons

The late-night DJ voice is the “calming, soothing, downward inflecting voice” that Chris stumbled over in his days of hostage negotiation. They didn’t know why it worked, they just knew it worked. But now science shows that it’s because of mirror neurons. Mirror-neurons pick up the effect that they hear and immediately triggers that emotion inside the brain. It’s an involuntary response. Using the late-night DJ voice in a negotiation helps turn those negative emotions down.

With his tone of voice, he can change someone’s mood. Chris points out that the even crazier thing is that neuroscience has concluded we’re up to 31% more capable with a positive frame of mind which allows salespeople to make 37% more deals. You leave money on the table if you’re striving for neutrality. But if you use the late-night FM DJ voice you can put forward your best interests effectively.

The major failing in negotiation training: downplaying empathy

The fallacy is that “You need to separate emotion and empathy in negotiation.” It may be intellectually sound, but according to Chris, it’s irrationally applied. Instead, you need to be in control of your own emotions while empathizing with the other party in the negotiation. Humans used to think emotions were something that could be turned on and off. But humans are hard-wired to make decisions about what we care about. Without emotions, you can’t make decisions.

That being said, negative emotions slow down the thinking process. Positive emotions make us smarter. We want to enhance positive emotions and eliminate the negative ones. Which emotions do you like? Which are hurting you? You separate them out and put the person onto a different path of decision-making.

Why you should NEVER split the difference

According to Chris, compromise and splitting the difference are horrible. Compromise ruins everything. People are trying to be fair, or they’re a poor judge of distance. People who most often say they like “win-win” are a high-demand person trying to move a goal-line. It’s a mercenaries tool to make you feel like you got treated fairly when they got what they wanted all along. It’s amazing what people will agree too when they feel like they’ve been treated fairly.

Why you want to hear “that’s right” NOT “you’re right”

Think about this: Hearing “you’re right” is almost more satisfying than hearing “yes.” Chris points out that “We all practice saying it to someone we have no intention of collaborating with, no intention of implementing with, no intention of moving forward with.” When you look at someone and say “you’re right” they shut up—and leave you alone.

Instead, you want to hear “That’s right.” It’s what human beings say when we are all-in and completely in agreement with what we’ve heard. That’s the best sign of agreement and establishing it on a deeper human level. Chris emphasizes that “The single biggest breakthrough moments in negotiations—whether it’s a hostage negotiation or business negotiation—is when we have triggered a ‘that’s right’ out of the other side.”

Resources & People Mentioned

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