I’ve always treaded negotiating as it seems to be either a very delicate dance or outright war in people trying to get what they want.

So I was particularly intrigued what insights I could gather from the book Never split the difference: Negotiating as if your life depended on it by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz.

The book presents the real theory of negotiation that has been built and refined for over 20 years through practice of dealing with hostage situations and trying to save lives where every word and interaction counts.

The authors explain in detail different scenarios and situations and give practical advice that can assist people like you and me to use some of these tactics in everyday life.


What is negotiation, really?

For many people, negotiation sounds like a dirty war of words where each party is trying  to manipulate the other in order to win.

Yet, negotiation is in fact not about going into battle but rather “it’s a process of discovery. The goal is to uncover as much information as possible” (p. 47).

The aim of negotiating is to actually understand the other party and get information through that conversation that you can use to make decisions:

“Negotiation serves two distinct, vital life functions- information gathering and behaviour influencing- and includes almost any interaction where each party wants something from the other side” (p. 17)

Negotiating is everywhere and in our every day: the way we discuss a matter with our child or spouse, the way we interact at work, or when we are buying something.

All of life involves negotiating but this book gives us a different view to its essence: that our goal should not be just to win and be right but rather to be curious about how other people see, feel and act and why that is.

Just like leadership, negotiating is a set of interrelated skills that anyone can learn that can help you not just to win but also to become more of a people person.


Listen and understand

The core skill in any negotiation is listening.

Sounds pretty basic and simple, right?

Yet, actual active listening is about trying to understand what emotions and thoughts the other person is likely to be going through, and really understanding those.

Strategies such as mirroring become useful here where we literally mirror the other person: for example, the conversation should rely on you repeating outloud the thought or idea that the other has just uttered.

This allows you to show that you genuinely want a better grasp of the situation and context that the other person finds him/herself in.

At the same time, active listening is a goldmine for information that enables you to make better decisions in the situation.

Once you understand the desires, goals and fears of the other person, you can also start seeing which options are going to be seen as opportunities and which make the other person cringe and close up more.

Using your voice right is also paramount:  speaking in a calm manner (DJ night voice) creates a much more relaxed atmosphere than fast or assertive tone of voice.

Keep the conversation light and positive:

“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)” (p. 33)

This is because are dealing ultimately with emotions: despite all theory on how rational we are, human beings in the end are irrational and emotional beings.


Handle control with open-ended questions 

As Chris Voss progressed in his negotiator career, he began to notice that many of the practices that FBI for example had in place (instructions how to negotiate) did not get the desired results.

The other person or team in the other end didn’t behave like in pre-planned scenarios, was/were highly irrational in their demands and behaviour, and some situations turned into nightmares instead of positive solutions.

But during the negotiations, there was often one type of a question that seemed to help to move the conversation forward: the open-ended question.

The open-ended question, “How am I supposed to do that?”:

“takes the aggression out of a confrontational statement or close-ended  request that might otherwise anger your counterpart. What makes them work is that they are subject to interpretation by your counterpart instead of being rigidly defined” (p. 152).

It also allows the other person (in this case the hostage taker) to evaluate the options on the table, and suggest which one is preferable, and start problem-solving the situation for everybody.

Chris calls this “the illusion of control” where we shift the feeling of control to the other person and in a way ask them to solve the problem for us both.

It is not about manipulation but finding strategic ways to open up a discussion especially when emotions and stakes are high and where we need to find a solution that dissolves the conflict.


The ultimate negotiation challenge

What I’ve come to realise is that many of us shy away from the ultimate negotiation: the one we should have with ourselves.

We are so busy focusing on others that we forget that the person we really need to negotiate with for example on creating better habits or making important life choices  ultimately matters the most (and is probably hardest to convince).

I’ve noticed lately that I am having hard time keeping up with all of my current commitments: for example last week was the first week I did not publish the blog since late 2017.

So I am in the middle of this ultimate negotiation as to where my energies are best spent and where I can see myself as being most impactful and helpful in a way that I am uniquely placed to do.

That negotiation is still ongoing and while the blog is part of that discussion, I have a strong feeling that it will survive.

It might take a new more spaced out schedule that allows me to read more and dwell more deeply into the different books and topics that I write about.

Going forward I hope I can be even more helpful in the way I summarise and share the insights and thoughts that are in these books and the world around us.