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Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It

Never Split the difference

Some time ago, I wrote about the lessons we can learn from our kids and how quickly they grow. I have recently been pondering on this topic as I have had to learn negotiating with kids more effectively. “Do it because I say so” is never a good idea. Fortunately, there are plenty of sources we can learn from. One of them is a book written by a former FBI hostage negotiator. Yes, you heard it right. We can implement the techniques used in negotiations with kidnappers and apply them to our families and leadership at work.

Conflict. It is unavoidable experience when raising children. Similarly, in a work environment, if we truly value diverse thoughts, cultures, and approaches, conflict will eventually arise. It is natural to feel inclined to take a side and quickly resolve the conflict or to avoid it altogether. However, neither of these approaches are ideal in the long term.

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as If Your Life Depended on It

I recently was able to implanted some of the lessons I learned after reading the book “Never split the deference” by Chris Voss. Chris is a former FBI hostage negotiator and the founder and CEO of the Black Swan Group, a consultancy that specializes in negotiating and conflict resolution. He is a sought-after speaker and the author of several books. Below I share my notes, I hope you find it useful.

Tactical Empathy

One of the main lessons of the book is the importance of empathy in negotiation. Voss argues that the key to successful negotiation is understanding the other person’s perspective and finding common ground. By showing empathy and actively listening, you can build trust and establish a rapport with the other person, which can lead to a mutually beneficial outcome.

In goes hand to hand with some other key lessons from the book, to never assume that the other person is rational. In the case of the hostage-taker, Voss had to understand the emotional state of the individual and use empathy to connect with him and find a solution.

Tactical empathy is the ability to use empathy in a strategic way, to get the other person to do what you want. Voss explains that tactical empathy is not about manipulation, but about finding a mutually beneficial outcome. By using tactical empathy, you can get the other person to see things from your perspective and find a solution that works for both of you.

Labelling and mirroring

Another tool that I started using more intentionally is mirroring and labelling. Chris explains that labelling is a technique where you name the other person’s emotions or thoughts in order to gain their trust and make them feel understood. By labelling, you can also get the other person to open up and reveal more information, which can help you better understand their perspective and find a solution.

The best way to help someone think is to encourage them to reflect on what they are saying. Instead of critiquing their incorrect ideas, try repeating back the last few words of their last sentence. Avoid sounding unnatural or disapproving. The goal is not to shame them or make them feel bad about their thought process, but to keep the conversation going and help them see their own thinking more clearly. In doing so, you can help them assess whether they are making good decisions on their own.

Examples of labelling language:

  • it seems like…
  • it sounds like…
  • it looks like…

Examples of mirroring (from @anafabrega11):

Teen: “I want to go clubbing with my friends”

Parent: “with your friends…”

Teen: “Yeah, I’ve worked hard this semester and I think I earned a break.”

Parent: “earned a break…”

Teen: “Well, they’ve asked me a few times and I’ve said no to study”

Parent: “no to study…”

How to negotiate with kids

Setting the right tone

The usual conflict scenario is the escalation where people rise their voices. One side starts it and the other side is matching it and escalate even more. Chris proposes to use a positive, playful voice most of the time. It’ll help kids feel comfortable and encouraged. When they get anxious and upset, use the late-night FM DJ voice: slow, deep, and calm. Humans naturally copy the energy of the people they’re around. As a result, you can shape the conversation by how you say what you say.

Voss argues that the way in which you communicate can have a significant impact on the outcome of the negotiation. By establishing a positive and collaborative tone, you can cultivate a sense of cooperation and trust, ultimately leading to a more favorable result.

On the other hand, appearing aggressive or confrontational can generate tension and cause the other party to become defensive, thereby making it more challenging to come to an agreement.

Calibrated questions

Calibrated questions are open-ended questions that are designed to get the other person to reveal more information and open up. Voss explains that calibrated questions can be a powerful tool in negotiation, because they can help you better understand the other person’s perspective and find a solution that works for both of you.

Examples of calibrated questions:

  • What is the biggest challenge you face?
  • What about this is important to you?
  • How can I help to make this better for us?
  • How would you like me to proceed?
  • What is it that brought us into this situation
  • How can we solve this problem?
  • What’s the objective? What are we trying to accomplish here?
  • How am I supposed to do that?

The purpose of those carefully crafted questions is to put the other side to work, keep their brain occupied and help to solve your problem. Voss used calibrated questions to uncover the hostage-taker’s motivations and ultimately come to a resolution.

Power of silence

Another key lesson from the book is the power of silence. Voss shares how, as a negotiator, he discovered that the most effective way to prompt the other person to disclose crucial information was to ask a question and then stay silent.

This technique, known as the “power of the pause,” allows the other person to think about their response and often leads them to reveal more than they would have otherwise. Voss found that by staying quiet and allowing the hostage-taker to speak, he was able to gain valuable information and create a sense of trust.

Never make threats or ultimatums

The final lesson I would like to emphasize here is never to make threats or ultimatums.
In the negotiation, Voss successfully resolved the situation without resorting to threats or ultimatums, which could have escalated the situation. Doing as I say will never work. Or, it will work for a very short period. If you use your authority at work, people will leave your team. If you use your authority as a parent, kids will learn how to disobey you in more sophisticated ways. You may achieve what you want in the short term, but you will lose big time in the long run.

Lessons learned from this coffee journey

In terms of implementation, ‘Never Split the Difference’ offers great lessons for leadership. By understanding the other person’s perspective and using empathy, we, leaders can effectively negotiate with our team members and reach mutually beneficial agreements.

The principles from the book can also be applied in the realm of parenting. When faced with a challenging situation with a child, employing empathy and focusing on the child’s interests can lead to a resolution without resorting to threats or ultimatums.

  • Empathy is crucial in building trust and rapport in negotiations.
  • The power of silence can be effective in getting the other person to reveal important information.
  • It is important to establish a “batna” (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) before entering negotiations.
  • Using the “yes ladder” technique can help move the other person towards agreeing with your position.
  • Negotiations should be viewed as a problem-solving exercise, rather than a competition.

Cover photo: Trip to Iceland, wrong negotiations lead to fire that leads to place devastations that looks like on that photo!

Thanks for reading!

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