On Never Split the Difference

How I got to this book

I was going through Amazon’s best sellers list looking for a book to read before bedtime. In the list, “Never Split the Difference” caught my eyes. Communication is one of the areas that fascinates me, and negotiation is something that is very important but something that I think I am not particularly good at. Description section read the author of the book, Christ Voss, is a former international hostage negotiator for the FBI.

What this writing is for

The structure of the book is a back and forth between his introduction of negotiation technique and an anecdote of using the technique in real negotiation. Many of the techniques resonated with me and I wanted to try in my real life settings. I know I will forget most of the techniques soon, so I wanted to take this opportunity to summarize techniques that I want to try so that I can remember better.

Negotiation Techniques

My understanding of this book’s main theme is to leverage the counterpart as much as possible. It says “Please remember that our emphasis throughout the book is that the adversary is the situation and that the person that you appear to be in conflict with is actually your partner”, and the book focuses on how to make the counterpart into your partner.

I have categorized the technique into the followings:

  • Understand the counterpart’s true intention
    • The key in understanding the counterpart’s true intention is to give him the sense of comfort and keep him talking.
    • Asking “No” Question
      • “Extracting that information means getting the other party to feel safe and in control. And while it may sound contradictory, the way to get there is by getting the other party to disagree, to draw their own boundaries, to define their desires as a function of what they do not want.”
      • “Break the habit of attempting to get people to say “yes.” Being pushed for “yes” makes people defensive. Our love of hearing “yes” makes us blind to the defensiveness we ourselves feel when someone is pushing us to say it.“
    • Effective Pauses
      • “Silence is powerful. We told Benjie to use it for emphasis, to encourage Sabaya to keep talking until eventually, like clearing out a swamp, the emotions were drained from the dialogue.”
    • Minimal Encouragers
      • “Besides silence, we instructed using simple phrases, such as “Yes,” “OK,” “Uh-huh,” or “I see,” to effectively convey that Benjie was now paying full attention to Sabaya and all he had to say.”
    • Mirroring
      • “Rather than argue with Sabaya and try to separate Schilling from the “war damages,” Benjie would listen and repeat back what Sabaya said.”
    • Labeling
      • “Benjie should give Sabaya’s feelings a name and identify with how he felt. “It all seems so tragically unfair, I can now see why you sound so angry.””
    • Paraphrase
      • “Benjie should repeat what Sabaya is saying back to him in Benjie’s own words. This, we told him, would powerfully show him you really do understand and aren’t merely parroting his concerns.”
    • Summarize
      • “A good summary is the combination of rearticulating the meaning of what is said plus the acknowledgment of the emotions underlying that meaning (paraphrasing + labeling = summary). We told Benjie he needed to listen and repeat the “world according to Abu Sabaya.” He needed to fully and completely summarize all the nonsense that Sabaya had come up with about war damages and fishing rights and five hundred years of oppression. And once he did that fully and completely, the only possible response for Sabaya, and anyone faced with a good summary, would be “that’s right.””
  • Make the counterpart think for the solution
    • Asking Open-Ended Calibrated Question
      • “Instead of asking some closed-ended question with a single correct answer, he’d asked an open-ended, yet calibrated one that forced the other guy to pause and actually think about how to solve the problem.”
      • “And the secret to gaining the upper hand in a negotiation is giving the other side the illusion of control.”
      • “Giving your counterpart the illusion of control by asking calibrated questions—by asking for help—is one of the most powerful tools for suspending unbelief.”
      • “But calibrated questions are not just random requests for comment. They have a direction: once you figure out where you want a conversation to go, you have to design the questions that will ease the conversation in that direction while letting the other guy think it’s his choice to take you there.”
      • “First off, calibrated questions avoid verbs or words like “can,” “is,” “are,” “do,” or “does.” These are closed-ended questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or a “no.” Instead, they start with a list of words people know as reporter’s questions: “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why,” and “how.” Those words inspire your counterpart to think and then speak expansively.”
      • “But let me cut the list even further: it’s best to start with “what,” “how,” and sometimes “why.” Nothing else.”
      • “And “why” can backfire. Regardless of what language the word “why” is translated into, it’s accusatory.”
      • “Calibrate your questions to point your counterpart toward solving your problem. This will encourage them to expend their energy on devising a solution.”
      • “By making your counterparts articulate implementation in their own words, your carefully calibrated “How” questions will convince them that the final solution is their idea. And that’s crucial. People always make more effort to implement a solution when they think it’s theirs. That is simply human nature.”
      • “Ask calibrated “How” questions, and ask them again and again. Asking “How” keeps your counterparts engaged but off balance. Answering the questions will give them the illusion of control. It will also lead them to contemplate your problems when making their demands.”
      • “Use “How” questions to shape the negotiating environment. You do this by using “How can I do that?” as a gentle version of “No.” This will subtly push your counterpart to search for other solutions—your solutions. And very often it will get them to bid against themselves.”
      • “Don’t just pay attention to the people you’re negotiating with directly; always identify the motivations of the players “behind the table.” You can do so by asking how a deal will affect everybody else and how on board they are.”
    • The Rule of Three
      • “The Rule of Three is simply getting the other guy to agree to the same thing three times in the same conversation. It’s tripling the strength of whatever dynamic you’re trying to drill into at the moment. In doing so, it uncovers problems before they happen. It’s really hard to repeatedly lie or fake conviction.”
      • “The answer, I learned, is to vary your tactics. The first time they agree to something or give you a commitment, that’s No. 1. For No. 2 you might label or summarize what they said so they answer, “That’s right.” And No. 3 could be a calibrated “How” or “What” question about implementation that asks them to explain what will constitute success, something like “What do we do if we get off track?””
      • “Is the “Yes” real or counterfeit? Test it with the Rule of Three: use calibrated questions, summaries, and labels to get your counterpart to reaffirm their agreement at least three times. It’s really hard to repeatedly lie or fake conviction.”
  • General tips
    • Loss Aversion:
      • “people will take greater risks to avoid losses than to achieve gains. That’s called Loss Aversion. To get real leverage, you have to persuade them that they have something concrete to lose if the deal falls through.”
    • Anchoring Effect:
      • “You can bend your counterpart’s reality by anchoring his starting point. Before you make an offer, emotionally anchor them by saying how bad it will be. When you get to numbers, set an extreme anchor to make your “real” offer seem reasonable, or use a range to seem less aggressive. The real value of anything depends on what vantage point you’re looking at it from.”
    • Similarity Principle:
      • “Exploit the similarity principle. People are more apt to concede to someone they share a cultural similarity with, so dig for what makes them tick and show that you share common ground.”
    • They are not crazy:
      • “When someone seems irrational or crazy, they most likely aren’t. Faced with this situation, search for constraints, hidden desires, and bad information.”
Written on February 29, 2020