Lessons from Never Split the Difference

High Level Thoughts

Never Split the Difference teaches how to negotiate successful outcomes in work, relationships, and life. Learn how to spot the roadblocks in negotiation. Understand what causes negotiations to fail. Understand why people don’t come to agreement when there’s mutual benefit. Detect when the people you negotiate with act unfairly or lie about their negotiating positions. Learn how to stop negotiating against yourself and reveal the true value of what you offer. Ensure that your negotiation counter-party follows through on their agreement. Stop leaving money on the negotiating table.

Lesson Table of Contents

How to Become the Smartest Person in Any Room

How to Quickly Establish Rapport

How to Create Trust with Empathy

How to Generate Momentum and Make It Safe to Reveal the Real Stakes

How to Gain the Permission to Persuade

How to Shape What is Fair

How to Transform Conflict into Collaboration

How to Spot Liars and Ensure Follow-Through from Everyone Else

How to Get Your Price

How to Create Negotiation Breakthroughs by Revealing Unknown Unknowns

How to Become the Smartest Person in Any Room

Even after two decades negotiating for human lives you still feel fear. Even in a role-playing situation.

“C’mon. Get me the money or I cut your son’s throat right now,” Mnookin said. Testy. I gave him a long, slow stare. Then I smiled. “How am I supposed to do that?” Mnookin paused. His expression had a touch of amused pity in it, like a dog when the cat it’s been chasing turns around and tries to chase it back. It was as if we were playing different games, with different rules.

So you’re okay with me killing your son, Mr. Voss?” “I’m sorry, Robert, how do I know he’s even alive?” I said, using an apology and his first name, seeding more warmth into the interaction in order to complicate his gambit to bulldoze me.

“I really am sorry, but how can I get you any money right now, much less one million dollars, if I don’t even know he’s alive?”

We are all crazy, irrational, impulsive, emotionally driven animals, all the raw intelligence and mathematical logic in the world is little help in the fraught, shifting interplay of two people negotiating.

We are always an animal, always acting and reacting first and foremost from our deeply held but mostly invisible and inchoate fears, needs, perceptions, and desires.

A Brief History of Hostage Negotiation

Until the Nixon administration, hostage negotiating as a process was limited to sending in troops and trying to shoot the hostages free.

In law enforcement, our approach was pretty much to talk until we figured out how to take them out with a gun.

Then a series of hostage disasters forced us to change. The greatest inspiration for institutional change in American law enforcement came on an airport tarmac in Jacksonville, Florida, on October 4, 1971.

Soon after the Giffe tragedy, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) became the first police force in the country to put together a dedicated team of specialists to design a process and handle crisis negotiations. The FBI and others followed.

Fisher and Ury’s approach was basically to systematize problem solving so that negotiating parties could reach a mutually beneficial deal—the getting to “Yes” in the title. Their core assumption was that the emotional brain—that animalistic, unreliable, and irrational beast—could be overcome through a more rational, joint problem-solving mindset.

The Getting to Yes System

An easy to follow and seductive system for negotiation with four basic tenets.

  1. separate the person—the emotion—from the problem
  2. don’t get wrapped up in the other side’s position (what they’re asking for) but instead focus on their interests (why they’re asking for it) so that you can find what they really want
  3. work cooperatively to generate win-win options
  4. establish mutually agreed-upon standards for evaluating those possible solutions.

For years after that book came out, everybody—including the FBI and the NYPD—focused on a problem-solving approach to bargaining interactions. It just seemed so modern and smart.

The Problem with the Getting to Yes System

The problem is this approach presumes that each side is acting fairly and not emotionally.

Amos Tversky and the psychologist Daniel Kahneman. Together, the two launched the field of behavioral economics—and Kahneman won a Nobel Prize—by showing that man is a very irrational beast.

Feeling, they discovered, is a form of thinking.

“It is self-evident that people are neither fully rational nor completely selfish, and that their tastes are anything but stable.” - Daniel Kahneman

If you believed Kahneman, conducting negotiations based on System 2 concepts without the tools to read, understand, and manipulate the System 1 emotional underpinning was like trying to make an omelet without first knowing how to crack an egg.

Why the Getting to Yes System is Promoted Despite Its Weakness

Why was it that everyone had read this bestselling business book and endorsed it as one of the greatest negotiation texts ever written, and yet so few could actually follow it successfully?

Because it makes people look good by saying it’s good, not because it’s effective.

Creating a Better Negotiation System

If emotionally driven incidents, not rational bargaining interactions, constituted the bulk of what most police negotiators had to deal with, then our negotiating skills had to laser-focus on the animal, emotional, and irrational.

Emotions and emotional intelligence would have to be central to effective negotiation, not things to be overcome.

What were needed were simple psychological tactics and strategies that worked in the field to calm people down, establish rapport, gain trust, elicit the verbalization of needs, and persuade the other guy of our empathy.

People want to be understood and accepted. Listening is the cheapest, yet most effective concession we can make to get there.

Psychotherapy research shows that when individuals feel listened to, they tend to listen to themselves more carefully and to openly evaluate and clarify their own thoughts and feelings. They tend to become less defensive and oppositional and more willing to listen to other points of view.

Why Negotiation is Important

Life is negotiation

The majority of the interactions we have at work and at home are negotiations that boil down to the expression of a simple, animalistic urge: I want.

“I want you to accept that $1 million contract.” “I want to pay $20,000 for that car.” “I want you to give me a 10 percent raise.” and “I want you to go to sleep at 9 p.m.”

Negotiation serves two distinct, vital life functions—information gathering and behavior influencing—and includes almost any interaction where each party wants something from the other side. Your career, your finances, your reputation, your love life, even the fate of your kids—at some point all of these hinge on your ability to negotiate.

Negotiation is nothing more than communication with results. Getting what you want out of life is all about getting what you want from—and with—other people.

The first step to achieving a mastery of daily negotiation is to get over your aversion to negotiating.

Effective negotiation is applied people smarts, a psychological edge in every domain of life: how to size someone up, how to influence their sizing up of you, and how to use that knowledge to get what you want.

How to Quickly Establish Rapport

In negotiation, each new psychological insight or additional piece of information revealed heralds a step forward and allows one to discard one hypothesis in favor of another. You should engage the process with a mindset of discovery. Your goal at the outset is to extract and observe as much information as possible.

Why really smart people often have trouble being negotiators

They’re so smart they think they don’t have anything to discover. Too often people find it easier just to stick with what they believe. Using what they’ve heard or their own biases, they often make assumptions about others even before meeting them. They even ignore their own perceptions to make them conform to foregone conclusions. These assumptions muck up our perceptual windows onto the world, showing us an unchanging—often flawed—version of the situation.

Most people approach a negotiation so preoccupied by the arguments that support their position that they are unable to listen attentively.

In one of the most cited research papers in psychology, George A. Miller persuasively put forth the idea that we can process only about seven pieces of information in our conscious mind at any given moment. In other words, we are easily overwhelmed.

How to Prepare Your Negotiation Counterpart to Agree

Instead of prioritizing your argument—in fact, instead of doing any thinking at all in the early goings about what you’re going to say—make your sole and all-encompassing focus the other person and what they have to say. In that mode of true active listening—aided by the tactics you’ll learn in the following chapters—you’ll disarm your counterpart. You’ll make them feel safe. The voice in their head will begin to quiet down.

The goal is to identify what your counterparts actually need (monetarily, emotionally, or otherwise) and get them feeling safe enough to talk and talk and talk some more about what they want.

Negotiation begins with listening, making it about the other people, validating their emotions, and creating enough trust and safety for a real conversation to begin.

Why you should never rush a negotiation

Going too fast is one of the mistakes all negotiators are prone to making. If we’re too much in a hurry, people can feel as if they’re not being heard and we risk undermining the rapport and trust we’ve built.

There’s plenty of research that now validates the passage of time as one of the most important tools for a negotiator. When you slow the process down, you also calm it down.

Why how we say things matters more than what we say

When deliberating on a negotiating strategy or approach, people tend to focus all their energies on what to say or do, but it’s how we are (our general demeanor and delivery) that is both the easiest thing to enact and the most immediately effective mode of influence. Our brains don’t just process and understand the actions and words of others but their feelings and intentions too, the social meaning of their behavior and their emotions. On a mostly unconscious level, we can understand the minds of others not through any kind of thinking but through quite literally grasping what the other is feeling.

When we radiate warmth and acceptance, conversations just seem to flow. When we enter a room with a level of comfort and enthusiasm, we attract people toward us. Smile at someone on the street, and as a reflex they’ll smile back. Understanding that reflex and putting it into practice is critical to the success of just about every negotiating skill there is to learn. The most powerful tool in any verbal communication is your voice. You can use your voice to intentionally reach into someone’s brain and flip an emotional switch. Distrusting to trusting. Nervous to calm. In an instant, the switch will flip just like that with the right delivery.

The three tones of voice available to negotiators:

  1. the late-night FM DJ voice
  2. the positive/playful voice
  3. the direct or assertive voice

The danger of using direct and assertive tone of voice

Except in very rare circumstances, using it is like slapping yourself in the face while you’re trying to make progress. You’re signaling dominance onto your counterpart, who will either aggressively, or passive-aggressively, push back against attempts to be controlled.

Most of the time, negotiators should use the positive/playful voice. It’s the voice of an easygoing, good-natured person. Your attitude is light and encouraging. The key here is to relax and smile while you’re talking. A smile, even while talking on the phone, has an impact tonally that the other person will pick up on.

“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). It applies to the smile-er as much as to the smile-ee: a smile on your face, and in your voice, will increase your own mental agility.

How the late night DJ voice works

The way the late-night FM DJ voice works is that, when you inflect your voice downward, you convey that you’ve got it covered. By talking slowly and clearly you convey one idea: I’m in control. When you inflect upward, you invite a response. Why? Because your voice tone brings in a measure of uncertainty. You’ve made a statement sound like a question.

Why all great negotiators are good at mirroring

Mirroring, also called isopraxism, is essentially imitation. It’s another neurobehavior humans (and other animals) display in which we copy each other to comfort each other.

It can be done with speech patterns, body language, vocabulary, tempo, and tone of voice. It’s generally an unconscious behavior—we are rarely aware of it when it’s happening—but it’s a sign that people are bonding, in sync, and establishing the kind of rapport that leads to trust.

Mirroring, then, when practiced consciously, is the art of insinuating similarity. “Trust me,” a mirror signals to another’s unconscious, “You and I—we’re alike.”

By repeating back what people say, you trigger this mirroring instinct and your counterpart will inevitably elaborate on what was just said and sustain the process of connecting.

How to mirror

Repeat the last three words (or the critical one to three words) of what someone has just said.

How to avoid caving into unreasonable demands

Four simple steps:

  1. Use the late-night FM DJ voice.
  2. Start with “I’m sorry …”
  3. Mirror
  4. Silence. At least four seconds, to let the mirror work its magic on your counterpart.
  5. Repeat.

The intention behind most mirrors should be “Please, help me understand.” Every time you mirror someone, they will reword what they’ve said. They will never say it exactly the same way they said it the first time.

Why questions can provoke and mirrors calm

Ask someone, “What do you mean by that?” and you’re likely to incite irritation or defensiveness. A mirror, however, will get you the clarity you want while signaling respect and concern for what the other person is saying.

Use mirrors to encourage the other side to empathize and bond with you, keep people talking, buy your side time to regroup, and encourage your counterparts to reveal their strategy.

How to Create Trust with Empathy

Until recently, most academics and researchers completely ignored the role of emotion in negotiation. Emotions were just an obstacle to a good outcome, they said. “Separate the people from the problem” was the common refrain.

Instead of denying or ignoring emotions, good negotiators identify and influence them. They are able to precisely label emotions, those of others and especially their own. And once they label the emotions they talk about them without getting wound up. For them, emotion is a tool.

A soothing voice, close listening, and a calm repetition of the words of your counterpart can get you a lot further than a cold, rational argument.

If you can perceive the emotions of others, you have a chance to turn them to your advantage.

The number one reason negotiations stall

There is nothing more frustrating or disruptive to any negotiation than to get the feeling you are talking to someone who isn’t listening.

Ignoring the other party’s position only builds up frustration and makes them less likely to do what you want.

The difference between empathy and sympathy

Empathy is “the ability to recognize the perspective of a counterpart, and the vocalization