I thought I’d learned what I needed to know about negotiation. I went to a prestigious business school and took their negotiation class, learning all about Getting to Yes, BATNA, and other fancy acronyms. I’d also bargained my fair share in both work and personal life.
Yet, I felt the tools I had at my disposal were meant for some alternate reality where people behave like dispassionate, rational robots: doing math in their heads to get to logical negotiation outcomes. The negotiations I’d been in were instead with passionate, irrational (including myself) humans: sometimes getting angry or sad, often making decisions that didn’t “make any sense” (to me). I was pretty sure the outcomes we were getting to were subpar, both for me and for them: a lot of splitting the difference, mostly to make the negotiations — which felt uncomfortable for all parties — stop.
Note, when I say negotiation, I’m speaking broadly: from negotiating with my fiancée on who should walk the dog tonight, to negotiating with an teammate on why this feature needs to be built urgently, to negotiating with a customer who’s called me angry about something, ... Each negotiation more emotional than the next, yet with a methodology that taught that emotions didn’t matter in negotiations. I was stumped.
Then, I discovered Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss. The book exposed me to a new way of negotiating. It replaced the toolkit meant for negotiating with rational robots with a toolkit meant for negotiating with humans. It built a foundation for negotiation on the basis of understanding the other party through empathy and active listening skills. It taught me that labeling — not ignoring — emotions is the key to a successful negotiated outcome. It exposed the value of open-ended calibrated questions, and forever banished yes/no-answer questions from my repertoire. It taught me polite ways to say no and mean it, without offending the other party. Most importantly, it brought a framework that lets me deeply learn (& yearn) to understand what the other party needs, wants, and desires — and work with them to achieve an outcome where I get my goals met, without ever splitting the difference again.
And it has worked wonders. Since reading this book, I have:
- Forged a better relationship with my fiancée by actively listening to her before jointly finding solutions
- Negotiated successful resolutions to emotionally charged topics with coworkers & friends
- Brought angry customers — who felt we had failed them — back from the brink to trusting us again
- Forged a better relationship with my business partners by understanding how they value time, silence, relationships, surprises, etc…
- Gotten discounts on things that I didn’t think could be discounted, just by using my name
- Gotten to the front of the waiting line at busy restaurants
- Said no to bad deals, because no deal is better than a bad one
- and the list goes on.
I warn you that this book is the start of a rabbit hole you might want to keep digging down. I’ve recommended it to anyone who will listen (cf. this blog post), personally bought it 29 times as a gift for friends & coworkers alike, taken an online class taught by the author’s son (a brilliant negotiator in his own right), etc…
Negotiation, in the broadest sense as described above, is something I want to become an expert in, because I now understand that every conversation is a negotiation. This is the most useful skill you can learn and apply.
It all started with this book. Are you too busy to read it?