Never Split the Difference – A great book on negotiation

Written by an ex-FBI negotiator, this is a very good book on negotiation skills. Although the tactics mentioned in the book are based on established scientific theories and studies, they are presented not like a research paper, but with full of real life examples and case studies, making the methods, tips and tricks more relatable, understandable and applicable. The writer himself also took pains to ensure that the tools he provided there could be used in real life, and not just restricted to major crisis negotiations, but also everyday situations, such as negotiating for a pay rise or promotion, or bargaining with your kids, or discussing with your spouse. That’s why I personally feel that the book is quite useful, and I can see where and how to apply what I learn from there almost immediately. To those people out there who are against self help books, and hesitant to pick up another self help, thinking they are more or less the same anyway, give this one a go and hopefully you will learn something useful and applicable there, and your time spent reading it will not be wasted after all. And to those who love Money Heist, you can ignore all the tools and techniques, and enjoy the real life cases presented in the book (trust me, there are a lot of them, enough to salivate and keep you entertained throughout the whole book). Long story short, I believe you will enjoy it, and learn something useful for your life.

There are a few tools mentioned in the book. The most important ones are:

  • Mirroring:
    • Action: Repeat the last three words or the keywords spoken by your “opponent” (basically whoever you are negotiating with). Start with “I’m sorry” and avoid “Do you mean”.
    • Impact: Make the person question his / her own idea / instruction / decision and start negotiating with himself / herself
  • Tactical Empathy and Labelling:
    • Action: Use phrases like “It seems like…”, “It sounds like…”, “It looks like…”. Label the emotion. Call out what the other side may be thinking or feeling.
    • Impact: Create rapport and show tactical empathy toward your opponent and make him / her feel that you are on the same side and become less defensive
  • Perform accusation audit and anchor down your opponent’s emotion and expectation in the beginning
    • Action: Think of all the accusations possible that the opponent may have towards you and say it out upfront. Also, it’s good to state the worst possible outcome first to establish a low base for negotiation
    • Impact: It helps your opponent become less aggressive and more willing to listen. They may even feel uneasy that they had such bad thoughts about you before, and become more receptive to the negotiation
  • Use open-ended, carefully calibrated questions: How and What
    • Action: Use How and What questions
    • Impact: Put the opponent in the thinking mode and make him / her solve his / her own problem in the way that you want to, without you having to say it our yourself
  • Use Ackerman’s rule when making an offer
    • Action: Start with 65% of the desired price, then 85%, then 95%, then finally the desired price.
    • Impact: The low initial offer anchors down the other side, and the gradual, diminishing increase creates the perception of reaching the limit
  • Watch out and look for Black Swan: Hidden information that once revealed will change the entire negotiation.
    • Action:
      • Look for misinformation, constraint, and hidden agenda when something seems to be unreasonable and not making sense
      • Analyse the negotiation: Is there any real deadline? Is there any necessity to deal? Is there any competition?
      • Discover and use leverage: Positive (ability to reward), negative (ability to cause pain) and normative leverage (social norm, code of ethic, code of conduct, belief, religion…) during negotiation
    • Impact: Black Swan can change everything

As always, the monster is in the detail, and although the tools sound simple, it takes lots of practice to use them naturally and effectively. It will surely start out as super weird and awkward, but I will give it a try. After all, they have been used multiple times to defuse tension in nail-biting negotiations before, where lives were on the line and the stakes were super high. So I guess it will not be a big deal if you try to use it with your kids and receive a weird look from them, but if they really work for you, then voila!

Besides those major tools, the book is also peppered with other tips and tricks that you can use in every day situations, like bargaining at the market or negotiating for a change of role or promotion at work. I just list them down here in the order of appearance in the book, but I will not go into detail for each, since it will take too much time.

  • Go into the negotiation with a lot of different hypothesis, but not assumptions. During the negotiation, test those hypothesis and weed them out based on the information gathered on the scene
  • Listen attentively and with no cognitive bias for consistency
  • Slow the pace down. De-escalate the tension. Let the other side talk more
  • Use the right tone and voice for the situation: Either commanding voice (not recommended) or cheerful playful (most often used) or Midnight FM DJ voice (to calm down the opponent)
  • Embrace “No”. A fake “Yes” is a dead end but a real “No” starts the conversation and gets the ball rolling.
  • Aim for “That’s right”, not “You’re right”. Saying “That’s right” will make the person think about it and may start the momentum for a significant shift later on.
  • Use deadline to your advantage and let the deadline be know if there is really one. Also, most of the deadlines are not really immoveable. “No one is killed on the deadline”.
  • Be careful with fairness. It may make people explode and be unreasonable if they feel that it is not fair.
  • Play with the feeling of loss aversion. People are more scared of losing than excited about winning.
  • Some tips for nailing the best offer possible:
    • Let the other side go first with the offer
    • Offer a range with the lower end being your expectation
    • Pivot to non-financial terms if hit roadblock
    • Use non-rounded number
    • Offer a surprise gift to win favour
    • Ask “what does it take to be successful here?”
    • Give an extreme first offer to nail down the base and push the other side to go for the highest possible budget
    • Reject the other side’s offer 4 times to anchor down before making your own offer
  • Beware of the appearance of a committee in the background and seek the support of the committee if decision is made by committee
  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues. Try to get face time during negotiation
  • Get the confirmation 3 times by using calibrated question, summary, and labelling
  • Look out for lies, pronouns and the number of words used by the other side. Frequent use of “I” means the person is not decision maker, while frequent use of “we”, “he”, or “she” means the person is actually the decision maker.
  • “Yes” is nothing without “How”.
  • Use your own, real name during the negotiation. That helps make the negotiation more personal and calm the other side down.
  • Use humour and humanity to defuse the tension
  • Use familiarity to create rapport and establish common base for negotiation

And there you have it. Some new tools in your negotiating arsenal. I know, it takes a career to master all those skills, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so go ahead, pick one and try to apply it in your every day conversation and see how it goes. It may change your life for the better, and it may help you nail a good offer for your new job. Good luck.

P.S. I tried the tips for salary negotiation, including going for an extreme first offer, providing a range, increasing the figure gradually and using non-rounded number, and managed to nail a healthy increment for my new job. Yay!!!


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