How to Negotiate – Learn from Chris Voss

Chris Voss is a former FBI hostage negotiator, in his book – Never Split the Difference -, he shared a great deal of negotiating knowledge and skillset.

The key point is to let the counterpart feel your empathy to them, and then ask them help solve your problem. There are concrete ways or templates to follow as below:

  1. the tone must be calm, soft and firm, like a late night FM radio host;
  2.  ask label questions such as “it looks like you feel misunderstood…”
  3. power of repeat mirroring
  4. power of deference, respectful way
  5. what makes you do that rather than why
  6. assertive without aggressive
  7. think through, be analytical
  8. likable, or people will refuse to do deals with you
  9. never lie
  10. don’t appeal to compromise, the moment compromising kicks in, you feel you lose, which will hinder the implementation
  11. fair asking is for the weak party, tell them you are willing to be fair

The powerful version in an example of a renter raising up the fee. As the tenant,  you could say “It seems like you think your apartment is undervalued,  I understand you just want to get the fair market price”. Usually, the renter will burst out “that’s right”, then you are at a good position to ask him/her “But how am I supposed to do?”, “Could you help me solve the problem”.

Even it seems incredibly simplistic, and I doubt whether he can get what he wants every single time, I have to admit his technique is quite powerful and might be the best solution in comparison of all other possibilities.

After all, preparing a negotiation is similar to prepare a battle, being stronger is essentially the key to victory. Techniques such as Chris’s is particularly powerful and beneficial on the premise that you are strong and resourceful, and always have an alternative option to walk away.

Adding on another portion of wisdom from a Chinese expert – Zhizhong Huang (黄执中). He pointed out three things:

1.Similar to what Chris said, do not make compromises, Huang said ‘nobody likes being convinced’. Human nature is defensive. Being convinced makes one embarrassed, incapable and angry.  Being convinced makes one feel he/she has no option but to comply, i.e. being defeated. So, just as Chris taught, ask “how am I supposed to do so”, or “could you help me solve this problem” is much more potent than forcing them to meet your needs.

2. Provide transparency, detail rather than simply ask the other end to obey the rule. Nobody wants to be given and imposed a game plan, no matter how politely you asked.

3. Give them the option to retreat or revoke. It’s like shopping malls allow refund within a certain period, encouraging the customers to purchase rather than giving up. Ultimately, merchandise makes more money by this seemingly self-damaging clause.

Both of them share the same insight: appeal to emotions, not to reasoning. What I can expand upon this foundational wisdom is that we need to righteously judge and identify our negotiating counterpart first. What’s the end goal. Tactics could be and should be drastically different depending on if the opponent is a terrorist, sociopath, or a customer, or an immature, whimsical family member, or a friend.





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