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Never Split The Difference

FBI Hostage Negotiator Chris Voss writes about his experience as a lead FBI negotiator and how he has applied what he learned in the business world. The stories that Chris highlights are absolutely captivating and provide great context for strategies and tactics to implement in negotiations. I flew through this book as I work in sales and found a lot of the methodology I use at my job (value selling) is similar to the types of strategies that Voss highlights in his book.

There is a famous book about negotiation that I read in college that Voss references flaws that do not translate into the real world at times. Getting to Yes is a classic book on negotiation and how many approach negotiation including the FBI was based on the principles in that book. The issue is that did not always work as there is an underlying assumption that people act rationally (including us!) when this is not necessarily the case. We are emotional beings who make emotional decisions and then try to rationalize those decisions. In Never Split the Difference, you see through stories examples of how asking questions, gathering information, and framing conversations can lead to great outcomes.

Voss brings in other theories from behavioral psychology through the works of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky that in essence created the field of behavioral economics. These simple heuristics of how we respond psychologically to various stimulus and what we tend to care about are applied throughout Never Split The Difference. Anchoring and loss aversion are two tactics that Voss utilized as an FBI negotiator and provides examples of how they can be used in our everyday lives.

The most interesting takeaway for me is that ultimately the more information you have, confirm, and questions you ask the better a negotiation will go for all parties involved. There is an example in the book about a boss who asked for 2 paper copies of casework from an employee which would have taken almost a week to put together. In the past, this employee had tried addressing it directly and it had backfired. Using the concepts from the book this employee spent time asking and understanding why the boss wanted paper copies, what the purpose was, and how this benefited the client. Ultimately the boss went back to the client and learned they were fine with the electronic version and when the employee asked where to put their copy he ended up completely retracting his request. The boss learned what the client preferred and the employee artfully saved an additional weeks worth of pointless work.

 Negotiation for Leaders: Final Exercise for Cadets

There are some very basic principles that you are likely to recognize you are probably already doing and also start to understand ways you can improve your communication. The most important piece in a successful negotiation is clearly communicating and asking questions that get you closer to understanding. The final chapter is about Black Swans which Nassim Taleb has defined as events that are outside of our current framework and thus unpredictable. In almost every negotiation there is information that it outside of the typical framework or scope of the conversation. This piece of information is likely the key to understanding the motivations or outside pressures that will lead to a good result. Black Swans are unpredictable and unforecastable which is why uncovering them in negotiations can be so powerful.

This book is a fantastic read that is applicable outside of negotiations in any context and truly is a book about communication. It highlights strategies and tactics to better understand others motivations, wants and desires to ultimately result in better outcomes.

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