Negotiations are a part of life, almost every interaction we have at home or work can be distilled down to voicing what we want. Whether it is a high-profile business deal, a job interview, a bargain at the mall, or even a hostage situation, we must know how to engage in conflict with our counterparts through effective negotiation without causing harm to the other side or collateral damage.
In his book, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It with Tahl Raz, former international FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss draws on twenty years of experience to tell readers how to 'disarm, re-direct and dismantle' your counterpart in any negotiation in a friendly and cooperative way with the help of tactical empathy, emotional intelligence, and psychology.
Although I highly encourage you to read the book for a comprehensive guide to high-stakes negotiations, here are some of the battle-tested strategies you can try out in your next negotiation or job interview.
Voss argues that most people are too caught up in the arguments that support their position instead of actively listening to what their counterparts have to say. So, the next time you want to get your point across, make sure you listen to what the other person has to say and repeat it back to them so they feel like they have been heard.
This is known as mirroring and involves repeating the last three words the person said in an inquisitive manner which helps build rapport and trust. Similarly, Voss suggests that we smile, speak slowly and have a calm, playful voice so that we can put our counterparts at ease and thus make them more likely to cooperate.
Finally, to confront your counterpart without coming off as confrontational, Voss recommends using a 'late-night FM DJ voice' with a downward inflexion, the phrase "I am sorry…", mirroring and silence to make your counterpart pause, re-evaluate their position and potentially change their mind while trying to help you understand.
For example, if your manager says, "Send me this report by tonight", you can respond, "I am sorry, by tonight?" in an FM DJ voice (never in an assertive voice) to signal respect and concern for what he is saying while simultaneously compelling him to re-evaluate his position.
Labelling involves identifying your counterpart's feelings during the negotiation and vocalising them in a calm and respectful manner. By doing so, we engage in tactical empathy or 'emotional intelligence on steroids' which involves learning more about the mindset and feelings of your counterpart during negotiation so that you can influence them to your benefit.
How we label is important, for example, if a client appears hesitant during a negotiation, you can label and understand their hesitancy by saying, "it seems that you have some reservations about working with us," or "it looks like this deal is very important to you."
This will not only enable your client to breathe a sigh of relief and elaborate on any doubts they may have but also it will help diffuse any obstacles that stood in the way of the negotiation.
While labelling, Voss recommends that we never use the word 'I' while labelling lest we want to come off as self-interested and use silence after labelling to elicit a response. While labelling can be used positively to build rapport, we can use negative labelling (highlighting every doubt and suspicions) beforehand to build rapport and trust through empathy.
Voss once convinced three armed fugitives to walk out and surrender after a six-hour-long siege by labelling their fears and saying, "It looks like you don't want to come out. It seems like you worry that if you open the door, we'll come in with guns blazing. It looks like you don't want to go back to jail."
Elicit 'No' and 'That's right'
Everyone is familiar with a situation where they faked a 'yes' response just to get out of an annoying situation. Think of every argument or sales pitch that was designed to elicit a 'yes' from you at all costs.
Voss explains that not only does this result in others not following through on their agreement but also angers/irritates them. As a result, a 'yes' can have three different meanings: confirmation, commitment, and counterfeit; we want the commitment-type yes at the end of the negotiation while avoiding the counterfeit-yes at the beginning of the negotiation.
On the other hand, asking questions that elicit a 'no' in response not only helps your counterpart clarify what they really want from the agreement but also offers them a sense of control in the negotiation which opens them up for better cooperation as you can ask follow-up questions or use labels to come to an agreement that suits you.
'No' is so important to getting that final 'yes' in a negotiation that Voss suggests even purposefully mislabeling to elicit a 'no' response and force your counterpart to listen and correct you.
Moreover, Voss also emphasises that a 'that's right' is an even better response than the final 'yes' as it signals a breakthrough. Using active listening, labelling, effective pauses, summarising and paraphrasing your counterpart's responses are a good way to elicit a 'that's right'.
A calibrated question is an open-ended question that starts with 'what' or 'how' (never why) that can be used throughout the negotiation to say no or disarm your counterpart without directly confronting and making them defensive.
Questions like "What are we trying to accomplish here?", "How can we solve this problem" and especially "How am I supposed to do that?" prompts the counterpart to feel like they are in control and use their resources to solve your problem while allowing you to frame the conversation.
When facing a verbal assault from your counterpart, calibrated questions can easily disarm them and prompt them to use their intelligence to reach a solution that aligns with what you want.
Throughout the book, Voss expertly guides readers through the countless other negotiation techniques he mastered over his career. Unlike old-school negotiations that assume both parties are driven by rationality and want a win-win deal, Voss teaches us how to effectively handle negotiations by using our emotional intelligence and never splitting the difference.
The strategies I discussed are only the tip of the iceberg (there are so many other concepts I haven't discussed from the book like rounding your asking price to make your offer sound well-calculated) that the author uncovers with the help of interesting high-stakes hostage situations he had encountered to explain and illustrate the effectiveness of every strategy.
In the end, all the tools of negotiation can be practised, mastered, and utilised in harmony and tailored to the different types of people we encounter so that we can have our cake and eat it as well.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.