On December 5th, 2018, my supervisor asked me to read a book called Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, written by former FBI lead international kidnapping negotiator Chris Voss. Voss is someone who few can rival, with over 20 years of experience in high-stakes, life or death hostage negotiations. We may not be negotiating with terrorist organizations, but we do have to negotiate challenges at home and in our professional lives. As window cleaners, bidding jobs, purchasing a business space and work vehicles, and managing employees are all negotiations, which will no doubt play a significant role in dictating your level of success. The outcome of our professional lives often comes down to our performance in these crucial conversations. Rather than using “normal” thinking in negotiations by approaching them as logical problems to be solved, Voss emphasizes the importance of emotional intelligence and gives us tools to recognize and capitalize on these basic human emotions. I don’t claim to be ready for hostage negotiation, but I have successfully used these tactics in some of the largest negotiations of my career. Here are a few tips, which will help jumpstart you into becoming a boss negotiator.
Your goal is the specific scenario that represents your best possible case. It should be optimistic but reasonable, and you should define it clearly by writing it down. When expanding your business infrastructure to include more employees and a commercial office space, write down your specific goals. Before bidding a large commercial window cleaning job, write down your price goal. Voss actually recommends that you take your written goal into the negotiation with you. I store my written goals in a document on my phone, not just for major negotiations, but for my personal life as well. Having them always at hand reminds me of what I want and why I’m working for it. It can be easy to get distracted and lost in the details, so think about exactly what you want, and write it down! Getting as much help as possible to gather information can be invaluable in creating a well-constructed goal (see our post on SMART Goals here). If possible, you should discuss your goals with colleagues, friends, family members, etc., and see if they can bring anything you didn’t think of to the table.
Let’s say you had to tell a high rise property manager you couldn’t do the job because it was unsafe. We know there’s always someone else who will do it if you don’t. What if the property manager offers you more money to do it even though they know it’s unsafe? Saying “no” can be tough, but necessary. We can become worn down by the time, money, and other stressors it takes to reach an agreement. After a while it can be enticing to throw in the towel and accept our counterpart’s offer along with any concessions we have gained so far. Before we do that, let’s remember the title of the book, Never Split the Difference! Voss says that leaving the deal with neither side having received what they want is analogous to both parties walking away with one brown shoe and one black shoe. Let’s say you just landed the largest pressure washing contract you’ve ever had, but they won’t pay enough for you to be able to hire the extra help you need to be able to do it effectively. Nobody really wins here!
When people say “no,” they feel that they are in control. They are putting their foot down and saying, “Woah, hold on partner, that doesn’t work for me!” At this point they are actively directing the negotiation. One way to make people feel like they are in control is to trigger a “no”. Saying something like, “Is now a bad time to talk?” may seem like a trivial “no”, but it starts the conversation by immediately making your counterpart feel like they are in control. Other ways to get a “no” are to intentionally mislabel an action or emotion, or by asking a ridiculous question that can only be answered by a “no”. Here are some examples:
- “I’m sorry, but am I sensing you are offended with that offer?” (when you don’t really think that)
- “Would you consider coming down on the price more than the 20%?” (while you know that more than 20% isn’t realistic)
Saying “yes” can make people feel defensive because “yes” can be interpreted in so many different ways depending on the context. Here are the three types of “yes” that Voss outlines for us:
- The Counterfeit Yes
- This is the kind of “yes” your counterpart says when they mean “no,” but they believe saying “yes” and ignoring you is an easier escape route.
- Example: You’re trying to win a new account, the receptionist says “yes, I’ll be sure to pass that message along”. They hang up and do nothing because they don’t want to talk to you.
- The Confirmation Yes
- This is the kind of “yes” somebody says when they are simply responding to a black-and-white question. It is innocent, reflexive even.
- Example: You ask your employee if he finished all the route work for the month, he says “Yeah boss”.
- The Commitment Yes
- This is the kind of yes that signifies a true agreement that leads to action
- Example: Yes, that glass restoration bid that works for me, where do I sign?”
Voss also explains that there are three types of negotiators, and we should start by identifying ourselves as the one we relate with most:
- Likes to acquire facts and information in order to make a deal
- Methodical and diligent
- Hates surprises
- Prefers to work on their own
- Skeptical by nature
- May appear to agree when just agreeing to think about it
- Can be hypersensitive
- Likes to build a relationship in order to make a deal
- Peace – seeking
- Poor time managers
The Assertive Type
- Likes to be heard before making a deal
- Getting the solution perfect is less important than getting it done
- Loves winning above all else
- Prone to get tunnel vision and miss opportunities to explore
- Doesn’t like to show emotion
- Perceives negotiation to be intellectual sparring
After I read this section, I immediately identified myself as an accommodator. One of my principal roles at abc Window Cleaning Supply is to build and maintain business relationships, and I genuinely love dealing with people! On the downside, I can be easily distracted. Therefore it is important to remind myself of everything I need to accomplish in a negotiation before leaving. Be sure to check out Voss’s tools for negotiating against each persona, of which he goes into detail in his book.
The last tactic I’d like to highlight is the use of calibrated questions. This type of question gives the listener (you) control of the conversation, and cannot be answered with “yes” or tiny pieces of information. You can use this technique to identify and diffuse deal-killing issues, to reveal what your counterpart values, and to identify other people behind the scenes who may try to kill the deal. To accomplish this, you can ask questions starting with “what” and “how”. Here are a few examples:
- What about this is important to you?
- What do your colleagues see as their main challenges in this area?
- How can we solve this problem?
- What makes you ask that?
- How am I supposed to do that?
There are plenty of other tools and techniques in Never Split The Difference, which you can find in hardback on Amazon for about $20. Not a reader? Check out Voss’s YouTube account under the name of his business, The Black Swan Group. I like to keep a hard copy by my desk for reference, but his YouTube videos are also valuable for learning how to use different tones and infections in your speech, and actually get a sense of what it’s like to “negotiate like a boss”. Trust me when I say that this guy is every bit the Chuck Norris of his field. I think he kind of looks like him too?