Jun 17

(No title)

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss

While not exactly a memoir, this book has been peppered with enough anecdotes and case studies to make it more engaging than a typical business how-to guide. Voss talks about his experience as a hostage negotiator for the FBI, and while some of it is reminiscent of other “You should listen to me because I’m hot shit in my career” braggado which I find annoying, there’s enough “Here’s where we royally screwed up and learned from it” to temper the ego.

If I had to summarize the advice of this book in one sentence, it would be “more aikido, less karate.” Basically, if you go into a negotiation with an attitude that you’re going to fight the other guy and win, you’ve kind of lost already. Successful negotiating involves convincing the other person that you understand them and co-opting them to resolve your problems for you.

I got this as an audiobook, but I think I might pick up a paper copy if I see one, because this is the kind of book that you really ought to review a few times if you’re going to get as much out of it as you can. This is a pretty darn good book and I enjoyed listening to it, but it wasn’t quite perfect. There are PDF worksheets to go along with it, which is nice, I guess, but it’s distracting to have a narrator read out a website url. I would say 99% of the time when I’m listening to an audiobook, I’m not in a position where I have pen and paper in front of me in time to write something down.

Also, in the summary, Voss starts throwing out the terms he’s made up for his different steps, but even though I’d listened to the book, I couldn’t remember what the terms were. For example, he says “use labeling.” I had to think about what that meant, and remembered “Oh, that’s when you summarize what you think the other person is feeling, like ‘you seem to be afraid that if I take the money, you won’t get your kidnap victim back.'” But instead of saying “use labeling” I would have preferred if he had said “describe what the other person is feeling and summarize their position using words like ‘you seem.'” I don’t want to have to remember terms I’ll never use again; I just want to learn the steps.

Did I enjoy listening to the book? Yes. Do I think that I’ll be able to use the steps successfully for negotiation? Ehh … Maybe? This could be a situration where your mileage may vary. He gives an example of where he was able to buy an in-demand red truck for 18% less than the sticker price by being pleasantly persistent and insistent on what he was willing to pay. I’m glad it worked for him, but then there was that study cited by Malcolm Gladwell that a white man gets a better deal walking in the door than a black man gets after 45 minutes of haggling. Sometimes the body you’re in matters. Sometimes it can’t be had for the lower price. Sometimes the cost of losing the deal by pushing too hard is worse than the extra money. And sometimes, winning is not the best thing, as in the case in third world countries where haggling is the norm, that 18% means a lot more to them than it does for you, and if you’re a rich tourist haggling down $2 on a shirt someone made by hand just to prove you can, it just means you’re an asshole and a cheapskate.

However, there’s other information that really matters. Negotiation is about convincing the other side that you understand their point of view, not about making them understand your point of view. Listening is important. There’s always information you don’t know.

Near the end of the book, Voss throws out a lot of information that seems kind of cursory, as if he just wanted to finish it up. He talks about the 65-95 and the 7-3-3 or something, and I didn’t really understand the numbers because they don’t flow well in narration. The offering 65% of your price to start with and edging up to your real price only makes sense if you’re invested in a lower price rather than a higher price, and I didn’t get the corollary, say, if you’re selling someone or negotiating a salary. It was the same deal with the terms he made up. In the interest of sounding more like a business how-to book, he got textbook-y and threw out terms that saved time but at the cost of creating unnecessary numbers to memorize. Yet, those are minor quibbles. All in all, it was an enjoyable book that might teach everyone a thing or two about successful negotiation.

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