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How to negotiate as if your life depended on it

This former FBI hostage negotiator-turned author gives out helpful pointers on how to improve your negotiation skills.




Do you consider yourself a good negotiator? According to Chris Voss, you’re probably doing negotiation wrong. For years, we’ve been operating on the mistaken premise that compromise is the best solution for competing interests.

In his bestselling book, “Never Split The Difference,” Voss shows compromise is the worst solution possible. It ends up leaving two dissatisfied parties not one. As a former FBI hostage negotiator who learned how to negotiate with kidnappers and terrorists, Voss shows the best solution is the one where you get everything you want, not just half.

Well-researched and filled with vivid hostage and kidnapping negotiation stories, Voss and his co-author Tahl Raz, show the old way of negotiating laid out in the classic “Getting to Yes” is outdated.

Voss doesn’t burn down the house of old-school negotiation that “Getting to Yes” built. Rather he suggests renovating the art of negotiation to “never split the difference.” In his situations, splitting the difference meant losing lives. According to Voss, the only successful negotiation is when your counterpart believes giving you everything you asked for is in their best interest. Really.

Whether you are an old hand at negotiation or new to the game, there are good techniques to be found to improve your negotiation skills. Over ten chapters, Voss and Raz break down the negotiation process into three main themes: building a relationship of trust and understanding, the language of negotiation, and the psychology of negotiation.


According to Voss’ book, settling to compromise is one of the “worst” solutions when it comes to negotiating. (Source)

Using fast-paced, gripping stories, Voss and Raz dramatically illustrate the key points of negotiation in life and death fashion. While the old negotiation manual “Getting to Yes” talks about understanding the other side, Voss shows you can use tactical empathy to make your counterpart feel comfortable and safe enough that they will want to talk to you. He gives easily understood tips like labeling your counterparts emotions and using phrases like “it seems” and “it sounds like” to help you build a rapport.

Newbies and pros alike will find useful tips in the language of negotiation chapters. Did you ever wonder why your negotiation went off track? It was probably something you said. For people who are easily discouraged, Voss shows why you should embrace the word “No” in a negotiation.

Voss also explains what types of questions to ask. For example, asking “what” and “how” questions are critical to building rapport and understanding what your counterpart wants. Conversely, he shows negotiators should rarely, if ever, ask the question “Why,” as that puts your counterpart on the defensive, and will shut down a negotiation.

Finally, Voss sheds light on the psychology of negotiation. You’ll learn why having deadlines is important to making deals, how and when to use leverage (both positive and negative), and how to work with people who have different negotiating styles than yours. You’ll even learn a great way to get a discount on your rent by using the Ackerman Bargaining method.

If there is one caveat to this book, it might be that Voss focuses more on one-off negotiations, where you’re likely never to have to negotiate with the person again, rather than long-term relationships, which are a strong component in many businesses. That said, if you ever wanted to learn how to negotiate or improve your negotiating skills, this is a great book to start. It’s a riveting and informative read from beginning to end.

DISCLAIMER: This article expresses my own ideas and opinions. Any information I have shared are from sources that I believe to be reliable and accurate. I did not receive any financial compensation for writing this post, nor do I own any shares in any company I’ve mentioned. I encourage any reader to do their own diligent research first before making any investment decisions.

Kyle is the Marketing Coordinator at BigSpeak speakers bureau, an Inc. 5000 company, where he works with many of the top thought leaders, business writers, and keynote business speakers in the world. As a content creator, he has helped establish the voice and brand for organizations such as BigSpeak and the Graduate Student Association of UC Santa Barbara. His background is in business writing, multimedia marketing, and international education. Before becoming a marketer, Kyle taught business writing for Fort Hays State University in Shenyang, China. Kyle holds a Ph.D. in Education from the University of California, M.A. in Foreign Languages from the University of Delaware, and a B.A. in History from Pennsylvania State University.