One key characteristics about Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss is that it offers unconventional and practical techniques to negotiation. After reading the book, I want to highlight 3of these techniques that I will start using in my daily life.
Mirroring (Ch. 2)
From the book, the concept of mirroring is based on a simple biological principle: “We fear what’s different and are drawn to what’s similar”. Following that principle, Voss recommends mirroring your counterpart in negotiations by repeating the critical 1–3 words of what someone has just said. For example:
- Counterpart: “We thought we’d come another time.”
- You: “another time?”
Note: it doesn’t have to be a question.
How mirroring helps: Per the biological principle, your counterpart is more likely to trust you as a negotiation partner and be more open to problem solving (as opposed to fighting over who gets what piece of the pie in the negotiation).
How I want to use mirroring every day: Voss recommends mirroring and then staying calm and letting the mirroring do the magic. The way I want to use this every day is in allowing people I’m talking to to elaborate on what they have to say—giving them a space to be fully heard. When I do this, I always try to be as curious as possible by thinking that this person has something to say that I don’t know. This can also be useful when engaging in a controversial topic. When I engage in such topics, I am always after the truth, and by mirroring the person I’m talking to, I want to make sure that they feel heard and understood.
Labeling (Ch. 3)
Voss calls it by another name—“tactical empathy”, which he defines as “the ability to recognize the perspective of a counterpart, and the vocalization of that recognition.” In other words, labeling is a form of summarizing what the counterpart said and feels (which is something you may pick up based on tone of voice, body language, or potentially themselves expressing their feelings).
Labeling goes hand in hand with mirroring. While it’s not always the case, I see this as a good follow up to a sequence of mirroring. Continuing the example from before:
- Counterpart: “Yes, she and I discussed coming to New York over the summer when we have less work.”
- You: “It sounds like school is really stressful right now and that might make traveling to New York right now not as enjoyable.”
How labeling helps: This leans on the same principle as mirroring, but also it adds an extra layer of validation from your counterpart. They are more likely to listen to what you have to say if they feel fully understood and validated.
How I want to use labeling every day: I want to make sure that I understand what someone else says before I speak my mind. I realized about myself that I tend to jump to conclusions, but I also realized that everyone is different and that people often see the world differently. To avoid projecting my world view onto others, I make sure I can summarize what they have to say and hopefully get them to agree and feel validated.
“That’s Right” (Ch. 5)
“That’s right” is what Voss calls “the two words that immediately transform any negotiation”. The thing about negotiations is that it often feels like two parties coming to a clash against each other, so there’s inherent adversity at play. In combination with mirroring and labeling, getting your counterpart to say “that’s right” can really open up the table for what you want out of this negotiation to happen. The reason it works is that often people don’t want to problem solve until they feel safe—safe as a result of feeling understood, validated and of feeling like their wishes are put into consideration.
You can imagine the conversation example from above concluding with the counterpart saying, “that’s exactly how we feel”—which is another form of “that’s right”.
With that said, Voss asked us to beware of something that looks very similar to “that’s right” but is very much not good for negotiation, and it is: “You’re right”. Here’s how Voss puts it:
It works every time. Tell people “you’re right” and they get a happy smile on their face and leave you alone for at least twenty-four hours. But you haven’t agreed to their position. You have used “you’re right” to get them to quit bothering you.
How “that’s right” helps: When your counterpart says “that’s right”, your counterpart is essentially saying, “I feel understood”, which can be seen as an inflection point into the discussion. In addition, your counterpart is much more likely to listen to what you have to say now.
How I want to use “that’s right” every day: I want the people around me to feel validated. I also want my discussions with people to feel productive. I believe that one cannot expect to be understood if they don’t at least try to understand other people, so I want to use this technique to get validation that I understand what the person I’m talking to.
The way I personally think of negotiation is that it’s a system of tools that allows you to get what you want out of life without necessarily hurting other people, and I love the way that the book’s author Chris Voss put it:
Please remember that our emphasis throughout the book is that the adversary is the situation and that the person that you appear to be in conflict with is actually your partner.
If you think about the 3 negotiation tactics I gave above, you’ll notice that they’re not easy. You can’t really fake it. With mirroring, if you simply repeated the words in a way that your body language or tone of voice showed that you weren’t really listening, it will show. With labeling, you have to actually listen and be open to the perspective of the other person in order to label something properly. With getting someone to say “that’s right”, you must be able to more or less summarize everything that they’ve said to you and have them agree to what you’re saying—and you know you’re not doing it right if they say, “you’re right”. At the same time, these are tactics that everyone can use almost right away: starting with mirroring and labeling and finally moving to “that’s right”.
Outside of that, the book has 7 other tactics, all done in a total of 10 chapters. I would absolutely recommend reading the book to learn about the 7 others although I thought they’re either harder to easily apply to my daily life or are better tailored to a proper negotiating situation (such as a business negotiation or anything similar). All in all, I’m looking forward to future negotiations now that I have this in my tool box.