Improve Your Negotiations With The 5 Golden Rules.   LEARN THEM

Law school helped teach me that rational, logical, analytical, fact and evidence-based propositions can be powerful ways to achieve success in legal environments, especially in written motions to judges and presentations in complex cases to juries.

This approach can also be a significant and effective component of success in many negotiation environments. But it’s not enough, alone, in most negotiations.

Why? Because humans are fundamentally emotional beings driven in many ways by instincts, feelings and built-in biases. And everyone at their core wants to be understood and accepted. Emotional intelligence matters. A lot.

This essential negotiation principle – a crucial one for everyone seeking to improve their negotiation skills – constitutes the main emphasis of Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, a very interesting book by former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss.

Voss, who shares a number of fascinating and intense hostage negotiations in the book, articulates the emotion-driven negotiation framework that he and the FBI have used to literally negotiate life and death issues all over the world.

Voss also shares how these same principles can be applied in business and many other negotiation environments.

Here are my main takeaways from his book, some of which you may find familiar from my previous columns.

  • Empathy, active listening, and intensely seeking information at all times constitute crucial elements of almost all successful negotiations. You do this by making, as Voss notes, “your sole and all-encompassing focus the other person and what they have to say.”

“What happens when someone actually says “no”? “Yes” is commitment, and we don’t know what we’ve gotten ourselves into, which is why we’re scared to say “yes.” But, “no” is protection. Typically what we find is as soon as someone says “no” — if they feel protected — they tend to relax. …We know if we’re pleasant to interact with, it actually helps the other person think better. Because the mind works up to 31% better if you’re in a positive frame of mind.”

Chris Voss

FBI Hostage Negotiator & Author, "Never Split the Difference"

  • The tone of your voice can “reach into someone’s brain and flip an emotional switch.” Be intentional with it and in most cases use your “positive/playful” or “late-night FM DJ voice,” not your “direct and assertive” voice. Observing and understanding body language is equally important.
  • “Calibrated” questions – specific open-ended questions that start with “How” and “What” and involve asking your counterparts for help in solving “your” problem, can be a subtle but powerful way to control the agenda in a non-threatening way, give your counterparts the illusion of control, and get them to suggest the solutions you want. Voss’ “greatest-of-all-time calibrated questions” is “how am I supposed to do that?”

“Don’t lie to anybody you’re not going to kill…But even then it’s not a good idea because somebody that they know is going to find out you lied.”

Chris Voss

FBI Hostage Negotiator & Author, "Never Split the Difference"

  • Emotional best practices like mirroring, tactical empathy, building rapport and labeling the fears and primary emotions that drive your counterparts’ behavior in part through what Voss calls an “accusation audit” can take the sting out of their main emotional objections, head off negative dynamics, and clear the way to agreements. You can do this with statements starting with “It feels like/it seems like/it sounds like/it looks like.”
  • Receiving a “no” from your counterpart at the beginning of a negotiation should be viewed as an opportunity to move toward “yes.” Saying “no” makes your counterpart feel safe, secure and in control. This gets you in the door. For instance, don’t start a conversation with “Do you have a few minutes to talk?” which is designed to get a “yes.” Instead ask “Is now a bad time to talk?” which is designed to get a “no.” Then follow it with a “what” question. And if your counterpart goes dark and does not respond to your emails, email them “Have you given up on this project?”
  • Confirm true understanding of your counterpart’s needs, interests and feelings through paraphrasing and summaries that elicit a “that’s right” in response. This can be a game changer. As Voss notes, “identify, rearticulate, and emotionally affirm ‘the world according to” your counterpart.
  • In major negotiations, review everything you hear and use “backup listeners” whose job is to “listen between the lines,” and pick up the things you miss.
  • Explore your counterparts’ lives and world views overall, not just deal points. They can point you to clues that may unlock the keys to your deal.
  • Face time – formal or informal in person meetings with your counterparts – may be the only way you can get vital information and move the process forward. And closely watch and listen to your counterparts’ verbal and nonverbal signals during their unguarded moments here, often at the beginning or end of the meetings.
  • “Yes” is only worthwhile when accompanied by “How.” You need implementation to succeed.

Latz’s Lesson: Emotional best practices in negotiations can be applied in a practical way, and Voss’ “Never Split the Difference” provides a good road map for them.

* Marty Latz is the founder of Latz Negotiation, a national negotiation training and consulting company that helps individuals and organizations achieve better results with best practices based on the experts’ research. He can be reached at 1-480-951-3222 or

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