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  • Jennie Antolak

Review of "Never Split the Difference"

By Chris Voss

Reviewed by Joey Ihle


Chris Voss spent 24 years as one of the FBI’s top hostage negotiators. He now owns a firm called the Black Swan Group and trains Fortune 500 companies how to navigate negotiating in business. He also lectures as schools such as MIT and Harvard.

Key points and their meaning:

In negotiations, you cannot separate the person from the problem. Humans are irrational and driven by emotion. This must be understood in negotiating.

Successful negotiations start with the word “no.” When someone uses the word “no,” it allows them to relax and share more information. In order to get to a “yes” in negotiations, you first need to understand the meaning of “no.”

Good negotiators skillfully break down resistance and do not force the other side to believe. Using empathy and treating them like they want to be treated is critical.

Black swans exist. Uncovering the unknown, unknowns is key in negotiating. This could be hidden interests or unknown obstacles.

Application to life coaching:

So many topics discussed in this book are applicable to life coaching. One of those is asking calibrated, open ended questions. We use empathy and focus questions starting with words such as “what”, “how”, “when” on the other side. This encourages active participation and solution seeking together.

Tactics for negotiation such as labeling and mirroring also apply. Labeling is identifying emotions and repeating them back to the other side. We make observations to show our understanding and focus entirely on the other side while avoiding “I” phases. This also helps to reinforce positive emotions and contain negative ones. Mirroring is essentially imitating the other side. You match body language, speech tempo, word choices and tone to help build a relationship. You also prove that you are listening by repeating back to the other side what they already said. Voss recommends to repeat back only the last 3 words they spoke.

One of the last chapters in the books talks about turning “yes” into “how”. Voss explains that the negotiation is not complete when you get the other side to say yes, it’s complete when you get to how whatever you agreed up is going to come to fruition. This is application to coaching when we work with clients to determine action steps or things to do in between sessions.

Favorite passage and what made it my favorite passage?

I actually really like a quote from Voss.

“One can only be an exceptional negotiator, and a great person, by both listening and speaking clearly and emphatically; by treating counterparts – and oneself – with dignity and respect; and most of all by being honest about what one wants and what one can – and cannot – do. Every negotiation, every conversation, every moment of life, is a series of small conflicts that, managed well, can rise to creative beauty. Embrace them.”

I feel like I could read that every morning as a reminder of how to show up in my day.

How will I apply the key messages in this book within my coaching?

I will certainly stick with coaching basics such has asking open ended questions and using empathy. I am intrigued by the Black Swan concept and want to read more and practice uncovering unknowns. The majority of this book is applicable to coaching.

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