In a debate competition, who would you put your money on – the FBI agent or the top Harvard law grad?
Well if you ask Chris Voss, ex-top FBI hostage negotiator, he might point you to his book,
Never Split the Difference – Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It. Or he might just tell you about his time at Harvard when he held his own against two of Harvard’s “distinguished leaders”.
Or maybe he’d tell you about the time in class when he was the only student to squeeze his counterpart dry in an activity where everyone else seemed to settle for half of the money on the table.
What makes Voss’ tactics so effective?
The first difference is that Voss’ tactics were developed in moments of life-and-death situations. During his time as an FBI negotiator, he was able to figure out techniques that really worked in the field. Not ones that just sound nice in theory.
Want to know his secret solution in both of the earlier stories?
In both cases, it turns out that Voss uses one common tactic. He keeps re-directing his counterpart’s requests back at them. But he did so in a way that forces them to find a solution to his own problems. You can see it in action.
In the first story, his role playing counterparts cornered him and requested that Voss pay them one million dollars or his son would die. After confronting the fictional kidnappers with a sequence of
open-ended “how am I supposed to…” questions, they both gave up.
As for the second story, every time his counterpart made an offer as to how the $10 bill should be split, Voss responded with a question along the lines of “how am I supposed to accept that…” And again, this drawn out process of making his counterpart solve his own problems seems to prevail.
Why did both of his counterparts eventually just give up?
As he explains in his book, this technique essentially drains your counterpart emotionally and mentally until they no longer want to deal with you.
You keep responding to their requests with questions that require them to solve the request they just made. In essence, you’re making them to do all the hard mental work in the sense that they must find a reasonable way for you to meet their own requests.
More often than not, they either see that their request does not make sense or cannot be completed given the current restrictions.
Either that or their logical mind causes them to re-think their offer. As a result, they will often make a counteroffer against themselves without you even mentioning a number.
A final note.
Of course this only goes so far. But as demonstrated and explained in his book, Voss’ techniques can definitely help you win more negotiations when employed right. He might even tell you that it’s not about winning negotiations – but rather about coming to a mutual understanding and agreement.
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