How to become a better Negotiator (Never Split the Difference)

Kunal Yadav
Mar 5, 2017 · 5 min read
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Our life is a series of negotiation. We negotiate everyday in our lives, negotiating with your kids to sleep early, negotiating for a better salary, buying a home, etc.

Before going further let me define what is negotiation. Negotiation is a basic means of getting what you want from others. It is a back-and-forth communication to reach an agreement between you and the other person when you have shared interests.

In this article I will be discussing my 6 favourite techniques on how to negotiate better, taken from former FBI Hostage Negotiator, Chris Voss' Never Split the Difference .

1. Mirroring

Mirroring is simply repeating the last three words (or the critical one to three words) of what someone has just said.

For example - Let’s say your boss wants to hand some work to you, he might say something like “Let’s make two copies of this month’s paperwork.” Then you will say something like “I’m sorry, two copies?” and wait, let it sink in. Then he will say something and you will keep Mirroring and may be at a later time he understands that you are already full of work and he will assign this work to someone else.

Now you must be thinking what does this simple technique do, continuously repeating keywords in this manner creates the feeling of empathy and shows them that you are really interested in them and care for their views.

2. Label their emotions

The problems in a negotiation arise because both parties think that the other person does not understand them and their situation.

Remember that negotiation is about building a relationship and getting the other person to feel comfortable.

What labeling means is saying something like “it seems like...”, “it looks like..”, “it sounds like..”. And when you label and mirror, take a pause and let it sink in.

When you do this what happens is the other person feels that you have concern for him and he will tell you what’s the real problem.

So next time when your friend is sad, don’t say “I know you are sad, just tell me what it is” instead say something like “It seems like something’s bothering you”.

3. Beware “Yes”, Master “No”

The goal of a negotiation is to get “Yes” at the end not at the start because a “No” starts a negotiation. When you get others to say “Yes” from the starting again and again, they feel kind of trapped and will eventually say “No” at the end.

The sooner you say “No,” the sooner you’re willing to see options and opportunities that you were blind to previously.

What you have to do is to start the conversation with a “No”. Say something like “Is this the wrong time to talk to you?” or “Do you want this company to be embarrassed?” or “Have you given up on this project?”

These are “No” oriented questions. Saying “No” makes the speaker feel safe, secure, and in control, it gives them the sense of authority, so trigger it.

4. Trigger a “That’s Right” response

These two words can do wonders for you in a negotiation. Getting this response shows that both of you understand what you are talking about.

You can trigger a that’s right response by summarising what you have been talking about. The building blocks of a good summary are a label combined with paraphrasing. Paraphrasing is repeating back what the other person is saying to show that you really do understand them.

Now here you have be little careful. If you get a “You’re Right” response then nothing changes. People say “You’re Right” when they want to get rid of others. 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.

5. Calibrate your questions

When you get frustrated in a negotiation don’t react with angry emotions but ask your counterpart a calibrated question.

Calibrated questions have the power to educate your counterpart on what the problem is rather than causing conflict-by telling them what the problem is.

A calibrated question is a question that indirectly triggers a “No” from your side. Calibrated questions avoid verbs like “can”, “is”, “are”, “do”, or “does”. They mainly start with “What” and “How”.

Let’s now see when and how to use them, suppose you are negotiating with your landlord, he wants you to pay $2000 a month when you can only afford $1800. So you will say to him something like “How am I supposed to do that?”. This will force him to look at the problem from your point of view.

There are some of the other calibrated questions you can use depending upon the situation:

  • What about this is important to you?
  • How can I help to make this better for us?
  • How would you like me to proceed?
  • What is it that brought us into this situation?
  • How can we solve this problem?
  • How am I supposed to do that?

6. Bargain Hard

Bargaining is the most common form of negotiation we face in our daily lives, when buying a car, house or clothes we bargain to get the best price we can.

Chris Voss tells about a bargaining model which he calls as Ackerman Bargaining.

This easy to remember process has the following steps:

  1. Set you target price (your goal).
  2. Set your first offer at 65 percent of your target price.
  3. Calculate three raises of decreasing increments (to 85, 95, and 100 percent).
  4. Use lots of empathy and different ways of saying “No” to get the other side to counter before you increase your offer.
  5. When calculating the final amount, use precise, non-round numbers like, say, $37,893 rather than $38,000. It gives the number credibility and weight.
  6. On your final number, throw in a non-monetary item (that they probably don’t want) to show you’re at your limit.

At the end I just want to say that negotiating is not about manipulating others, it is just getting the best of both parties' interests.

There are so many examples and techniques that I couldn’t cover here, so I highly recommend you to read Chris Voss' Never split the difference.

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