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“Never Split the Difference” is a book about getting what you want in an agreeable, harmonious manner. It was written by a man who settled hostage negotiations for the FBI. The title comes from these tense situations in which a person cannot say “What say we get half the hostages back? That’s half, so that seems fair.” Not a chance. You have to work with your counterpart, see it their way, have them see it your way, and have them come up with solutions to your problems.
What are the gaming applications of these techniques and ideas? Immense.
It’s a book about negotiation but it’s really about listening, labelling, and capitalizing. Summarizing what players want to do and how they want to do it goes a long way to building trust at the table. And as Jim Parkin keeps hammering home, you don’t have a game without trust.
And high-trust games are exceedingly better than low-trust games. And no-trust games are the sources of horror stories.
Without further ado, here are quotes, tidbits, and examples from the book with my thoughts sprinkled throughout. Highly recommend, this book changed my life.
Notes and Thoughts
Chapter 1: The New Rules
Using hostage negotiation to teach the principles of negotiation. Hostage situations are applicable because they are no-lose situations for the person using the technique. You can’t have four hostages and split the difference: “Okay, we’ll take half of them alive, thanks.”
“Negotiation serves two distinct, vital life functions – information gathering and behavior influencing – and includes almost every interaction where each party wants something from the other side. Your life depends on the ability to negotiate in a cooperative method.
Make them negotiate with themselves, working to solve your problems.
We have two systems of thought: lower and higher. The lower is animalistic, faster, and foundational; it affects the logical, slower thinking higher system. Tame the lower of the other through tactical empathy.
“It is self-evident that people are neither fully rational nor completely selfish, and that their tastes are anything but stable.”
Chapter 2: Be a Mirror
Stop focusing on your points to make (the voices in your head), focus on the other person. Mirroring is the ultimate form of that.
Mirroring in a call means repeating the last three crucial words of what they just said (do this instead of “hmm” in conversation).
Mirroring proves you’re paying attention, suggests that you’re similar, and builds trust that is essential to moving forward.
The situation is always fluid. Discard your assumptions as hypotheses.
Three types of voices: FM DJ voice with a downward-inflection, positive/playful, and assertive. DJ to make a point, stay in positive/playful, assertive is playing with fire.
Chapter 3: Don’t Feel Their Pain, Label It
Emotions are people’s own barriers to thinking logically. They need help clearing the debris. In fact, this book is helping me clear my own defensive debris.
Instead of denying or ignoring emotions, good negotiators identify and influence them.
Tactical empathy: the ability to recognize the perspective of a counterpart and the vocalization of that recognition.
“It seems that…” “It sounds like…” “It looks like…” these are the building blocks of labelling. Don’t use “I” as that makes it about you.
Spot feelings, turn them into words, and then respectfully repeat the emotions back to them.
Labelling is a way of validating someone’s emotion by acknowledging it. Give someone’s emotion a name and you show you identify how that person feels. It gets you close to someone without asking about external factors you know nothing about. Think of labelling as a shortcut to intimacy, a time-saving emotional hack.
Labelling an emotion – applying rational words to a fear – disrupts its intensity.
When you phrase a label as a neutral statement of understanding, it encourages your counterpart to be responsive. If they disagree with your assessment you can always say “I didn’t say that’s what it was, I said it just seemed that way.”
Resist the follow-up question. Ex: “It seems you like the way that shirt looks. Where did you get it?” By axing the second sentence, you leave the response open-ended. People reveal more in the face of an open-ended statement.
We have two systems of thought: upper and lower. Upper is presenting, lower is underlying. Addressing the underlying first removes the stability of the presenting.
The fastest means of establishing a working relationship is to acknowledge the negative and diffuse it. “Look, I’m an asshole.” “This is an unusual opener, but here goes.” “Volunteering is going to be horrible, BUT…”
Clear the road BEFORE advertising the destination. With the kids especially. Tidy up how they’re feeling, label it, get them onboard, then move.
Accusation audit: sometimes it’s very effective to just list all of the objections the other side could have. Even give them an open-ended question to list more. Clear the road to build rapport. A pool/closet/garage will look dirtier before it looks cleaner.
Chapter 4: Beware “Yes” – Master “No”
“Yes” often hides deeper objections. “No” means someone has to clarify their position.
“Yes” often stops the conversation, whereas “No” redirects it.
“No” is often a decision but is frequently temporary: “I’m not yet ready to agree; you are making me uncomfortable; I do not understand; I don’t think I can afford it; I want something else; I need more information; I want to talk it over with someone else.”
Follow the “No” you want and get with a solutions-based question: “What about this doesn’t work for you? What would you need to make it work? It seems like there’s something here that bothers you…”
There are actually three kinds of “Yes”: Counterfeit, Confirmation, and Commitment. Counterfeit is the yes given so that you’ll go away; no real behavior change occurs. Confirmation is a simple affirmation but there’s no promise of action. Commitment leads to action.
Using all your skills to create rapport, agreement, and connection with a counterpart is useful, but ultimately that connection is useless if the other person feels that they are equally, if not solely, responsible for making the connection and the new ideas they have.
Examplw of a strongly worded “No” script: “Do you want the FBI to be embarrassed?” “No.” “What do you want me to do?” (Leaves their next response open with the previous question and answer still fresh in their mind.)
Antagonize with a “No”: intentionally mislabel the other’s person’s emotions, needs, or desires. This forces them to listen and correct with intention. “It seems like you don’t want to work here.”
Antagonize with a “No”: ask them what they don’t want. “Let’s talk about what you would say “No” to.” “What are some things you want to avoid?”
For project management, here are some sentences that force a response: “Have you given up on this project?” “Do you want this to fail?” “Are you finished with giving an effort?” Something that makes the other party cry “No!” begs a follow-up, explicitly or implicitly.
There’s lots of room to negotiate in “no”. This is why people prefer to say “I’m not perfect” instead of “I’m imperfect.” The second is admission, the first declares a wide space of possibilities that simply exclude “absolute perfection.” The phrases “no worries” and “no problem” are common variations as well. They don’t tell you much, do they?
Chapter 5: Trigger the two words… [“That’s right”]
A summary = paraphrasing + labelling.
Demonstrate understanding and unconditional positive regard and the walls come down.
“That’s right” is gold. It builds consensus. “You’re right” is poison. It kills the conversation and leads to resentment.
Some good stories in here. Seems they use silence very effectively.
Chapter 6: Bend Their Reality
There’s always leverage. Negotiation is never a linear formula, we all have irrational blind spots, hidden needs, and undeveloped notions.
The win-win mindset pushed by so many negotiation experts is usually ineffective and often disastrous. It satisfies no one because compromise (splitting the difference) can lead to terrible outcomes. Compromise is often a bad deal. And no deal is better than a bad deal.
We compromise because it feels safe. We’re neither the bad guy or the victim. But in reality, it builds resentment and mistrust for the other side.
Creative solutions are almost always preceded by some degree of risk, annoyance, confusion, and conflict.
Time is one of the most crucial variables in any negotiation.
What good negotiators do is force themselves to resist the urge to rush and take advantage of it in others. It’s not so easy. Ask yourself: What is it about a deadline that causes pressure and anxiety? The answer is consequences (loss of value, time, bad things happen).
Deadlines are often a Boogeyman of negotiation, almost exclusively self-inflicted figments of our imagination, unnecessarily unsettling us for no good reason.
Increasing specificity for actions or threats indicates getting closer to the speaker’s perceived deadline. People start to list “next steps” close to the finish line.
Deadlines can move a negotiation from stagnation as they draw nearer, but don’t be played by them. Again, deadlines are illusory and often flexible.
While we may use logic to reason ourselves towards a decision, the actual decision making is governed by emotion.
Anchor the other side for a loss because they’re averse to losing more. They’ll jump at the chance to avoid a bigger loss.
The F-Word (“Fair”) Uses:
1. “We just want what’s fair.” (Defensive maneuver)
2. “We’ve given you a fair offer.” (Nasty, makes other person defensive. If used against you, mirror them. “Fair? Seems like you’re ready to provide evidence of that.”)
3. “I want you to feel like you are being treated fairly at all times. Please stop me at any time if you feel I’m being unfair, and we’ll address it.” (Positive, reinforcing, makes people feel heard).
1. Anchor their emotions (setting expectations for loss or moderate gains)
2. Let the other guy go first (most of the time)
3. Establish a range (they’ll go for the beneficial side of the range, but it’ll make you seem flexible and reasonable)
4. Pivot to nonmonetary terms (go for things that you or they want that doesn’t have a fixed value like a good feeling, a cool service, convenience)
5. When you do talk numbers, use specific ones (saw off the zeros where possible eg “$71k instead of $71,000”)
6. Surprise with a gift (people want to repay them)
Chapter 7: Create the Illusion of Control
Avoid a showdown. (“You can’t” versus “Yes, I can!”)
Instead of asking a close-ended question, ask an open-ended one. Engage their problem-solving.
Calibrate questions: best to start with “what” and “how”. These make your counterpart feel like they’re in charge. (Also, “why” is accusatory in any language):
1. How does this look to you?
2. What about this works for you?
3. What caused you to do it? (instead of “why did you do it?”)
4. What about this is important to you?
5. How can I help to make this better for us?
6. How would you like me to proceed?
7. What is it that brought us into this situation?
8. How can we solve this problem?
9. What’s the objective? / What are we trying to accomplish here?
10. How am I supposed to do that?
11. How does this affect the rest of your team? / How on board are the people not in this call? / What do your colleagues see as their main challenges in this area?
Using softening words and phrases like “perhaps,” “maybe,” “I think,” and “it seems” take the aggression out of a statement that might anger your counterpart.
Without self-control and emotional regulation, none of this works.
Chapter 8: Guarantee Execution
Real negotiation ends with answering “how?”, not “yes.” Receiving a “yes” doesn’t hammer out the details, where the real negotiation lies.
“How” is really a form of “no” that continues the conversation (it’s almost a “not yet, let’s keep talking”).
In any negotiation you have to analyze the entire space (again, “how” helps you explore that).
Rule of Three: sus out a liar by asking the same thing three different ways.
On average, liars use more words than truth tellers and prefer third-person pronouns to first-person (puts distance between themselves and the lies they tell).
Additionally, the more a person uses first-person pronouns, the more likely it is that they are lower on the totem pole, that they have less power.
Use your name for humor and humanization. “Hi, my name is Sam. What’s the Sam discount?”
Ways to say “no”: “How am I supposed to do that?” “I’m sorry but that just doesn’t work for me.” “I’m sorry but I can’t do that.” “I’m sorry, no.” “No.” Tone is essential, inflect downwards, implies regard for the counterpart.
Chapter 9: Bargain Hard
Prepare, prepare, prepare.
Types of negotiators: Analyst, Accommodating, Assertive
Analyst, time = preparation and perfection. Let think, especially after a calibrated question.
Accommodating, time = relationship and rapport. Show immediacy and understanding with summaries.
Assertive, time = money. Listen lengthily and mirror often.
1. Set target
2. Start off at 65% (or 135%)
3. Calculate increments: 85%, 95%, 100% (or 115%, 105%, 100%)
4. Use empathy and a variety of ways to say “no” to get the other side to counter before changing your offer.
5. Use specific numbers.
6. On the final number, throw in a nonmonetary item (even if they don’t want it) to show you’re at your limit.
67.5 / hour., 57.5, 52.5, 50.
Chapter 10: Find the Black Swan
Negotiation breakthroughs are created by those who can and identify Black Swans (unknown unknowns).
In every negotiation each side is in possession of at least three Black Swans, if discovered by the other side, would change everything.
Leverage has lots of inputs, like time and necessity and competition. To get leverage you have to persuade your counterpart that they have something real to lose if the deal falls through.
Types of leverage: Positive, Negative, Normative (moral, appeal to their own beliefs).
If you shove your negative leverage down your counterpart’s throat, it might be perceived as you taking away their autonomy.
If you can show inconsistencies between actions and beliefs, you have normative leverage. No one wants to look like a hypocrite.
Voss’s definition of religion: a person’s reason for being.
Paradox of Power = the harder we push the more likely we are to be met with resistance.
PEOPLE TRUST PEOPLE THEY VIEW AS SIMILAR. “We’re not so different, you and I.” You leverage their beliefs, hopes, and dreams that there are other people like them.
YOU ARE TRYING TO UNCOVER VALUE.
DON’T AVOID HONEST, CLEAR CONFLICT.
One can only be an exceptional negotiator, and a great person, by both listening and speaking clearly and empathetically; 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 by revealing more Truth.
Chapter 0: Findings Since Reading the Book
Say “What do you think about the idea that…” You can then posit an idea freely with counterpart criticizing the idea instead of you.
Apologetics is an area that one can’t split the difference. It’s either of vital importance or no importance. It can’t be halfway.
Maximize goodness in hard-fought harmony. Don’t avoid, don’t bully. Peace is active, not absence.