Never Split the Difference (book review)

You never step in the same river twice, the saying goes and this second read (the first) of Chris Voss’s Never Split the Difference revealed an unknown spectrum.

Life is a series of “I want you to…”. These requests span our discomfort. For me, job-to-be-done interviews are easier than Voss’s negotiations which are easier than direct copy which is easier than face-to-face negotiations.

I dismissed direct copy and negotiations as less good and confused the metric of difficult as correct.

But they’re all the same.

Each “I want you to…” begins in another person’s world. “The goal is to identify what your counter-party needs,” writes Voss and get them to talk and talk and talk some more. For direct copy said Bob Bly, “enter the conversation they are having in their mind.” For JTBD interviews said Bob Moesta, act like a documentary filmmaker gathering information. Understanding always happens first.

But not a perfect understanding.

Voss wrote his book because Getting to Yes felt too formal. Perfect understanding is a logic puzzle. Negotiations are psychological puzzles. Like understanding Status Games, Voss wants his readers to understand people’s biases and tendencies too. Those include:

  • Framing: setting an anchor price or using loss aversion, each of which changes the comparison to a new price or a missed deal.
  • Removing the sting: I’m about to ask you for a big favor or this is going to take a while but we will go as fast as possible. These warnings are the balm for the stoic observation that we suffer more in imagination than reality.
  • Avoid split the difference compromises: which optimize easy and neglect the chance to be creative.

Negotiations are like the Who’s Line is it Anyway Helping Hands skit (YouTube). Each party is a set of hands and “the deal” is making something that works. Understanding the other person’s style and needs is how to make it work.

My discomfortable dismissal was mood affiliation.

2 thoughts on “Never Split the Difference (book review)”

  1. A book that upon first reading is like a spy novel as Voss takes you through hostage negotiation. I think of it every time I come upon an uncomfortable management situation with my staff.
    Everyone owes it to themselves to read it.


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