Start with No (book review)

In his 2016 book, Never Split the Difference Chris Voss suggests Jim Camp’s, 2011 book, Start with No

To Voss, ‘no’ is progress. Too often ‘yes’ is said for appeasing purposes and ‘maybe’ means we haven’t clarified what’s important. But ‘no’ is firm, it’s progress. 

Camp explores this idea deeper. He, like Voss, dislikes win-win negotiations. First, they lead to unnecessary compromises. In an effort to let both sides ‘get something’ negotiators compromise too much and on the wrong things. A 10% discount in exchange for a longer contract is good only if it’s important. Too often, Camp writes, people compromise on things which don’t matter. 

Second, win-win is considered fair. Who judges what’s fair? There’s no master evaluator. There are ethics though. Camp’s model is analogous to sports. Prepare, train, and play as hard as you can within the rules for the full period of time. Once the event is over, shake hands and respect your opponent. 

Third is the idea Voss runs with, a ‘no’ is progress, it’s “a decision that gives everyone something to talk about.” 

If ‘no’ is so important, why write a book? This coulda been a tweet. 

Well, no. There’re better ways to get to ’no’. And this book is really about something else entirely.

Our second house was a for sale by owner. A nice family with a nice home. We sniffed around each other like dogs with our initial questions and when asked about his timeline for building their next house the owner said, ‘I’m in no rush, I’ve got a house now’. 

That was good. He conveyed un-neediness. Being needy is Camp’s first warning. Do. Not. Need. A. Deal. Both Camp and Voss frame themselves against the classic negotiation book, 1981’s, Getting to Yes. Their books, they say, highlight what GtY gets wrong. Fair. But Getting to Yes presents the BATNA: best alternative to a negotiated agreement. That’s essential to un-neediness. 

The heart of un-needines, and of good negotiations is the secret message of the book. Start with No is really about our ego

Being needy is ego. Camp’s second rule is to act like Columbo. Disarm the adversary. In other words, put ego aside. Don’t try to be impressive, smart, or IN CHARGE. Don’t elucidate and don’t use words like elucidate. Camp warns about trying to be liked (chapters 2, 3), to be smart (6), or only talking about your side (4, 7, 8, 9). 

It’s hard to Start with No when you start with yourself.

The role of ego varies in size and scope. A successful negotiator finds the right balance of their own and their adversary’s point of view. This is the root of Camp’s system. It’s also the heart of copywriting and JTBD

Good negotiations are difficult and rare, Camp writes. That makes sense! To be a successful negotiator (according to Camp) we have to check our ego – a problem humans have been dealing with for hundreds of years. 

Camp tells a lot of ‘me’ stories. They’re about his big deal big deals, his awesome son, his business. It’s a little much (Voss’ stories are better). But hidden in those is a wonderful exploration of our ego and what we can do about it. 

Ego is tricky because like picking our nose, we don’t notice. It’s part of us. But when someone contrasts another way it makes us pause and consider that. For instance, “the most important behavioral goal and habit you can develop is your ability to ask questions” or “The self-image of the individual in the selling role traps him or her in a neediness mode and often leads to bad deals.” That frames our behavior and leads to questions like do I ask enough questions or am I needy because I want to feel smart, impressive, helpful, or whatever?

Camp’s book introduces his perspective, and that’s a good start to good negotiations.

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