Although Well Built Style is a website dedicated to helping men improve their style and fitness, we also understand that self improvement shouldn’t just be limited to your appearance. In fact, we actively encourage men to up their game in all aspects of their lives. After all, style and fitness is a great place to start your self improvement journey but it’s certainly not the finish line.
One area for improvement that often gets overlooked by men is interpersonal skills (i.e. soft skills). The fact is that men who are good with people are much more successful than those who are not. The ability to communicate effectively in order to persuade and influence others is a skill that can pay huge dividends and is absolutely worth your time and effort to improve.
Recently, I read a fantastic book on improving your soft skills written by a retired FBI agent called Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As Your Life Depended On It.
The author, Chris Voss, spent 24 years with the FBI and was assigned to their Crisis Negotiation Unit from 2000-2007. He also served as the unit’s lead international kidnapping negotiator from 2003 to 2007. Chris now runs his own negotiating consulting firm called the Black Swan Group.
Never Split The Difference is unique book on the topic of negotiation because it sees negotiations not as discussions between two or more rational agents but rather as exchanges between highly emotional and irrational human animals.
As Chris states in the book, “Have you ever tried to devise a mutually beneficial win-win solution with a guy who thinks he’s the messiah?”
No kidding. Good luck.
The reality is that members of the law enforcement community deal with emotionally driven incidents, not rational bargaining interactions. As such, they require tactics and strategies that work in the field to calm people down, gain their trust, and ultimately persuade them to your point of view.
However, what Chris realized over the years was that the tactics and strategies that he developed with the FBI (which allowed him to become a great hostage negotiator) also translated really well to the business world.
That’s what makes Never Split The Difference such a great book. The tips, tactics, and strategies (i.e. soft skills) contained within book are incredibly transferable. They will not only make you a better negotiator but they will make you better communicator, period.
The following are a few key tips on how to become a better negotiator that I’ve taken from the book. It is by no means an exhaustive list. The book is full of incredible content and I just don’t have the space to review all of it here. Hopefully these tips will encourage you to check out the book.
Calibrated questions (also known as open ended questions) are a potent negotiating tool. Simply put, calibrated questions are questions that have no fixed answers.
Why are open ended questions so powerful?
Because they give your counterpart the illusion of control. Open ended questions fool your adversary into thinking they are the ones with all of the answers (and therefore all of the power) but little do they realize just how constrained they are by open ended questions. According to Chris, calibrated questions are the ultimate stealth move to deploy in order to gain the upper hand in negotiations.
In the book Chris highlights several examples where he used calibrated questions in order to stymie his opponent and wear him down. The gist of the strategy is to respond with an open ended question whenever your adversary makes a demand. In these situations Chris often used some variation of, “How am I supposed to do that?” in a very calm, even-mannered tone.
In essence, an open ended question like, “How am I supposed to do that?” is a very polite way of saying “no” without actually saying the words. It throws your adversary off balance and requires them to do all the hard work of thinking and solving your problem.
If you’re like most people then you likely have poor listening skills. How many times have you been in a conversation with someone when the entire time the other person was talking all you could think of was what you wanted to say next? I know I’m guilty of this.
When you approach a negotiation so preoccupied by the arguments that support your position you are unable to listen attentively to the other side. The goal in a negotiation is to identify what your counterparts actually need (monetarily, emotionally, or otherwise) and get them feeling safe enough to talk openly about them.
As Chris rightfully states in the book people want to be understood and accepted. By listening intensely a negotiator shows a sincere desire to better understand what the other side is experiencing. People who feel they are being heard become less defensive and oppositional and more willing to listen to other points of view. This is what is referred to in the book as tactical empathy.
According to Chris empathy is NOT about being nice or agreeing with the other side. It’s about understanding them. Empathy helps us learn the position the enemy is in, why their actions make sense to them and what might move them
The goal at the beginning of a negotiation is to extract and observe as much information as possible. This is what trips smart people up, they’re so smart they think they don’t have anything to discover from their adversary. Great negotiators, on the other hand, are more emotionally open to all possibilities and are willing to identify and influence emotions instead of denying or ignoring them.
Late-night FM DJ voice
When coming up with negotiating strategies there is a tendency to concentrate heavily on what to say or do, but according to Chris it’s how we are (our general demeanor and delivery) that is the easiest thing to enact and the most immediately effective mode of influence.
The best way to describe the late-night FM DJ voice is the voice of calm and reason. This is the type of voice you want to use when engaging with someone who is particularly emotional charged. The key to pulling off an effective late-night FM DJ voice is to speak with a downward inflection. When you inflect your voice downward you are subcommunicating that you’re in control and that you’ve got everything covered.
In Never Split The Difference Chris covers three voice types in negotiation: the late-night FM DJ voice, the positive/playful voice, and the direct/assertive voice. According to Chris, the direct/assertive voice is NOT the one you want to use (except for very rare circumstances). When you use this type of voice you signal dominance onto your counterpart, who will either aggressively, or passive-aggressively, push back.
Mirroring is essentially imitation. As human beings were have evolved to fear what’s different and are drawn to what is similar. Mirroring is therefore the art of insinuating similarity. Mirroring signals “trust me” and that “You and I – we’re alike.”
While working for the FBI Chris developed a laughably simple tactic to mirror his adversary: just repeat the last three words (or the critical 1-3 words) the person has just said.
By repeating back what people say, you trigger the mirroring instinct and your counterpart will inevitably elaborate on what was just said and sustain the process of connecting.
Just to give you an example of how ridiculously effective this trick is, Chris cites a study in the book that was conducted on a group of waiters. One group was instructed to take people’s orders and then respond back with positive reinforcement using words such as “great,” “no problem,” and “sure.” The other group of waiters mirrored their customers simply by repeating their orders back to them.
And the result?
The average tip of the waiters who mirrored was 70% more than those who used positive reinforcement.
When mirroring remember to use the late-night FM DJ voice in an inquisitive tone. The intention behind most mirrors is “please, help me understand.”
One way of validating someone’s emotions is by simply acknowledging them. Give someone’s emotion a name and you show you identify with how that person feels (i.e. tactical empathy). Labels can be phrased as statements or questions (e.g. “Are you feeling angry?” or “It seems like you are feeling angry.”).
When you identify and label someone’s emotion you bring it out to the open, and once that emotion is out in the open it has a tendency to dissipate or not have the same power over the person. This is why labels are so effective.
In the book Chris mentions a labeling tactic he uses called the “Accusation Audit.” Basically, before you begin a negotiation you identify all of the underlying emotions the other person may be feeling about the situation and you bring them out into the open using statements. Labels are a great way to identify your counterpart’s fears and neutralize them.
One tip: when labeling never use the pronoun “I” such as “I’m hearing that…” or “I think that…” Instead, begin them with words like “It seems like…” or “It sounds like…” or “It looks like…”
The problem with “I” is that it puts people’s guard up and it subcommunicates that you are more interested in yourself than the other person.
The last rule of labeling is silence. Once you’ve thrown out the label (i.e. identified an emotion), be quiet and listen.
Being able to effectively communicate with others is an underrated skill. As men we often get tunnel vision over developing our hard skills (i.e. specific technical abilities) that we neglect to improve our soft skills (i.e. persuasion, negotiation etc.).
Never Split The Difference is one of the best book’s I’ve read on the topic of negotiation and communication. I highly recommend you check it out if you are interested in improving your ability to persuade and influence others.
Here’s to staying fit and looking sharp!