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Book Recommendation: Never split the difference

book recommendations finance leadership founders Mar 31, 2023

Some business books can be a little dry.... dare I say it, a little boring.

And if you agree with me and struggle to read / listen to an audiobook, then this "Never split the difference" book,  may change your mind.

Never split the difference reads like a Hollywood film.  It kicks off with him negotiating for his son's life!

What a way to draw you in.

Essentially, the author, Chris Voss is an ex-FBI hostage negotiator and he has been negotiating for lives, quite literally, throughout his career.

During his long career, he has made devastating mistakes (with key learnings) along with celebratory and sometimes exhausting wins.

From his long and overall successful career, he has learnt some of the best negotiating skills around and put all of that into a book for you to consume and learn from.

I confess, I was actually surprised with the learnings, skills, tips and outcomes. 

I was expecting some hard-core negotiating skills and very alpha male techniques but I couldn't have been further from the truth.

Which is refreshing. 


My key take-ways include:

Before going into the negotiation, brainstorm what your counterparty could want or need from this discussion.  From all those different scenarios, you can work out what you can offer.

Going into the negotiation, start with a mindset of discovery.  If possible, have team to listen as everyone picks up on different things.  I thought this was super interesting and I have seen this played out before - coming out of a meeting and everyone has a different take.  

Something that came up regularly was slowing the negotiation process down.  Which is an interesting challenge, especially in the fast paced of a start-up and fast growth business.  If you encourage a calmer environment and regularly pause (even uncomfortable pauses, which are encouraged!) you are more likely to hear what the "opposition" really wants and what their drivers are.

I was introduced to the concept of "labelling" in Never split the difference book.  Labelling is when you repeat what they said to you, but ensuring that you don't use the word "I".  This demonstrates that you recognise their feelings, that they are being heard and are respectfully saying it back to them.  

So for example, "You are saying is that.....", "You feel that....."

Labelling is also particularly useful if they are being aggressive, as you are repeating their anger to them so they can hear what they have just said out-loud (they may retract their original outburst) and you are demonstrating that you hear them and empathise.

By using the above techniques, generally you will have control of the negotiation, as the "talker" will reveal what they want or need in their eyes and therefore you know what you have to negotiate.

When it's your turn to talk, two suggestions I liked was firstly a question, "What does it take to be successful here?" - which not only would be great to use with business negotiations but also a job interview or a promotion!

Being open about a problem that you have (eg: How can we afford that? when out of budget) and encourage your opponent to solve your problem.  Give them perceived power.

The book helpfully gives lots of body language and word psychology information, tips and tricks that I find incredibly interesting.  Understanding human behaviour or different types of human behaviour can be used to your advantage.

Finally, if push comes to shove and the negotiation does get difficult, there is a whole chapter on what to do with a tough negotiation and ultimately the first answer is to, prepare, prepare, prepare.

Lastly for finance professionals, if credit control or debt collection is a big part of your team's issues with regard to negotiation, there are some great tips on page 60 (in my version!) on how the term "fair" can be triggering - when to use and when to avoid it.

You can see my other book recommendations here. 


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