Review: Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

NeverSplitTheDifference_LgNever Split the Difference by Chris Voss

Never Split the Difference, a new book on negotiation, presents an alternative to Getting to Yes, the classic text by Roger Fisher and William Ury of Harvard. For author Chris Voss, the use of rational tools and techniques is not the most effective approach for negotiations. Instead, the key to success, especially in very dangerous negotiations, is tactical empathy, which he describes as “emotional intelligence on steroids.”

As reflected in the title of his book, Voss, the former lead international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI, did not develop his theories on negotiation in the halls of academia. An education that began as a beat cop on the mean streets of Kansas City continued as he joined the FBI and eventually traveled the world as the agency’s chief negotiator in the most dangerous situations. Somewhat surprisingly, one of the most valuable lessons he learned was not in a jungle negotiating with ruthless terrorists, but in the streets of Pittsburgh.

A drug dealer had kidnapped the girlfriend of another drug dealer. As Voss listened to the tapes of the two drug dealers talking, he heard the aggrieved dealer ask the kidnapper, “Hey, dog, how do I know she’s alright?” The kidnapper paused and then said, “Well, I’ll put her on the phone.”

Already an experienced negotiator, Voss recognized the power of that question. It was the prototype of what he would eventually call the “calibrated question,” a highly impactful tool because it gives the other side a sense of control even if they are doing what you want them to do. If the drug dealer had said, “Put her on the phone!” the other dealer would either have refused — because he didn’t want be controlled — or demanded
something in return. When responding to the question, “How do I know she’s alright,” the kidnapper feels in control because he is making the decision to put the hostage on the phone.

Calibrated questions reflect the philosophy of emotional intelligence on steroids. Never Split the Difference is filled with compelling, often harrowing stories that further illustrate the empathy-based techniques and approaches that Voss advocates.

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