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Never Split the Difference? – Book Review

Today’s book review ties in directly with the last two posts on how men and women perceive Negotiation. “Never Split the Difference” by Chris Voss is a great reference for a good old-fashioned, male perception of negotiation. It is full of strong, authoritative assertions: NEVER split the difference! Always maximise getting what you want, and everything is at stake in the good vs. the bad.

The Chauvinist Method

Just looking at the bright yellow cover and the description on the back (hostage negotiator! FBI!), you feel your blood pumping. Testosterone spikes, let’s win this battle! This theory is better! Smarter! than those old fools, Roger Fisher & William Ury (who revolutionised and redefined the world of negotiation at the time with their theory of “Getting to Yes”).

Before I get into feminist-bashing this book, I will give you the bottom line- you should read it, but critically. It’s also fair to point out that the book was originally published in 2016, before the “MeToo” campaign made discussion about consent and toxic male behaviour viral, and before Donald Trump was elected president. The issues existed long before, but it’s possible that today, the same concepts Voss raises would be written with more awareness and more fortunate phrasings than “her ‘no’s’ were a gateway to yes”.

Chris Voss clearly has a lot of experience in negotiation, and he speaks out of it, which makes this book well worth reading. He speaks out of his world and gives you his point of view, which is fair enough. But it also reflects the existing problem of men negotiating mostly with men, and so assuming this is the only available dynamic for negotiation (especially since Voss is a hostage negotiator and probably, not so many women kidnap and take hostages).

The Problem with Voss’ Perspective

Here are two main problematic points I see in this book:

First, it takes potentially effective tips and injects them with unnecessary steroids. If you want to negotiate well, Voss says, strategise how to manipulate your counterpart into believing you care and see them. Trick them into thinking your idea was their idea all along!

But you would burn many less calories just genuinely seeing the other person and caring for their point of view, out of natural empathy and respect (women more naturally do this, really well). Rather than taking the other person for an idiot, you could respect their sense of self, and show them how what you’re thinking about is in their best interest too.

Accepting Borders and Respecting Your Counterpart

This collaborative approach doesn’t exactly tie in with negotiation as a battle. But it makes not only ethical sense (if your offer is in your counterpart’s good interest, you should be able to show them, right? And duping them for your own purposes is unethical). It also makes sense because usually when you assume that everyone is a dupable idiot but you, you’re wrong, and they will notice that’s what you think.

Then there’s the book’s problematic phrasing when it comes to accepting the word “no”. Voss’ suggestion to consider the meaning of ‘no’ wouldn’t be so bad, if the phrasings of the book didn’t absent-mindedly reflect the destructive alpha-male approach to negative feedback. As discussed in “When You Say No, What Do You Mean”, men seem to more naturally see “no” as a suggestion, or an obstacle to the only thing that really matters to their own goal. ‘No’ is an automated defence mechanism, not, God forbid, the informed decision your counterpart is entitled to as an independent human.

Voss suggests giving your counterpart “the illusion of control” as a temporary means to ease getting your own way, a cringe-worthy phrasing that brings flashbacks of men insisting on kissing me after I had rebuffed their attempts, nagging or guilting me until I changed my mind on something, or generally crossing boundaries I had very clearly set.

What Negotiation Really Looks Like

Negotiation doesn’t have to be war or a boxing match. More likely negotiations you face are a business partner you’ve known for a while and want to keep knowing, an interviewer preoccupied with their own personal problems, a doctor, or any other service-giver who is too tired to give you the service you need. Seeing all these as sharks out to trick you (simply because that’s what you’re out doing), is only one unnecessary, and quite detrimental dynamic you can insert into negotiations.

Bottom line, read this book. If only to understand this is one possible mindset you might encounter. Sift through the PC issues, and consider seriously some of the tips we would do well as women to adopt- like not fearing conflict, and not surrendering compulsively to being nice, but realise there are many other, less combative dynamics to adopt. And feel flattered, that even the most testosterone-pumped books on negotiation tell you to do more of the things we already naturally do (like showing empathy and thinking collaboratively).

Next online workshops are May 16th and 17th! The workshops have a new format: 2 webinars, one introductory, and one more practical, with more case-studies and examples. Check out the FB event or PM for details!

See you next post!

Yasmine Guerin

Founder of Negotiatress

Originally posted on May 3, 2020 by Negotiatreess



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