Management challenge

Never split the difference

Book review by Tom Kenny – Never split the difference: negotiating as if your life depended on it, Chris Voss with Tahl Raz

The author Chris Voss a former international hostage negotiator for the FBI offers what for this reviewer was a new approach to high-stakes negotiations, whether in the boardroom or at home. Voss offers his book as a practical ‘how to guide’ to successful negotiations. Using a house building metaphor, this book is constructed from big foundational slabs through ten guiding principles which the author contends anyone can use to become more persuasive in both one’s professional and personal life

Voss’s contention that negotiation is as much about heart (emotions) as it is about head (rational thought and systematic step –by- step problem solving) is cogent and persuasive. This book is littered with practical tips and tactics that leaders and managers could work into their everyday practice such as mirroring, labeling and encouraging ‘one’s counterpart to ‘say no’, a tactic which generates momentum and makes it safe to reveal the real stakes.

And yet I felt as a reader that Voss (a world – class expert) undersold the challenges faced by those who have not had the years of experience in negotiation Voss obviously has. I enjoyed being introduced to new concepts, strategies and tactics and yet I am equally aware that incorporating such tactics will require practice on the part of the novice, as one moves from skills acquisition, to habit formation and then onto integrating these tactics into one’s DNA or character. 

The other problem the book presented me with was the premise of the book, i.e. ‘never splitting the difference and gaining a competitive edge’. For those who are more attuned to working to achieve win/win outcomes Voss’s recommended approach to negotiation is personally challenging and indeed appears counterintuitive. 

 The most enjoyable section of the book for me, and the section which I will return to again is the Appendix section, where the Author talks about ‘Preparing a One Page Negotiation Sheet comprising the ‘Goal’, ‘the summary’, ‘a labels/accusation audit’, ’calibrated questions’, and ‘noncash offers’. This is where I will start my ‘learning into practice journey’ from. 

3 stars:  Good, worth reading by a manager or leader