What I Learned from “Never Split the Difference,” a Book by Chris Voss


[In a hurry? Jump straight to the bullet points.]

HBO charged me $15 via Amazon for my subscription that I forgot to cancel after the Game of Thrones was over. Upon writing to Amazon, the representative said:

As per policy we are unable to issue refund for the previous month charge (September) for your HBO subscription. However, I am able to make an exception for you and have issued you a promotional credit of $15.14 in your account.

Walmart manager said he would not accept my returns (worth $107) without a receipt.  Although the first guy said he would give me a gift card, the system didn’t let him proceed. The manager came in and told me they wouldn’t take these returns. Why? Because they have recently changed the rule: without a receipt, I can return items worth only up to $25.

A rule is a rule, he said, but I could try other Walmarts if I wanted. He said he wouldn’t make multiple $25 transactions because that would be called “structuring.” He called his manager, who wasn’t picking up. There’s nothing more for me here, he said.

If it were a week ago, I would have given up at this stage. But I was listening to the audiobook of “Never Split the Difference”, and it says that “No is the beginning of a negotiation.” So, I persisted. I said, isn’t there anything he can do? Maybe his manager? I could wait till his manager comes. Upon waiting a few minutes, the higher manager dropped by. She was not happy, but she made it quick. We don’t take returns like this, and we will not in the future. But only this time, we’ll make an exception. You cannot have cash, but we’ll put it in a gift card.

My $15 Audible subscription fee for this book paid off over $100 in the first week. I loved this book.

With no further ado, here are…

My takeaways from the book

  1. People, including you, are emotional, not rational
  2. Listen. Then listen. Then listen some more. Show that you are listening
  3. No is the beginning of a negotiation
  4. Don’t try to defeat your counterpart. Strive to understand him
  5. Ask open-ended questions leading with “what” and “how”, but not “why”
  6. When he answers, summarize/rephrase his viewpoint in a few words. Your goal is to make him say “That’s right.” This is the magic moment when he would think that you “get” his situation
  7. When you are listening, give a label to his feelings/situation: “It looks like you feel hurt,” or “It sounds like you are frustrated.” This will open him up
  8. When asked to give a number to a monetary demand, always give a non-rounded number such as $4,123 instead of $4000 or $5000. These numbers give a sense of precision and reason behind them, regardless such a reason exists or not
  9. People are more willing to avoid losing something (of whatever value) than to gain the same amount of value
  10. When asked to name a price (when you are a buyer), start with a very low offer (called an extreme anchor) which would lower their expectations; then move up. For example, if your target buying price is $100, start with $65, then raise it to $85, then $95 and then $100. This is the 65-20-10 rule. This gives the counterpart a feeling that you are really squeezed
  11. Similarly, when asked to name your desired salary, give a range whose upper end is too high (an extreme anchor) and the lower end is at (or slightly higher than) your target. This way, the low end will look much favorable to them. Make sure to make these numbers non-rounded as well
  12. Try to figure out what makes your counterpart want what he wants
  13. Say no without saying no. Ask “How am I supposed to do that?” or “How am I supposed to accept such a low offer?” Have them work out the solution for you. When they respond, ask another “How am I supposed to …” question. Against immediate/improbable demands, this question works magic. It buys time, and it shows the counterpart how “unreasonable” his demand is
  14. Nonverbal communication rules. Remember the 7-38-55 rule: When we speak, only 7% is communicated via the words themselves, 38% from the tone, and 55% from the body language
  15. Your counterpart is not stupid or crazy. They are either lacking information, or have mistrust towards you (or something else), have constraints that they are not willing to admit, or have their own worldview. Try to understand them. Make them feel you are on the “same side,” whatever that is, or at least you understand which beliefs they identify with.

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