“Never Split the Difference” is a book on negotiating by an real FBI hostage negotiator. It gives advice on how to get the best deal when human lives are on the line, and includes such stories to exemplify each point. It is a clear and easy read, and the author wastes no time in teaching. So in that vein, here are X things i learned from “Never Split the Difference”

1) A great negotiator knows there are always black swans and is good at finding them.

Here the author borrows the definite of ‘black swan’ from Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in terms of it’s something about the scenario that you couldn’t have predicted, that greatly influences your standing in the negotiation. For instance, the author helped families in Haiti whose loved ones were being kidnapped and held for ransom at an absurdly high price (often for hundreds of thousands of dollars), which was quite common down there. After observing a pattern where the deadline for the negotiation would always be Friday, the author figured out that the kidnappers wanted it so they could go to the bar and splurge over the weekend. Since the kidnappers just wanted to party on the weekend, which was cheap in Haiti, it meant that they weren’t really attached to the price. At that point, it became easy to bid the kidnappers down from hundreds of thousands to only a few thousands dollars.

2) Open ended questions can get the other person to think on your behalf – “How am i supposed to do that?”

There was one case where a gang member was kidnapped by a rival gang and his buddies hired the author to help with the negotiation. During the call, the allied gang member asked “before we get all this money for you, how do we know our guy’s okay?” which prompted the kidnapper to offer to put the gang member on the phone. This was early in the author’s career, and had shocked him, as getting phone communication with the kidnapped loved one was usually a long and laborious milestone to reach.

3) Getting the other person to say “No” early leads them to a more genuine negotiation.

Saying no forces them to be honest and put forth their genuine objections. It can be useful if a sales pitch, that you don’t spend the entire time emphasizing a feature that the other party couldn’t give two shits about. I’ve had multiple salesmen in my family, one key lesson in sales I learned from them, along these same lines, is that a good salesman is a good listener.

4) “Sorry, I can’t do that” is a nice way to say “No.”

“Sorry Dave, I can’t let you do that.”

5) Instead of giving a price, try saying no and let the other person haggle with himself.

There is an advantage to letting the other person name the price. I recall in Thomas Edison’s autobiography, he talked about selling some of his earliest inventions, the prices that were offered were far more than he would’ve suggested. He just said “yes” and walked away with the money. Perhaps by doing this he could’ve made more.

6) There are 3 negotiators: Analytical, Affectionate and Aggressive.

The analytical types are interested in facts and data. The affectionate ones want to feel like there’s a productive bond of trust between both parties, and that they’re collaborating for everyone’s best interest. The aggressive negotiators want to push you to get the best deal. Whatever your natural inclination, you want to adjust to the other person’s type, otherwise you might piss them off.

7) Specific, odd numbers give the appearance of serious thought + are given more weight.

If you say “I want twelve-hundred dollars for that job.”, people will think “Oh Jim wants twelve hundred. I bet he pulled that number right out of his ass. He won’t be very attached to that number. Let’s see how far down we can bid him.” However, if you say “I want twelve-hundred sixty-six dollars and thirty-one cents” they will assume you did some math to reach that number, and will be far more reticent to bid you down. If you do go down, continue with a specific number, it will stick more easily.
8) Mirror the other person’s reality and they’ll open up.

People just want to be understood. The author tells a story of catching a terrorist, when nearing the end of a difficult negotiation (further complicated by the fact that the local government that the author was supposed to be working with was largely bought out by the terrorists), taking a little time to repeat back to the terrorist what he said, about how he felt about the world “So you feel X and that led you to Y?” led the terrorist to want only to speak to the author.

9) People will forgive you if you call yourself an asshole.

When you’ve screwed up, saying “Yeah, I suck” preemptively will make it easier for them to forgive you. In a way, you’re mirroring their reality by entering into that conversation.

10) Shut up, listen and empathize.

11) Look for deadlines both fake, real and hidden.

This ties back to the first thing about black swans. Deadlines can either work for you or against you, and as in the previous example, the person you’re dealing with may not want you to know the reason for their deadline.