Negotiate as if Your Life Depended on It

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You negotiate all the time at work. You negotiate deadlines, contract terms, assignments and pay raises. In your personal life, you negotiate the price of a new car, the per hour rate of your babysitter, and your 8-year-old’s bedtime. Negotiation can be stressful, but it’s seldom a life or death situation. If you’d like to be a more confident negotiator, I recommend a book by an author whose bad day on the job could get someone killed.

Chris Voss is the author (with writer Tahl Raz) of Never Split the Difference; Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It. Voss has 24 years of FBI experience and was formerly the FBI’s Lead International Kidnapping Negotiator. He now runs a practice that trains individuals, corporations and law enforcement professionals to negotiate more effectively and more confidently. He helps them achieve his definition of negotiation, which is “communication with results.”

Fear holds us back from asking for what we want in business. Fear of losing the job offer, fear of making our boss upset when we ask for a raise, fear of being made fun of or told unkind (possibly even true) things like “your work isn’t worth that much.” Voss believes if you can learn skills that make it more likely you’ll succeed, you’ll be able to think of negotiation as just another process. You can let go of  the negative emotions holding you back from achieving your goals.

We usually believe that we’re logical during negotiation, that we have clear objectives and clear reasons for what we want. The theory of homo economicus, or economic man, is the concept portraying humans as consistently rational and self-interested agents who usually pursue their ends optimally. Rational actors will take actions that provide the most benefit to themselves. This was the prevailing theory of negotiation for years, based on the 1981 bestselling book by Roger Fisher and William Ury, Getting to Yes.

But this economic theory has been debunked over the years, replaced by evidence that we make emotional decisions and then figure out ways to rationalize them. The good reasons for what we do often come after we’ve done something our lizard brain pushed us toward. Voss writes: “Though the intensity may differ from person to person, you can be sure that everyone you meet is driven by two primal urges: the need to feel safe and secure, and the need to feel in control. If you satisfy those drives, you’re in the door.”

Another basic concept in Voss’ negotiation guide is listening – something he says almost no one does well. We’re either reacting emotionally to what the other party has said or busy thinking up our next response. If you can learn to quiet your own mind, be present, and really hear the other person, you can make much quicker progress toward your goal.

Voss again: “Psychotherapy research shows that when individuals feel listened to, they tend to listen to themselves more carefully and to openly evaluate and clarify their own thoughts and feelings . In addition , they tend to become less defensive and oppositional and more willing to listen to other points of view, which gets them to the calm and logical place where they can be good Getting to Yes problem solvers.”

We’ll look at a couple of proven negotiating techniques in future posts.

4 thoughts on “Negotiate as if Your Life Depended on It

  1. I agree, we all need to listen better. Rare is the person who truly listens. Equally rare is the person, who truly understands, what is being said.

    I would be fascinated to know his life and death failures. Also, if any of these people escaped. That’s a whole different book, I suspect. Would be hard reading too. The human mind can be unpredictable, even for the person, who owns the unpredictable mind. Can’t imagine what highs and lows he’s seen in his life’s work.

    Thank you. Trying to imagine how you find an HR Hiring person to do the pre-interview! Talk about the Hidden Job Market! 🙂


  2. […] a previous post, I wrote about the theory of homo economicus, or economic man. It’s the theory that says we […]


  3. I feel like listening and hearing are two different things. When I hear someone, I also think about what they are going through and how I can empathize with that. Wonderful post here Candace!

    Liked by 1 person

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