57 min read

Lessons from Never Split the Difference

Learn how to spot roadblocks in negotiation and why people don't come to rational agreement when there's mutual benefit.
Lessons from Never Split the Difference

High Level Thoughts

Never Split the Difference teaches how to negotiate successful outcomes in work, relationships, and life. Learn how to spot the roadblocks in negotiation. Understand what causes negotiations to fail. Understand why people don't come to agreement when there's mutual benefit. Detect when the people you negotiate with act unfairly or lie about their negotiating positions. Learn how to stop negotiating against yourself and reveal the true value of what you offer. Ensure that your negotiation counter-party follows through on their agreement. Stop leaving money on the negotiating table.

Lesson Table of Contents

How to Become the Smartest Person in Any Room
How to Quickly Establish Rapport
How to Create Trust with Empathy
How to Generate Momentum and Make It Safe to Reveal the Real Stakes
How to Gain the Permission to Persuade
How to Shape What is Fair
How to Transform Conflict into Collaboration
How to Spot Liars and Ensure Follow-Through from Everyone Else
How to Get Your Price
How to Create Negotiation Breakthroughs by Revealing Unknown Unknowns

How to Become the Smartest Person in Any Room

Even after two decades negotiating for human lives you still feel fear. Even in a role-playing situation.

“C’mon. Get me the money or I cut your son’s throat right now,” Mnookin said. Testy. I gave him a long, slow stare. Then I smiled. “How am I supposed to do that?” Mnookin paused. His expression had a touch of amused pity in it, like a dog when the cat it’s been chasing turns around and tries to chase it back. It was as if we were playing different games, with different rules.

So you’re okay with me killing your son, Mr. Voss?” “I’m sorry, Robert, how do I know he’s even alive?” I said, using an apology and his first name, seeding more warmth into the interaction in order to complicate his gambit to bulldoze me.

“I really am sorry, but how can I get you any money right now, much less one million dollars, if I don’t even know he’s alive?”

We are all crazy, irrational, impulsive, emotionally driven animals, all the raw intelligence and mathematical logic in the world is little help in the fraught, shifting interplay of two people negotiating.

We are always an animal, always acting and reacting first and foremost from our deeply held but mostly invisible and inchoate fears, needs, perceptions, and desires.

A Brief History of Hostage Negotiation

Until the Nixon administration, hostage negotiating as a process was limited to sending in troops and trying to shoot the hostages free.

In law enforcement, our approach was pretty much to talk until we figured out how to take them out with a gun.

Then a series of hostage disasters forced us to change. The greatest inspiration for institutional change in American law enforcement came on an airport tarmac in Jacksonville, Florida, on October 4, 1971.

Soon after the Giffe tragedy, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) became the first police force in the country to put together a dedicated team of specialists to design a process and handle crisis negotiations. The FBI and others followed.

Fisher and Ury’s approach was basically to systematize problem solving so that negotiating parties could reach a mutually beneficial deal—the getting to “Yes” in the title. Their core assumption was that the emotional brain—that animalistic, unreliable, and irrational beast—could be overcome through a more rational, joint problem-solving mindset.

The Getting to Yes System

An easy to follow and seductive system for negotiation with four basic tenets.

  1. separate the person—the emotion—from the problem
  2. don’t get wrapped up in the other side’s position (what they’re asking for) but instead focus on their interests (why they’re asking for it) so that you can find what they really want
  3. work cooperatively to generate win-win options
  4. establish mutually agreed-upon standards for evaluating those possible solutions.

For years after that book came out, everybody—including the FBI and the NYPD—focused on a problem-solving approach to bargaining interactions. It just seemed so modern and smart.

The Problem with the Getting to Yes System

The problem is this approach presumes that each side is acting fairly and not emotionally.

Amos Tversky and the psychologist Daniel Kahneman. Together, the two launched the field of behavioral economics—and Kahneman won a Nobel Prize—by showing that man is a very irrational beast.

Feeling, they discovered, is a form of thinking.

“It is self-evident that people are neither fully rational nor completely selfish, and that their tastes are anything but stable.” - Daniel Kahneman

If you believed Kahneman, conducting negotiations based on System 2 concepts without the tools to read, understand, and manipulate the System 1 emotional underpinning was like trying to make an omelet without first knowing how to crack an egg.

Why the Getting to Yes System is Promoted Despite Its Weakness

Why was it that everyone had read this bestselling business book and endorsed it as one of the greatest negotiation texts ever written, and yet so few could actually follow it successfully?

Because it makes people look good by saying it's good, not because it's effective.

Creating a Better Negotiation System

If emotionally driven incidents, not rational bargaining interactions, constituted the bulk of what most police negotiators had to deal with, then our negotiating skills had to laser-focus on the animal, emotional, and irrational.

Emotions and emotional intelligence would have to be central to effective negotiation, not things to be overcome.

What were needed were simple psychological tactics and strategies that worked in the field to calm people down, establish rapport, gain trust, elicit the verbalization of needs, and persuade the other guy of our empathy.

People want to be understood and accepted. Listening is the cheapest, yet most effective concession we can make to get there.

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. They tend to become less defensive and oppositional and more willing to listen to other points of view.

Why Negotiation is Important

Life is negotiation

The majority of the interactions we have at work and at home are negotiations that boil down to the expression of a simple, animalistic urge: I want.

“I want you to accept that $1 million contract.” “I want to pay $20,000 for that car.” “I want you to give me a 10 percent raise.” and “I want you to go to sleep at 9 p.m.”

Negotiation serves two distinct, vital life functions—information gathering and behavior influencing—and includes almost any interaction where each party wants something from the other side. Your career, your finances, your reputation, your love life, even the fate of your kids—at some point all of these hinge on your ability to negotiate.

Negotiation is nothing more than communication with results. Getting what you want out of life is all about getting what you want from—and with—other people.

The first step to achieving a mastery of daily negotiation is to get over your aversion to negotiating.

Effective negotiation is applied people smarts, a psychological edge in every domain of life: how to size someone up, how to influence their sizing up of you, and how to use that knowledge to get what you want.

How to Quickly Establish Rapport

In negotiation, each new psychological insight or additional piece of information revealed heralds a step forward and allows one to discard one hypothesis in favor of another. You should engage the process with a mindset of discovery. Your goal at the outset is to extract and observe as much information as possible.

Why really smart people often have trouble being negotiators

They’re so smart they think they don’t have anything to discover. Too often people find it easier just to stick with what they believe. Using what they’ve heard or their own biases, they often make assumptions about others even before meeting them. They even ignore their own perceptions to make them conform to foregone conclusions. These assumptions muck up our perceptual windows onto the world, showing us an unchanging—often flawed—version of the situation.

Most people approach a negotiation so preoccupied by the arguments that support their position that they are unable to listen attentively.

In one of the most cited research papers in psychology, George A. Miller persuasively put forth the idea that we can process only about seven pieces of information in our conscious mind at any given moment. In other words, we are easily overwhelmed.

How to Prepare Your Negotiation Counterpart to Agree

Instead of prioritizing your argument—in fact, instead of doing any thinking at all in the early goings about what you’re going to say—make your sole and all-encompassing focus the other person and what they have to say. In that mode of true active listening—aided by the tactics you’ll learn in the following chapters—you’ll disarm your counterpart. You’ll make them feel safe. The voice in their head will begin to quiet down.

The goal is to identify what your counterparts actually need (monetarily, emotionally, or otherwise) and get them feeling safe enough to talk and talk and talk some more about what they want.

Negotiation begins with listening, making it about the other people, validating their emotions, and creating enough trust and safety for a real conversation to begin.

Why you should never rush a negotiation

Going too fast is one of the mistakes all negotiators are prone to making. If we’re too much in a hurry, people can feel as if they’re not being heard and we risk undermining the rapport and trust we’ve built.

There’s plenty of research that now validates the passage of time as one of the most important tools for a negotiator. When you slow the process down, you also calm it down.

Why how we say things matters more than what we say

When deliberating on a negotiating strategy or approach, people tend to focus all their energies on what to say or do, but it’s how we are (our general demeanor and delivery) that is both the easiest thing to enact and the most immediately effective mode of influence. Our brains don’t just process and understand the actions and words of others but their feelings and intentions too, the social meaning of their behavior and their emotions. On a mostly unconscious level, we can understand the minds of others not through any kind of thinking but through quite literally grasping what the other is feeling.

When we radiate warmth and acceptance, conversations just seem to flow. When we enter a room with a level of comfort and enthusiasm, we attract people toward us. Smile at someone on the street, and as a reflex they’ll smile back. Understanding that reflex and putting it into practice is critical to the success of just about every negotiating skill there is to learn. The most powerful tool in any verbal communication is your voice. You can use your voice to intentionally reach into someone’s brain and flip an emotional switch. Distrusting to trusting. Nervous to calm. In an instant, the switch will flip just like that with the right delivery.

The three tones of voice available to negotiators:

  1. the late-night FM DJ voice
  2. the positive/playful voice
  3. the direct or assertive voice

The danger of using direct and assertive tone of voice

Except in very rare circumstances, using it is like slapping yourself in the face while you’re trying to make progress. You’re signaling dominance onto your counterpart, who will either aggressively, or passive-aggressively, push back against attempts to be controlled.

Most of the time, negotiators should use the positive/playful voice. It’s the voice of an easygoing, good-natured person. Your attitude is light and encouraging. The key here is to relax and smile while you’re talking. A smile, even while talking on the phone, has an impact tonally that the other person will pick up on.

"When people are in a positive frame of mind, they think more quickly, and are more likely to collaborate and problem-solve (instead of fight and resist). It applies to the smile-er as much as to the smile-ee: a smile on your face, and in your voice, will increase your own mental agility.

How the late night DJ voice works

The way the late-night FM DJ voice works is that, when you inflect your voice downward, you convey that you’ve got it covered. By talking slowly and clearly you convey one idea: I’m in control. When you inflect upward, you invite a response. Why? Because your voice tone brings in a measure of uncertainty. You’ve made a statement sound like a question.

Why all great negotiators are good at mirroring

Mirroring, also called isopraxism, is essentially imitation. It’s another neurobehavior humans (and other animals) display in which we copy each other to comfort each other.

It can be done with speech patterns, body language, vocabulary, tempo, and tone of voice. It’s generally an unconscious behavior—we are rarely aware of it when it’s happening—but it’s a sign that people are bonding, in sync, and establishing the kind of rapport that leads to trust.

Mirroring, then, when practiced consciously, is the art of insinuating similarity. “Trust me,” a mirror signals to another’s unconscious, “You and I—we’re alike.”

By repeating back what people say, you trigger this mirroring instinct and your counterpart will inevitably elaborate on what was just said and sustain the process of connecting.

How to mirror

Repeat the last three words (or the critical one to three words) of what someone has just said.

How to avoid caving into unreasonable demands

Four simple steps:

  1. Use the late-night FM DJ voice.
  2. Start with “I’m sorry . . .”
  3. Mirror
  4. Silence. At least four seconds, to let the mirror work its magic on your counterpart.
  5. Repeat.

The intention behind most mirrors should be “Please, help me understand.” Every time you mirror someone, they will reword what they’ve said. They will never say it exactly the same way they said it the first time.

Why questions can provoke and mirrors calm

Ask someone, “What do you mean by that?” and you’re likely to incite irritation or defensiveness. A mirror, however, will get you the clarity you want while signaling respect and concern for what the other person is saying.

Use mirrors to encourage the other side to empathize and bond with you, keep people talking, buy your side time to regroup, and encourage your counterparts to reveal their strategy.

How to Create Trust with Empathy

Until recently, most academics and researchers completely ignored the role of emotion in negotiation. Emotions were just an obstacle to a good outcome, they said. “Separate the people from the problem” was the common refrain.

Instead of denying or ignoring emotions, good negotiators identify and influence them. They are able to precisely label emotions, those of others and especially their own. And once they label the emotions they talk about them without getting wound up. For them, emotion is a tool.

A soothing voice, close listening, and a calm repetition of the words of your counterpart can get you a lot further than a cold, rational argument.

If you can perceive the emotions of others, you have a chance to turn them to your advantage.

The number one reason negotiations stall

There is nothing more frustrating or disruptive to any negotiation than to get the feeling you are talking to someone who isn’t listening.

Ignoring the other party’s position only builds up frustration and makes them less likely to do what you want.

The difference between empathy and sympathy

Empathy is “the ability to recognize the perspective of a counterpart, and the vocalization of that recognition.” Empathy is paying attention to another human being, asking what they are feeling, and making a commitment to understanding their world.

Having empathy for someone else is not enough. You need to communicate empathy.

Empathy doesn't mean agreeing with the other person’s values and beliefs or giving out hugs. That’s sympathy.  

Empathy is not about being nice or agreeing with the other side. It’s about understanding them and making them feel understood.

The most important tool for any negotiator

Tactical empathy is understanding the feelings and mindset of another in the moment and also hearing what is behind those feelings so you increase your influence in all the moments that follow.

It’s bringing our attention to both the emotional obstacles and the potential pathways to getting an agreement done.

The science behind creating empathy

When we closely observe a person’s face, gestures, and tone of voice, our brain begins to align with theirs in a process called neural resonance, and that lets us know more fully what they think and feel.

In an fMRI brain-scan experiment, researchers at Princeton University found that neural resonance disappears when people communicate poorly.

The researchers could predict how well people were communicating by observing how much their brains were aligned. And they discovered that people who paid the most attention—good listeners—could actually anticipate what the speaker was about to say before he said it.

How to practice empathy and increase your neural resonance skills

Turn your attention to someone who’s talking near you, or watch a person being interviewed on TV. As they talk, imagine that you are that person. Visualize yourself in the position they describe and put in as much detail as you can, as if you were actually there.

How to communicate empathy

The best way to communicate empathy is by accurately labeling the emotions of your counterpart.

“It looks like you don’t want to come out. It seems like you worry that if you open the door, we’ll come in with guns blazing. It looks like you don’t want to go back to jail.”

We employ tactical empathy by recognizing and then verbalizing the predictable emotions of the situation. Don’t just put yourselves in your partner's shoes. Spot their feelings, turn them into words, and then very calmly and respectfully repeat their emotions back to them.

Why acknowledging negatives in negotiation is better than ignoring them

Labeling is a way of validating someone’s emotion by acknowledging it. Give someone’s emotion a name and you show you identify with how that person feels. It gets you close to someone without asking about external factors you know nothing about.

Labeling has a special advantage when your counterpart is tense. Exposing negative thoughts to daylight—“It looks like you don’t want to go back to jail”—makes them seem less frightening.

In one brain imaging study, psychology professor Matthew Lieberman of the University of California, Los Angeles, found that when people are shown photos of faces expressing strong emotion, the brain shows greater activity in the amygdala, the part that generates fear. But when they are asked to label the emotion, the activity moves to the areas that govern rational thinking. In other words, labeling an emotion—applying rational words to a fear—disrupts its raw intensity.

How to label emotions

The first step to labeling is detecting the other person’s emotional state.

The trick to spotting feelings is to pay close attention to changes people undergo when they respond to external events. Most often, those events are your words.

If you say, “How is the family?” and the corners of the other party’s mouth turn down even when they say it’s great, you might detect that all is not well; if their voice goes flat when a colleague is mentioned, there could be a problem between the two; and if your landlord unconsciously fidgets his feet when you mention the neighbors, it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t think much of them

When a person's body language says something different than their words it's best to discount what they're saying.

Once you’ve spotted an emotion you want to highlight, the next step is to label it aloud. Labels can be phrased as statements or questions. The only difference is whether you end the sentence with a downward or upward inflection.

Rules for Labeling Emotions

No matter how they end, labels almost always begin with roughly the same words:

  • It seems like . . .
  • It sounds like . . .
  • It looks like . . .

Why good negotiators avoid "I" when labeling emotions

We say “It sounds like . . .” and not “I’m hearing that . . .” That’s because the word “I” gets people’s guard up. When you say “I,” it says you’re more interested in yourself than the other person, and it makes you take personal responsibility for the words that follow—and the offense they might cause.

When you phrase a label as a neutral statement of understanding, it encourages your counterpart to be responsive. They’ll usually give a longer answer than just “yes” or “no.” And if they disagree with the label, that’s okay. You can always step back and say, “I didn’t say that was what it was. I just said it seems like that.”The last rule of labeling is silence. Once you’ve thrown out a label, be quiet and listen. We all have a tendency to expand on what we’ve said, to finish, “It seems like you like the way that shirt looks,” with a specific question like “Where did you get it?” But a label’s power is that it invites the other person to reveal himself.

How to practice emotional labeling

Strike up a conversation and put a label on one of the other person’s emotions—it doesn’t matter if you’re talking to the mailman or your ten-year-old daughter—and then go silent.

The two levels of human emotion

People’s emotions have two levels: the “presenting” behavior is the part above the surface you can see and hear; beneath, the “underlying” feeling is what motivates the behavior.

Why it's important to even label negative emotions

What good negotiators do when labeling is address those underlying emotions. Labeling negatives diffuses them (or defuses them, in extreme cases); labeling positives reinforces them.

As an emotion, anger is rarely productive—in you or the person you’re negotiating with. It releases stress hormones and neurochemicals that disrupt your ability to properly evaluate and respond to situations. And it blinds you to the fact that you’re angry in the first place, which gives you a false sense of confidence.

Labeling is a helpful tactic in de-escalating angry confrontations, because it makes the person acknowledge their feelings rather than continuing to act out.

The fastest and most efficient means of establishing a quick working relationship is to acknowledge the negative and diffuse it.

The mistake most people make when trying to diffuse negative situations

People often start criticisms by saying, “I don’t want this to sound harsh . . .” hoping that whatever comes next will be softened. Or by saying, “I don’t want to seem like an asshole . . .” hoping the recipient will tell you a few sentences later that you’re not that bad.

The small but critical mistake this commits is denying the negative. That actually gives it credence.

How to prevent and neutralize objections to agreement

Use an accusation audit to confront every objection you fear may prevent agreement.

  1. List every terrible thing your counterpart could say about you.
  2. Prioritize this list by which accusations are most likely to prevent collaboration.
  3. Communicate to your negotiation partner by combining emotional labeling to each accusation (IE "it seems like I ... [insert accusation]")

Why a counterpart's bad day can be an advantage for a negotiator

Following on the heels of an argument is a great position for a negotiator, because your counterpart is desperate for an empathetic connection. Smile, and you’re already an improvement.

An example of emotional labeling in action

“Hi, Wendy, I’m Ryan. It seems like they were pretty upset.” This labels the negative and establishes a rapport based on empathy. This encourages Wendy to elaborate on her situation, words Ryan then mirrors to invite her to go further.

“Yeah. They missed their connection. We’ve had a fair amount of delays because of the weather.” “The weather?” After Wendy explains how the delays in the Northeast had rippled through the system, Ryan again labels the negative and then mirrors her answer to encourage her to delve further.

“It seems like it’s been a hectic day.”

“There’ve been a lot of ‘irate consumers,’ you know? I mean, I get it, even though I don’t like to be yelled at. A lot of people are trying to get to Austin for the big game.”

“The big game?”

“UT is playing Ole Miss football and every flight into Austin has been booked solid.”

“Booked solid?”

Up to this point, Ryan has been using labels and mirrors to build a relationship with Wendy. To her it must seem like idle chatter, though, because he hasn’t asked for anything. Unlike the angry couple, Ryan is acknowledging her situation. His words ping-pong between “What’s that?” and “I hear you,” both of which invite her to elaborate.

In any interaction, it pleases us to feel that the other side is listening and acknowledging our situation. Whether you are negotiating a business deal or simply chatting to the person at the supermarket butcher counter, creating an empathetic relationship and encouraging your counterpart to expand on their situation is the basis of healthy human interaction.

How to Generate Momentum and Make It Safe to Reveal the Real Stakes

At the end of the day, “Yes” is often a meaningless answer that hides deeper objections

Pushing hard for “Yes” doesn’t get a negotiator any closer to a win; it just angers the other side.

Why "No" signals the start, not the end of a negotiation

For good negotiators, “No” provides a great opportunity for you and the other party to clarify what you really want by eliminating what you don’t want. “No” is the start of the negotiation, not the end of it. We’ve been conditioned to fear the word “No.” But it is a statement of perception far more often than of fact. It seldom means, “I have considered all the facts and made a rational choice.” Instead, “No” is often a decision, frequently temporary, to maintain the status quo. Change is scary, and “No” provides a little protection from that scariness.

Give your counterpart permission to say “No” from the outset of a negotiation.

Why all negotiators need to let their counterpart say "No"

People will fight to the death to preserve their right to say “No,” so give them that right and the negotiating environment becomes more constructive and collaborative almost immediately.

People have a deep and universal human need for autonomy. People need to feel in control. When you preserve a person’s autonomy by clearly giving them permission to say “No” to your ideas, the emotions calm, the effectiveness of the decisions go up, and the other party can really look at your proposal. They’re allowed to hold it in their hands, to turn it around. And it gives you time to elaborate or pivot in order to convince your counterpart that the change you’re proposing is more advantageous than the status quo.

What "No" in negotiation often actually means

  • I am not yet ready to agree
  • You are making me feel uncomfortable
  • I do not understand
  • I don’t think I can afford it
  • I want something else
  • I need more information
  • I want to talk it over with someone else

What to do in a negotiation after someone tells you "no"

After pausing, ask solution-based questions or simply label their effect:

  • “What about this doesn’t work for you?”
  • “What would you need to make it work?”
  • “It seems like there’s something here that bothers you.”

People have a need to say, “No.” So don’t just hope to hear it at some point; get them to say it early.  After someone tells you no, it's your job to learn why.

The three kinds of “Yes”

  1. Counterfeit
  2. Confirmation
  3. Commitment

Counterfeit “yes” is one in which your counterpart plans on saying “no” but either feels “yes” is an easier escape route or just wants to disingenuously keep the conversation going to obtain more information or some other kind of edge.

Confirmation “yes” is generally innocent, a reflexive response to a black-or-white question; it’s sometimes used to lay a trap but mostly it’s just simple affirmation with no promise of action.

Commitment “yes” is the real deal; it’s a true agreement that leads to action, a “yes” at the table that ends with a signature on the contract. The commitment “yes” is what you want, but the three types sound almost the same so you have to learn how to recognize which one is being used.

Why "Yes" so often means "No"

Human beings the world over are so used to being pursued for the commitment “yes” as a condition to find out more that they have become masters at giving the counterfeit “yes.”

Why going for "Yes" in negotiation is counterproductive

Whether you call it “buy-in” or “engagement” or something else, good negotiators know that their job isn’t to put on a great performance but to gently guide their counterpart to discover their goal as his own.

Why great negotiators let their counterparts persuade themselves

In every negotiation, in every agreement, the result comes from someone else’s decision.

If we believe that we can control or manage others’ decisions with compromise and logic, we’re leaving millions on the table. But while we can’t control others’ decisions, we can influence them by inhabiting their world and seeing and hearing exactly what they want.

The two primal urges negotiators must always satisfy

Everyone you meet is driven by two primal urges:

  1. the need to feel safe and secure
  2. the need to feel in control.

If you satisfy those drives, you are in a position to persuade the other side.

You’re not going to logically convince them that they’re safe, secure, or in control. Primal needs are urgent and illogical, so arguing them into a corner is just going to push your counterpart to flee with a counterfeit “Yes.”

Being “nice” in the form of feigned sympathy is often equally as unsuccessful. Nice alone in the context of negotiation can backfire. Nice, employed is perceived as a ruse, is disingenuous and manipulative.

Why "No" satisfies the two primal urges counterparts feel

Instead of getting inside with logic or feigned smiles, then, we get there by asking for “No.” It’s the word that gives the speaker feelings of safety and control. “No” starts conversations and creates safe havens to get to the final “Yes” of commitment.

Whenever we negotiate, there’s no doubt we want to finish with a “Yes.” But we mistakenly conflate the positive value of that final “Yes” with a positive value of “Yes” in general. And because we see “No” as the opposite of “Yes,” we then assume that “No” is always a bad thing.

Saying “No” gives the speaker the feeling of safety, security, and control. You use a question that prompts a “No” answer, and your counterpart feels that by turning you down he has proved that he’s in the driver’s seat. Good negotiators welcome—even invite—a solid “No” to start, as a sign that the other party is engaged and thinking.

Gun for a “Yes” straight off the bat, though, and your counterpart gets defensive, wary, and skittish.

How to make your target audience receptive to your ideas by allowing them to say "no"

If you’re trying to sell something, don’t start with “Do you have a few minutes to talk?” Instead ask, “Is now a bad time to talk?” Either you get “Yes, it is a bad time” followed by a good time or a request to go away, or you get “No, it’s not” and total focus.

How to learn from sales calls how people feel when they're pushed for yes

The next time you get a telemarketing call, write down the questions the seller asks. I promise you’ll find that your level of discomfort correlates directly to how quickly he pushes you for “Yes.”

The Advantages of using "No"

Used strategically it’s an answer that opens the path forward. Getting to the point where you’re no longer horrified by the word “No” is a liberating moment that every negotiator needs to reach. Because if your biggest fear is “No,” you can’t negotiate. You’re the hostage of “Yes.

  • ”No” allows the real issues to be brought forth
  • “No” protects people from making—and lets them correct—ineffective decisions
  • “No” slows things down so that people can freely embrace their decisions and the agreements they enter into
  • “No” helps people feel safe, secure, emotionally comfortable, and in control of their decisions
  • “No” moves everyone’s efforts forward

How to get your counterpart to say "no"

One great way to do this is to mislabel one of the other party’s emotions or desires. You say something that you know is totally wrong, like “So it seems that you really are eager to leave your job” when they clearly want to stay. That forces them to listen and makes them comfortable correcting you by saying, “No, that’s not it. This is it.”

Another way to force “No” in a negotiation is to ask the other party what they don’t want. “Let’s talk about what you would say ‘No’ to,” you’d say. And people are comfortable saying “No” here because it feels like self-protection. And once you’ve gotten them to say “No,” people are much more open to moving forward toward new options and ideas.

How to never be ignored again

Provoke a “No” with this one-sentence email.

"Have you given up on this project?"

This one-sentence email encapsulates the best of “No”-oriented questions and plays on your counterpart’s natural human aversion to loss.

The “No” answer the email demands offers the other party the feeling of safety and the illusion of control while encouraging them to define their position and explain it to you.

Just as important, it makes the implicit threat that you will walk away on your own terms. To stop that from happening—to cut their losses and prove their power—the other party’s natural inclination is to reply immediately and disagree.

"No, our priorities haven’t changed. We’ve just gotten bogged down and . . ."

This may seem like a rude way to address someone in business, but, ignoring you is what’s rude.

A good negotiator gains their power by understanding their counterpart’s situation and extracting information about their counterpart’s desires and needs. Extracting that information means getting the other party to feel safe and in control. And while it may sound contradictory, the way to get there is by getting the other party to disagree, to draw their own boundaries, to define their desires as a function of what they do not want.

How to Gain the Permission to Persuade

The Behavioral Change Stairway Model (BCSM)

The model proposes five stages that take any negotiator from listening to influencing behavior.

  1. active listening
  2. empathy
  3. rapport
  4. influence
  5. behavioral change

The origins of the model can be traced back to the great American psychologist Carl Rogers, who proposed that real change can only come when a therapist accepts the client as he or she is—an approach known as unconditional positive regard.

The vast majority of us, however, as Rogers explained, come to expect that love, praise, and approval are dependent on saying and doing the things people (initially, our parents) consider correct. Because for most of us the positive regard we experience is conditional, we develop a habit of hiding who we really are and what we really think, instead calibrating our words to gain approval but disclosing little.

Though the stakes of an everyday negotiation with your child, boss, or client are usually not as high as that of a hostage (or health crisis) negotiation, the psychological environment necessary for not just temporary in-the-moment compliance, but real gut-level change, is the same.

If you successfully take someone up the Behavioral Change Stairway, each stage attempting to engender more trust and more connection, there will be a breakthrough moment when unconditional positive regard is established and you can begin exerting influence.

You more than likely haven’t gotten there yet if what you’re hearing is the word “yes.”

The two words that immediately transform any negotiation

The sweetest two words in any negotiation are “That’s right.”

One crucial aspect of any negotiation is to figure out how your adversary arrived at his position.

Before you convince them to see what you’re trying to accomplish, you have to say the things to them that will get them to say, “That’s right.”

The “that’s right” breakthrough usually doesn’t come at the beginning of a negotiation. It’s invisible to the counterpart when it occurs, and they embrace what you’ve said. To them, it’s a subtle epiphany.

The 6 active listening tactics negotiators need in their arsenal

  1. Effective Pauses: Silence is powerful. Use it for emphasis, to encourage your counterpart to keep talking until eventually, like clearing out a swamp, the emotions were drained from the dialogue.
  2. Minimal Encouragers: using simple phrases, such as “Yes,” “OK,” “Uh-huh,” or “I see,” to effectively convey that you are fully paying attention to what you're counterpart is saying
  3. Mirroring: listen and repeat back the important things your counterpart says
  4. Labeling: Give your counterpart's feelings a name and identify with how they feel
  5. Paraphrase: Repeat back what your counterpart is saying in their own words to show them you really do understand and aren't merely parroting their concerns.
  6. Summarize: A good summary is the combination of rearticulating the meaning of what is said plus the acknowledgment of the emotions underlying that meaning (paraphrasing + labeling = summary).

When your adversaries say, “That’s right,” they feel they have assessed what you’ve said and pronounced it as correct of their own free will. They embrace it.

The false positive that can destroy your negotiation progress

Driving toward “that’s right” is a winning strategy in all negotiations. But hearing “you’re right” is a disaster.

When people say "you're right", they don't own the conclusion.

Why "You're right" is the worst possible answer you can receive as a negotiator

Whenever someone is bothering you, and they just won’t let up, and they won’t listen to anything you have to say, what do you tell them to get them to shut up and go away? “You’re right.”

Tell people “you’re right” and they get a happy smile on their face and leave you alone for at least twenty-four hours. But you haven’t agreed to their position. You have used “you’re right” to get them to quit bothering you.

How to use “That's right” to make the sale

Learn about the motivations of your audience

She learned that he was passionate about treating his patients. Each patient was special in his eyes. Improving their sense of calm and peace was the most important outcome for him.

Communicate how your audience feels by labeling their emotions and summarizing their position.

Rather than tout the benefits of her product, she talked about him and his practice.

Pause after you receive affirmation through "that's right" and allow your counterpart to make their own mind up now that they are open to considering your ideas.

“That’s right,” he said. “I really feel like I’m treating an epidemic that other doctors are not picking up on—which means that a lot of patients are not getting treated adequately.”

Once the doctor signaled his trust and rapport, she could tout the attributes of her product and describe precisely how it would help him reach the outcomes he desired for his patients. He listened intently.

How to Shape What is Fair

Negotiation is never a linear formula: add X to Y to get Z. We all have irrational blind spots, hidden needs, and undeveloped notions.

Why "Win-Win" often means "You Lose"

The win-win mindset pushed by so many negotiation experts is usually ineffective and often disastrous. At best, it satisfies neither side. And if you employ it with a counterpart who has a win-lose approach, you’re setting yourself up to be swindled.

Compromise—“splitting the difference”—can lead to terrible outcomes. Compromise is often a “bad deal”

Why people seek compromise over achieving their goals

We don’t compromise because it’s right; we compromise because it is easy and because it saves face. We compromise in order to say that at least we got half the pie. Distilled to its essence, we compromise to be safe. Most people in a negotiation are driven by fear or by the desire to avoid pain. Too few are driven by their actual goals.

Why good negotiators aren't afraid of deadlines

Deadlines are often arbitrary, almost always flexible, and hardly ever trigger the consequences we think—or are told—they will.

The simple mantra good negotiators follow to stop worrying about deadlines

“No deal is better than a bad deal.”

The danger of hiding your negotiation deadlines

Knowing how negotiators use their counterpart’s deadlines to gain leverage would seem to suggest that it’s best to keep your own deadlines secret.

Deadlines cut both ways.

When the negotiation is over for one side, it’s over for the other too.

Hiding a deadline actually puts the negotiator in the worst possible position.

Hiding your deadlines dramatically increases the risk of an impasse. That’s because having a deadline pushes you to speed up your concessions, but the other side, thinking that it has time, will just hold out for more.

Hiding a deadline means you’re negotiating with yourself, and you always lose when you do so.

The benefits of revealing your negotiating deadlines

When negotiators tell their counterparts about their deadline, they get better deals.

First, by revealing your cutoff you reduce the risk of an impasse. And second, when an opponent knows your deadline, he’ll get to the real deal- and concession-making more quickly.

There is no consensus of what constitutes a “fair” or “rational” split.

Why emotion, not rational thought governs decision-making

We’re all irrational, all emotional. Emotion is a necessary element to decision making that we ignore at our own peril.

In Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio explained a groundbreaking discovery he made. Studying people who had damage in the part of the brain where emotions are generated, he found that they all had something peculiar in common: They couldn’t make decisions. They could describe what they should do in logical terms, but they found it impossible to make even the simplest choice.

While we may use logic to reason ourselves toward a decision, the actual decision making is governed by emotion.

The most powerful word in negotiations

The most powerful word in negotiations is “Fair.” Most people make an irrational choice to let the dollar slip through their fingers rather than to accept a derisory offer, because the negative emotional value of unfairness outweighs the positive rational value of the money.

Once you understand what a messy, emotional, and destructive dynamic “fairness” can be, you can see why “Fair” is a tremendously powerful word that you need to use with care.

The three ways people drop the "Fair-bomb"

  1. “We just want what’s fair.”
  2. “We’ve given you a fair offer.”
  3. “I want you to feel like you are being treated fairly at all times. So please stop me at any time if you feel I’m being unfair, and we’ll address it.”

“We just want what’s fair.”

It immediately triggers feelings of defensiveness and discomfort. These feelings are often subconscious and often lead to an irrational concession. If you’re on the business end of this accusation, you need to realize that the other side might not be trying to pick your pocket; like my friend, they might just be overwhelmed by circumstance. The best response is to take a deep breath and restrain your desire to concede. Then say, “Okay, I apologize. Let’s stop everything and go back to where I started treating you unfairly and we’ll fix it.”

“We’ve given you a fair offer.”

If you find yourself in this situation, the best reaction is to simply mirror the “F” that has just been lobbed at you. “Fair?” you’d respond, pausing to let the word’s power do to them as it was intended to do to you. Follow that with a label: “It seems like you’re ready to provide the evidence that supports that,”

“I want you to feel like you are being treated fairly at all times. So please stop me at any time if you feel I’m being unfair, and we’ll address it.”

It’s simple and clear and sets me up as an honest dealer. With that statement, I let people know it is okay to use that word with me if they use it honestly. As a negotiator, you should strive for a reputation of being fair. Your reputation precedes you. Let it precede you in a way that paves success.

The best theory describing the principles behind our irrational decisions

While our decisions may be largely irrational, that doesn’t mean there aren’t consistent patterns, principles, and rules behind how we act. And once you know those mental patterns, you start to see ways to influence them.

The best theory for describing the principles of our irrational decisions is Prospect Theory.

Prospect theory describes how people choose between options that involve risk, like in a negotiation. The theory argues that people are drawn to sure things over probabilities, even when the probability is a better choice. That’s called the Certainty Effect. And people will take greater risks to avoid losses than to achieve gains. That’s called Loss Aversion.

Why it’s not enough to show you can deliver what your counterpart wants

In a tough negotiation, it’s not enough to show the other party that you can deliver the thing they want.

To get real leverage, you have to persuade them that they have something concrete to lose if the deal falls through.

How to use loss aversion to get better deals


Start with an accusation audit acknowledging all of their fears. By anchoring their emotions in preparation for a loss, you inflame the other side’s loss aversion so that they’ll jump at the chance to avoid it.


Going first is not necessarily the best thing when it comes to negotiating price.

Let the other side anchor monetary negotiations. Neither side has perfect information going to the table. This often means you don’t know enough to open with confidence. That’s especially true anytime you don’t know the market value of what you are buying or selling. You’ve got to be careful when you let the other guy anchor. You have to prepare yourself psychically to withstand the first offer. If the other guy’s a pro, a shark, he’s going to go for an extreme anchor in order to bend your reality. Then, when they come back with a merely absurd offer it will seem reasonable. The tendency to be anchored by extreme numbers is a psychological quirk known as the “anchor and adjustment” effect. Researchers have discovered that we tend to make adjustments from our first reference points.


While going first rarely helps, there is one way to seem to make an offer and bend their reality in the process. That is, by alluding to a range. When confronted with naming your terms or price, counter by recalling a similar deal which establishes your “ballpark,” albeit the best possible ballpark you wish to be in. Research shows that people who hear extreme anchors unconsciously adjust their expectations in the direction of the opening number. Many even go directly to their price limit. Columbia Business School psychologists found that job applicants who named a range received significantly higher overall salaries than those who offered a number, especially if their range was a “bolstering range,” in which the low number in the range was what they actually wanted. If you offer a range (and it’s a good idea to do so) expect them to come in at the low end.


One of the easiest ways to bend your counterpart’s reality to your point of view is by pivoting to non-monetary terms. After you’ve anchored them high, you can make your offer seem reasonable by offering things that aren’t important to you but could be important to them. Or if their offer is low you could ask for things that matter more to you than them.


Every number has a psychological significance that goes beyond its value. Some numbers appear more immovable than others. Numbers that end in 0 inevitably feel like temporary placeholders, guesstimates that you can easily be negotiated off of. But anything you throw out that sounds less rounded—feels like a figure that you came to as a result of thoughtful calculation. Such numbers feel serious and permanent to your counterpart, so use them to fortify your offers.


You can get your counterpart into a mood of generosity by staking an extreme anchor and then, after their inevitable first rejection, offering them a wholly unrelated surprise gift. Unexpected conciliatory gestures like this are hugely effective because they introduce a dynamic called reciprocity; the other party feels the need to answer your generosity in kind. They will suddenly come up on their offer, or they’ll look to repay your kindness in the future. People feel obliged to repay debts of kindness.

How to negotiate a better salary

  1. Be pleasantly persistent on non-salary terms

The more you talk about non-salary terms, the more likely you are to hear the full range of their options. If they can’t meet your non-salary requests, they may even counter with more money,

2. Define the terms of success

Once you’ve negotiated a salary, make sure to define success for your position—as well as metrics for your next raise. That’s meaningful for you and free for your boss,It gets you a planned raise and, by defining your success in relation to your boss’s supervision, it leads into the next step

3. Create investment in your success and gain your boss as a mentor

When you are selling yourself to a manager, sell yourself, and your success, as a way they can validate their own intelligence and broadcast it to the rest of the company. Make sure they know you’ll act as a flesh-and-blood argument for their importance. Once you’ve bent their reality to include you as their ambassador, they’ll have a stake in your success.

Ask: “What does it take to be successful here?”

If someone gives you guidance, they will watch to see if you follow their advice. They will have a personal stake in seeing you succeed.

How to Transform Conflict into Collaboration

Negotiation is coaxing, not overcoming; co-opting, not defeating. Successful negotiation involves getting your counterpart to do the work for you and suggest your solution himself. It involves giving them the illusion of control while you, in fact, are the one defining the conversation.

How to give your counterpart the illusion of control

The best tool to create the illusion of control is the calibrated, or open-ended, question.

What calibrated questions do is remove aggression from conversations by acknowledging the other side openly, without resistance. In doing so, it lets you introduce ideas and requests without sounding pushy. It allows you to nudge.

There is some information that you can only get through direct, extended interactions with your counterpart.

All negotiation, done well, should be an information-gathering process that vests your counterpart in an outcome that serves you.

Whether we like to recognize it or not, a universal rule of human nature, across all cultures, is that when somebody gives you something, they expect something in return.

The secret to gaining the upper hand in a negotiation is giving the other side the illusion of control.

Why negotiators need to suspend "unbelief"

Psychologist Kevin Dutton says in his book Split-Second Persuasion, “unbelief,” is active resistance to what the other side is saying, complete rejection. That’s where the two parties in a negotiation usually start.

If you don’t ever get off that dynamic, you end up having showdowns, as each side tries to impose its point of view. If you can get the other side to drop their unbelief, you can slowly work them to your point of view on the back of their energy. You don’t directly persuade them to see your ideas. Instead, you ride them to your ideas.

As the saying goes, the best way to ride a horse is in the direction in which it is going.

Our job as persuaders is easier than we think. It’s not to get others believing what we say. It’s just to stop them unbelieving. Once we achieve that, the game’s half-won. “Unbelief is the friction that keeps persuasion in check,” Dutton says. “Without it, there’d be no limits.”

Giving your counterpart the illusion of control by asking calibrated questions—by asking for help—is one of the most powerful tools for suspending unbelief.

As an old Washington Post editor named Robert Estabrook once said, “He who has learned to disagree without being disagreeable has discovered the most valuable secret of negotiation.”

How to use calibrated questions to get your counterpart to offer concessions

Ask for help with one of the greatest-of-all-time calibrated questions: “How am I supposed to do that?”

The critical part of this approach is that you really are asking for help and your delivery must convey that.

With this negotiating scheme, instead of bullying your counterpart, you’re asking for their advice and giving them the illusion of control.

Asking for help in this manner, after you’ve already been engaged in a dialogue, is an incredibly powerful negotiating technique for transforming encounters from confrontational showdowns into joint problem-solving sessions. And calibrated questions are the best tool.

Like the softening words and phrases “perhaps,” “maybe,” “I think,” and “it seems,” the calibrated open-ended question takes the aggression out of a confrontational statement or close-ended request that might otherwise anger your counterpart.

What makes them work is that they are subject to interpretation by your counterpart instead of being rigidly defined. They allow you to introduce ideas and requests without sounding overbearing or pushy. That’s the difference between “You’re screwing me out of money, and it has to stop” and “How am I supposed to do that?” Calibrated questions offer no target for attack like statements do. Calibrated questions have the power to educate your counterpart on what the problem is rather than causing conflict by telling them what the problem is.

Calibrated questions are not just random requests for comment. They have a direction: once you figure out where you want a conversation to go, you have to design the questions that will ease the conversation in that direction while letting the other guy think it’s his choice to take you there.

The rules on creating calibrated questions

Calibrated questions avoid words that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”:

  • “can”
  • “is”
  • “are”
  • “do”
  • “does”

Calibrated questions start with a list of words people know as reporter’s questions:

  • “who”
  • “what”
  • “when”
  • “where”
  • “why”
  • “how”

These words inspire your counterpart to think and then speak expansively.

It’s best to start with “what,” “how,” and sometimes “why.” Nothing else. “Who,” “when,” and “where” will often just get your counterpart to share a fact without thinking.

Why asking “why” in negotiations can backfire

Regardless of what language the word “why” is translated into, it’s accusatory. There are very rare moments when this is to your advantage.

The only time you can use “why” successfully is when the defensiveness that is created supports the change you are trying to get them to see.

Examples of calibrated why questions

“Why would you ever change from the way you’ve always done things and try my approach?”

“Why would your company ever change from your long-standing vendor and choose our company?”

Tone of voice, respectful and deferential, is critical. Otherwise, treat “why” like a burner on a hot stove—don’t touch it.

Why you should mostly calibrate questions with "what" and "how"

You can use “what” and “how” to calibrate nearly any question.“Does this look like something you would like?” can become “How does this look to you?” or “What about this works for you?”something as harsh as “Why did you do it?” can be calibrated to “What caused you to do it?” which takes away the emotion and makes the question less accusatory.

Calibrated questions you will use in the beginning of nearly every negotiation.

  • What is the biggest challenge you face?
  • What about this is important to you?
  • How can I help to make this better for us?
  • How would you like me to proceed?
  • What is it that brought us into this situation?
  • How can we solve this problem?
  • What’s the objective? / What are we trying to accomplish here?
  • How am I supposed to do that?

Why calibrated questions work more effectively when negotiating with people who have big egos

The implication of any well-designed calibrated question is that you want what the other guy wants but you need his intelligence to overcome the problem. This really appeals to very aggressive or egotistical counterparts.

You’ve not only implicitly asked for help—triggering goodwill and less defensiveness—but you’ve engineered a situation in which your formerly recalcitrant counterpart is now using his mental and emotional resources to overcome your challenges.

It is the first step in your counterpart internalizing your way—and the obstacles in it—as his own. And that guides the other party toward designing a solution. Your solution.“When you originally approved this trip, what did you have in mind?”

How to use calibrated questions to overcome last-minute negotiation resistance

Anchor your negotiation partner's authority and autonomy by affirming that their perspective is what's important by implying subservience to it and prompting them to think of their original line of reasoning that resulted in negotiation success.

The danger of not calibrating your emotions

One vitally important thing you have to remember when you enter a negotiation armed with your list of calibrated questions. Without self-control and emotional regulation, it doesn’t work.

If you can’t control your own emotions, how can you expect to influence the emotions of another party?

How to salvage a broken financial agreement and ensure you get paid

  1. A “No”-oriented email question to reinitiate contact: “Have you given up on settling this amicably?”
  2. A statement that leaves only the answer of “That’s right” to form a dynamic of agreement: “It seems that you feel my bill is not justified.”
  3. Calibrated questions about the problem to get him to reveal his thinking: “How does this bill violate our agreement?”
  4. More “No”-oriented questions to remove unspoken barriers: “Are you saying I misled you?” “Are you saying I didn’t do as you asked?” “Are you saying I reneged on our agreement?” or “Are you saying I failed you?”
  5. Labeling and mirroring the essence of his answers if they are not acceptable so he has to consider them again: “It seems like you feel my work was subpar.” Or “. . . my work was subpar?”
  6. A calibrated question in reply to any offer other than full payment, in order to get him to offer a solution: “How am I supposed to accept that?”
  7. If none of this gets an offer of full payment, a label that flatters his sense of control and power: “It seems like you are the type of person who prides himself on the way he does business—rightfully so—and has a knack for not only expanding the pie but making the ship run more efficiently.”
  8. A long pause and then one more “No”-oriented question: “Do you want to be known as someone who doesn’t fulfill agreements?”

Scripts like this have a 90 percent success rate if the negotiator stays calm and rational.

How to remain calm and rational in a negotiation

Even with all the best techniques and strategy, you need to regulate your emotions if you want to have any hope of coming out on top.

The first and most basic rule of keeping your emotional cool is to bite your tongue.

Keep away from knee-jerk, passionate reactions. Pause. Think. Let the passion dissipate. That allows you to collect your thoughts and be more circumspect in what you say. It also lowers your chance of saying more than you want to.

When you are verbally assaulted, do not counterattack.

Instead, disarm your counterpart by asking a calibrated question. It will change the entire tenor of the conversation.

When people feel that they are not in control, they adopt what psychologists call a hostage mentality. That is, in moments of conflict they react to their lack of power by either becoming extremely defensive or lashing out.

Neurologically, in situations like this the fight-or-flight mechanism in the reptilian brain or the emotions in the limbic system overwhelm the rational part of our mind, the neocortex, leading us to overreact.

How to Spot Liars and Ensure Follow-Through from Everyone Else

Your job as a negotiator isn’t just to get to an agreement. It’s getting to one that can be implemented and making sure that happens. Negotiators have to be decision architects: they have to dynamically and adaptively design the verbal and nonverbal elements of the negotiation to gain both consent and execution.

“Yes” is nothing without “How.” While an agreement is nice, a contract is better, and a signed check is best. You don’t get your profits with the agreement. They come upon implementation.

Calibrated “How” questions are a surefire way to keep negotiations going. They put the pressure on your counterpart to come up with answers, and to contemplate your problems when making their demands.

The trick to “How” questions is that, correctly used, they are gentle and graceful ways to say “No” and guide your counterpart to develop a better solution—your solution. A gentle How/No invites collaboration and leaves your counterpart with a feeling of having been treated with respect.

The first and most common “No” question you’ll use is some version of “How am I supposed to do that?”

Your tone of voice is critical as this phrase can be delivered as either an accusation or a request for assistance. So pay attention to your voice.

Besides saying “No,” the other key benefit of asking “How?” is, quite literally, that it forces your counterpart to consider and explain how a deal will be implemented. A deal is nothing without good implementation. Poor implementation is the cancer that eats your profits. By making your counterparts articulate implementation in their own words, your carefully calibrated “How” questions will convince them that the final solution is their idea. And that’s crucial. People always make more effort to implement a solution when they think it’s theirs.

That’s why negotiation is often called “the art of letting someone else have your way.”

The two key questions that push counterparts to think they are defining success their way

  1. “How will we know we’re on track?”
  2. “How will we address things if we find we’re off track?”

Two telling signs that your counterpart doesn’t believe the idea is theirs

  1. When they say, “You’re right,”
  2. When you push for implementation and they say, “I’ll try”

Why success in negotiation depends on more than one person's agreement

There are almost always other players, people who can act as deal makers or deal killers. If you truly want to get to “Yes” and get your deal implemented, you have to discover how to affect these individuals.

When implementation happens by committee, the support of that committee is key. You always have to identify and unearth their motivations, even if you haven’t yet identified each individual on that committee. That can be easy as asking a few calibrated questions, like “How does this affect the rest of your team?” or “How on board are the people not on this call?” or simply “What do your colleagues see as their main challenges in this area?”

In any negotiation you have to analyze the entire negotiation space. When other people will be affected by what is negotiated and can assert their rights or power later on, it’s just stupid to consider only the interests of those at the negotiation table.

At the end of the day, the deal killers often are more important than the deal makers.

A surprisingly high percentage of negotiations hinge on something outside dollars and cents, often having more to do with self-esteem, status, and other non-financial needs.

Questions negotiators should ask to reveal the hidden interests of stakeholders and obstacles to implementation

How does this affect everybody else? How on board is the rest of your team? How do we make sure that we deliver the right material to the right people? How do we ensure the managers of those we’re training are fully on board?

How to spot liars, deal with jerks, and charm everyone else

As a negotiator, you’re going to run into guys who lie to your face and try to scare you into agreement. Aggressive jerks and serial fabricators come with the territory, and dealing with them is something you have to do.

Learning how to handle aggression and identify falsehood is just part of a larger issue:

Learning how to spot and interpret the subtleties of communication—both verbal and nonverbal—that reveal the mental states of your counterparts.

Effective negotiators are conscious of the verbal, paraverbal (how it’s said), and nonverbal communications that pervade negotiations and group dynamics.

How to Deal with Jerks

Use calibrated questions.

Keep peppering the violent jerk with:

  • How?
  • How am I supposed to . . . ?
  • How do we know . . . ?
  • How can we . . . ?

There is great power in treating jerks with deference. It gives you the ability to be extremely assertive—to say “No”—in a hidden fashion.

It’s best not to go chin to chin with aggressiveness. Default to using “what” and “how” questions to avoid making bids or adjusting your own negotiating position. Dodge and weave.

A repetitive series of “What” and “How” questions can help you overcome the aggressive tactics of a manipulative adversary.


Only 7 percent of a message is based on the words while 38 percent comes from the tone of voice and 55 percent from the speaker’s body language and face.

Body language and tone of voice—not words—are our most powerful assessment tools.

How to spot when your negotiation counterpart is lying

Pay very close attention to tone and body language to make sure they match up with the literal meaning of the words. If they don’t align, it’s quite possible that the speaker is lying or at least unconvinced.

What to do when your negotiation counterpart may be lying

When someone’s tone of voice or body language does not align with the meaning of the words they say, use labels to discover the source of the incongruence. Here’s an example:

You: “So we’re agreed?”

Them: “Yes . . .”

You: “I heard you say, ‘Yes,’ but it seemed like there was hesitation in your voice.”

Them: “Oh, it’s nothing really.”

You: “No, this is important, let’s make sure we get this right.”

Them: “Thanks, I appreciate it.”

How to avoid receiving counterfeit "yes" answers from your negotiation counterpart

Use the Rule of Three.

Getting the other person to agree to the same thing three times in the same conversation.

It’s really hard to repeatedly lie or fake conviction.

To avoid sounding like a broken record or coming off as really pushy, vary your tactics.

The first time they agree to something or give you a commitment, that’s No. 1. For No. 2 you might label or summarize what they said so they answer, “That’s right.” And No. 3 could be a calibrated “How” or “What” question about implementation that asks them to explain what will constitute success, something like “What do we do if we get off track?”

Going at the same issue three times uncovers falsehoods as well as the incongruences between words and body language.

How to spot when people are lying

Most people offer obvious telltale signs when they’re lying.

In a study of the components of lying, Harvard Business School professor Deepak Malhotra and his coauthors found that, on average, liars use more words than truth tellers and use far more third-person pronouns. They start talking about him, her, it, one, they, and their rather than I, in order to put some distance between themselves and the lie.

Liars tend to speak in more complex sentences in an attempt to win over their suspicious counterparts.

People who are lying are, understandably, more worried about being believed, so they work harder—too hard, as it were—at being believable.

Why good negotiators pay attention to their counterpart's use of pronouns

The use of pronouns by a counterpart can also help give you a feel for their actual importance in the decision and implementation chains on the other side of the table. The more in love they are with “I,” “me,” and “my” the less important they are.

Conversely, the harder it is to get a first person pronoun out of a negotiator’s mouth, the more important they are.

Smart decision makers don’t want to be cornered at the table into making a decision. They will defer to the people away from the table to keep from getting pinned down.

Why using your own name in negotiations gives you better leverage

using your own name creates the dynamic of “forced empathy.” It makes the other side see you as a person.

Humanize yourself. Use your name to introduce yourself. Say it in a fun, friendly way.

How to get your counterparts to bid against themselves

The best way to get your counterparts to lower their demands is to say “No” using “How” questions. These indirect ways of saying “No” won’t shut down your counterpart the way a blunt, pride-piercing “No” would.

These responses sound so much like counter-bids that your counterparts will often keep bidding against themselves.

4 ways to say "No" indirectly

  1. “How am I supposed to do that?”
  2. “Your offer is very generous, I’m sorry, that just doesn’t work for me”
  3. “I’m sorry but I’m afraid I just can’t do that.”
  4. “I’m sorry, no”

How to Get Your Price

Why negotiators often make mistakes in bargaining

No part of a negotiation induces more anxiety and unfocused aggression than bargaining, which is why it’s the part that is more often fumbled and mishandled than any other.

Bargaining is not simple intuition or mathematics.

What it takes to bargain well

To bargain well, you need to shed your assumptions about the haggling process and learn to recognize the subtle psychological strategies that play vital roles at the bargaining table. Skilled bargainers see more than just opening offers, counteroffers, and closing moves. They see the psychological currents that run below the surface.

Why identifying your counterpart's negotiating style is critical to getting the best price

Negotiation style is a crucial variable in bargaining. If you don’t know what instinct will tell you or the other side to do in various circumstances, you’ll have massive trouble gaming out effective strategies and tactics.

The three types of negotiators

  1. Analysts
  2. Accommodators
  3. Assertive

Why it pays to cooperate in negotiation

A study of American lawyer-negotiators1 found that 65 percent of attorneys from two major U.S. cities used a cooperative style while only 24 percent were truly assertive. And when these lawyers were graded for effectiveness, more than 75 percent of the effective group came from the cooperative type; only 12 percent were Assertive.

How to spot an analyst type negotiator

Analysts are methodical and diligent. They believe that as long as they are working toward the best result in a thorough and systematic way, time is of little consequence. Their self-image is linked to minimizing mistakes. Their motto: As much time as it takes to get it right.

They rarely show emotion, and they often use what is very close to the FM DJ Voice, slow and measured with a downward inflection.

How analysts types struggle in negotiation

Analysts often speak in a way that is distant and cold instead of soothing. This puts people off without them knowing it and actually limits them from putting their counterpart at ease and opening them up.

Analysts are hypersensitive to reciprocity. They will give you a piece, but if they don’t get a piece in return within a certain period of time, they lose trust and will disengage.

How analysts typically negotiate

They will often view concessions by their counterpart as a new piece of information to be taken back and evaluated. Don’t expect immediate counterproposals from them.

How to negotiate with analyst types

People like this are skeptical by nature. So asking too many questions to start is a bad idea, because they’re not going to want to answer until they understand all the implications.

Use clear data to drive your reason; don’t ad-lib; use data comparisons to disagree and focus on the facts; warn them of issues early; and avoid surprises.

How analysts view negotiation tactics

Silence to them is an opportunity to think. They’re not mad at you and they’re not trying to give you a chance to talk more. If you feel they don’t see things the way you do, give them a chance to think first.

How analysts respond to negotiating tactics

Apologies have little value to them since they see the negotiation and their relationship with you as a person largely as separate things. They respond fairly well in the moment to labels. They are not quick to answer calibrated questions, or closed-ended questions when the answer is “Yes.” They may need a few days to respond.

What analysts types need to keep in mind when negotiating

If you’re an analyst you should be worried about cutting yourself off from an essential source of data, your counterpart. The single biggest thing you can do is to smile when you speak. People will be more forthcoming with information to you as a result. Smiling can also become a habit that makes it easy for you to mask any moments you’ve been caught off guard.

How to spot an accommodator type negotiator

The most important thing to this type of negotiator is the time spent building the relationship. Accommodators think as long as there is a free-flowing continuous exchange of information time is being well spent. As long as they’re communicating, they’re happy. Their goal is to be on great terms with their counterpart. They love the win-win.

They are most likely to build great rapport without actually accomplishing anything.

Accommodators want to remain friends with their counterpart even if they can’t reach an agreement. They are very easy to talk to, extremely friendly, and have pleasant voices. They will yield a concession to appease or acquiesce and hope the other side reciprocates.

If your counterparts are sociable, peace-seeking, optimistic, distractible, and poor time managers, they’re probably Accommodators.

How to negotiate with accommodators

If they’re your counterpart, be sociable and friendly. Listen to them talk about their ideas and use calibrated questions focused specifically on implementation to nudge them along and find ways to translate their talk into action. Due to their tendency to be the first to activate the reciprocity cycle, they may have agreed to give you something they can’t actually deliver.

Why negotiating with accommodators can be difficult

Uncovering their objections can be difficult. They will have identified potential problem areas beforehand and will leave those areas unaddressed out of fear of the conflict they may cause.

How accommodators types should negotiate

Stick to your ability to be very likable, but do not sacrifice your objections. Not only do the other two types need to hear your point of view; if you are dealing with another Accommodator they will welcome it. Also be conscious of excess chitchat: the other two types have no use for it, and if you’re sitting across the table from someone like yourself you will be prone to interactions where nothing gets done.

How to spot an assertive type negotiator

The Assertive type believes time is money; every wasted minute is a wasted dollar. Their self-image is linked to how many things they can get accomplished in a period of time. For them, getting the solution perfect isn’t as important as getting it done.

How assertive types view negotiation

Most of all, the Assertive wants to be heard. And not only do they want to be heard, but they don’t actually have the ability to listen to you until they know that you’ve heard them. They focus on their own goals rather than people. And they tell rather than ask.

How to negotiate with assertive negotiators

When you’re dealing with Assertive types, it’s best to focus on what they have to say, because once they are convinced you understand them, then and only then will they listen for your point of view.

To an Assertive, every silence is an opportunity to speak more. Mirrors are a wonderful tool with this type. So are calibrated questions, labels, and summaries. The most important thing to get from an Assertive will be a “that’s right” that may come in the form of a “that’s it exactly” or “you hit it on the head.”

The danger of negotiating with assertive type negotiators

When it comes to reciprocity, this type is of the “give an inch/take a mile” mentality. They will have figured they deserve whatever you have given them so they will be oblivious to expectations of owing something in return. They will actually simply be looking for the opportunity to receive more. If they have given some kind of concession, they are surely counting the seconds until they get something in return.

How assertive types should negotiate

Be particularly conscious of your tone. You will not intend to be overly harsh but you will often come off that way. Intentionally soften your tone and work to make it more pleasant. Use calibrated questions and labels with your counterpart since that will also make you more approachable and increase the chances for collaboration.

How different negotiation types view time

  • Analysts: time = preparation
  • Accommodators: time = relationship
  • Assertive: time = money

How different different negotiation types view silence

  • Analyst: silence is an opportunity to think
  • Accommodators: silence signals lack of rapport
  • Assertive: silence is an opportunity to speak

How silence affects negotiating types

When an Analyst pauses to think, their Accommodator counterpart gets nervous and an Assertive one starts talking, thereby annoying the Analyst, who thinks "Every time I try to think you take that as an opportunity to talk some more. Won’t you ever shut up?"

Why people often fail to identify their counterpart’s style

The greatest obstacle to accurately identifying someone else’s style is our hypothesis that the world should look to others as it looks to us.

Thinking you’re normal is one of the most damaging assumptions in negotiations.

There’s a 66 percent chance your counterpart has a different style than yours.

How to defend against extreme price anchoring

First, deflect

Successful negotiators often say “No” (“How am I supposed to accept that?”) or deflect the anchor with questions like “What are we trying to accomplish here?”

You can also respond to a punch-in-the-face anchor by simply pivoting to terms. Detour the conversation to the non-monetary issues that make any final price work.

Do this directly by saying, in an encouraging tone of voice, “Let’s put price off to the side for a moment and talk about what would make this a good deal.”

“What else would you be able to offer to make that a good price for me?”

If the other side pushes you to go first, wriggle from his grip. Instead of naming a price, allude to an incredibly high number that someone else might charge.

Why selectively using anger can be your ally in negotiation

Marwan Sinaceur of INSEAD and Stanford University’s Larissa Tiedens found that expressions of anger increase a negotiator’s advantage and final take. Anger shows passion and conviction that can help sway the other side to accept less.

The danger of using anger in negotiations

By heightening your counterpart’s sensitivity to danger and fear, your anger reduces the resources they have for other cognitive activity, setting them up to make bad concessions that will likely lead to implementation problems, thus reducing your gains.

The Goodfellas technique

Feign naivety and ask why they would ever do something that benefits you.

  • Why would you ever do business with me?
  • Why would you ever change from your existing supplier?

In these questions, the “Why?” coaxes your counterpart into working for you.

The haggling system Chris Voss swears by

The Ackerman model

An offer-counteroffer method. It is a very effective system for beating the usual lackluster bargaining dynamic, which has the predictable result of meeting in the middle.

  1. Set your target price (your goal).
  2. Set your first offer at 65 percent of your target price.
  3. Calculate three raises of decreasing increments (to 85, 95, and 100 percent).
  4. Use lots of empathy and different ways of saying “No” to get the other side to counter before you increase your offer.
  5. When calculating the final amount, use precise, nonround numbers like, say, $37,893 rather than $38,000. It gives the number credibility and weight.
  6. On your final number, throw in a non-monetary item (that they probably don’t want) to show you’re at your limit.

The genius of this system is that it incorporates psychological tactics (reciprocity, extreme anchors, loss aversion) without you needing to think about them.

First, the original offer of 65 percent of your target price will set an extreme anchor, a big slap in the face that might bring your counterpart right to their price limit.

The progressive offer increases work on various levels. They play on the norm of reciprocity; they inspire your counterpart to make a concession.

Second, the diminishing size of the increases convinces your counterpart that he’s squeezing you to the point of breaking.

Finally, the power of non-round numbers works on our human nature. It makes a difference every time. Even if we know it’s a trick.

Why negotiators are better off giving concessions than their best price

Researchers have found that people getting concessions often feel better about the bargaining process than those who are given a single firm, “fair” offer. In fact, they feel better even when they end up paying more—or receiving less—than they otherwise might.

How to Create Negotiation Breakthroughs by Revealing Unknown Unknowns

The 3 different types of information that affects negotiations

  1. known knowns
  2. known unknowns
  3. unknown unknowns

In every negotiating session, there are different kinds of information.

There are those things we know, like our counterpart’s name and their offer and our experiences from other negotiations. Those are known knowns.

There are those things we are certain that exist but we don’t know, like the possibility that the other side might get sick and leave us with another counterpart. Those are known unknowns

Most important are those things we don’t know that we don’t know, pieces of information we’ve never imagined but that would be game changing if uncovered. These unknown unknowns are Black Swans.

Why great negotiators follow the data where it takes them

We must never overvalue our experience or undervalue the informational and emotional realities served up moment by moment in whatever situation we face.

Chris Voss's theory on the hidden information in negotiations

In every negotiation each side is in possession of at least three Black Swans, three pieces of information that, were they to be discovered by the other side, would change everything.

The problem with conventional negotiation questioning

People don’t know the questions to ask the customer, the user . . . the counterpart. Unless correctly interrogated, most people aren’t able to articulate the information you want.

Conventional questioning and research techniques are designed to confirm known knowns and reduce uncertainty. They don’t dig into the unknown.

The person best able to unearth, adapt to, and exploit the unknowns will come out on top.

Negotiation leverage in theory

In theory, leverage is the ability to inflict loss and withhold gain. Where does your counterpart want to gain and what do they fear losing? Discover these pieces of information, we are told, and you’ll build leverage over the other side’s perceptions, actions, and decisions.

Negotiation leverage in practice

In practice, where our irrational perceptions are our reality, loss and gain are slippery notions, and it often doesn’t matter what leverage actually exists against you; what really matters is the leverage they think you have on them.

As a negotiator you should always be aware of which side, at any given moment, feels they have the most to lose if negotiations collapse. The party who feels they have more to lose and are the most afraid of that loss has less leverage, and vice versa. To get leverage, you have to persuade your counterpart that they have something real to lose if the deal falls through.

The three types of negotiation leverage

  1. positive leverage
  2. negative leverage
  3. normative leverage

Positive leverage

Your ability as a negotiator to provide—or withhold—things that your counterpart wants. Whenever the other side says, “I want . . .” as in, “I want to buy your car,” you have positive leverage.

You can make their desire come true; you can withhold it and thereby inflict pain; or you can use their desire to get a better deal with another party.

Negative leverage

Negative leverage is a negotiator’s ability to make his counterpart suffer.

You have negative leverage if you can tell your counterpart, “If you don’t fulfill your commitment/pay your bill/etc., I will destroy your reputation.” This sort of leverage gets people’s attention because of loss aversion.

Effective negotiators have long known and psychologists have repeatedly proved, potential losses loom larger in the human mind than do similar gains. Getting a good deal may push us toward making a risky bet, but saving our reputation from destruction is a much stronger motivation.

Normative leverage

Normative leverage is using the other party’s norms and standards to advance your position. If you can show inconsistencies between their beliefs and their actions, you have normative leverage.

The danger of using Negative Leverage in negotiation

The harder we push the more likely we are to be met with resistance. This is called the “paradox of power”. That’s why you have to use negative leverage sparingly.

Why you should learn your counterpart's "religion"

By positioning your demands within the worldview your counterpart uses to make decisions, you show them respect and that gets you attention and results. Knowing your counterpart’s religion is more than just gaining normative leverage, it’s gaining a holistic understanding of your counterpart’s worldview and using that knowledge to inform your negotiating moves.

Using your counterpart’s religion is extremely effective in large part because it has authority over them.

The Similarity Principle

We trust people more when we view them as being similar or familiar. People trust those who are in their in-group. Belonging is a primal instinct. If you can trigger that instinct, you immediately gain influence.

When our counterpart displays attitudes, beliefs, ideas—even types of dressing—that are similar to our own, we tend to like and trust them more.

How to employ your counterpart's "religion" in negotiation

Once you know your counterpart’s religion and can visualize what he truly wants out of life, you can employ those aspirations as a way to get him to follow you.

When someone displays a passion for what we’ve always wanted and conveys a purposeful plan of how to get there, we allow our perceptions of what’s possible to change. We’re all hungry for a map to joy, and when someone is courageous enough to draw it for us, we naturally follow.

When you ascertain your counterpart’s unattained goals, invoke your own power and follow-ability by expressing passion for their goals—and for their ability to achieve them.

The hidden persuasion power of "because"

Research studies have shown that people respond favorably to requests made in a reasonable tone of voice and followed with a “because” reason.

In a famous study from the late 1970s,3 Harvard psychology professor Ellen Langer and her colleagues approached people waiting for copy machines and asked if they could cut the line. Without her giving a reason, 60 percent let her through, but when she did give one, more than 90 percent did. And it didn’t matter if the reason made sense.

When negotiators are most likely to discover black swans

The moment when we’re most ready to throw our hands up and declare “They’re crazy!” is often the best moment for discovering Black Swans that transform a negotiation. It is when we hear or see something that doesn’t make sense—something “crazy”—that a crucial fork in the road is presented: push forward, even more forcefully, into that which we initially can’t process; or take the other path, the one to guaranteed failure, in which we tell ourselves that negotiating was useless anyway.

Three reasons negotiators mistakenly call their counterparts crazy

  1. counterparts are ill-informed
  2. counterparts are restrained
  3. counterparts have outside interests

How counterparts being ill-informed affects negotiation

Often the other side is acting on bad information, and when people have bad information they make bad choices. People operating with incomplete information appear crazy to those who have different information. Your job when faced with someone like this in a negotiation is to discover what they do not know and supply that information.

How counterparts being restrained affects negotiation

In any negotiation where your counterpart is acting wobbly, there exists a distinct possibility that they have things they can’t do but aren’t eager to reveal. Such constraints can make the sanest counterpart seem irrational. The other side might not be able to do something because of legal advice, or because of promises already made, or even to avoid setting a precedent.

Or they may just not have the power to close the deal.

How counterparts having outsides interests affects negotiation

The presence of hidden interests isn’t as rare as you might think. Your counterpart will often reject offers for reasons that have nothing to do with their merits.

Whatever the specifics of the situation, these people are not acting irrationally. They are simply complying with needs and desires that you don’t yet understand, what the world looks like to them based on their own set of rules. Your job is to bring these Black Swans to light.

How to unearth the unknown unknowns in negotiation

  1. Get face-time with your negotiation counterpart
  2. Observe unguarded moments
  3. Watch out for what doesn't make sense

The final word on negotiation

One can only be an exceptional negotiator by both listening and speaking clearly and empathetically; by treating counterparts—and oneself—with dignity and respect; and most of all by being honest about what one wants and what one can—and cannot—do. Every negotiation, every conversation, every moment of life, is a series of small conflicts that, managed well, can rise to creative beauty.