Top Takeaways from My Interview with Chris Voss, Author of Never Split the Difference

This week on the podcast I chatted with Chris Voss, author of Never Split the Difference and founder and CEO of Black Swan Group about all things negotiation.


This week on the podcast I chatted with Chris Voss, author of Never Split the Difference and founder and CEO of Black Swan Group about all things negotiation. Below are just some of the takeaways from our conversation plus the video of the full interview. If you haven’t read his book, it’s a must-read for anyone in sales. Go grab yourself a copy!

You Probably Aren’t Listening

Chris is really big into what he calls, Tactical Empathy. That begins by listening to what the other side is saying. Many sales reps have been trained to get to “yes,” no matter what your prospect says. If you have a rebuttal for everything that your prospect says that will lead them into yes and that they need your solution, you aren’t really listening to them.

It might seem ridiculously obvious, but people get upset when they aren’t heard. If you go into a negotiation so determined to be heard, how can you listen to your prospects?

In your next meeting, before you go into your value-prop or your pitch and why they should do business with you, take some time to really understand what your prospects are looking for. Use pauses appropriately, summarize what you heard from them and ask follow up clarifying questions.

Happy Ears and Selective Listening

It’s very easy to get happy ears in a deal. When we get everything in a deal and everything feels great or we think there is a chance, it can be dangerous. This is the problem with always looking for a “yes” as stated above. We need to be comfortable challenging the prospect from the beginning. You need to be comfortable disqualifying them from the moment you start talking.

Win-Win Leaves You Vulnerable and Yes Can Take You Hostage

We’re often trained to look for “yes” answers that we can go back to later and reference. Or, we have been told to get a bunch of “yes” answers to questions throughout the sales process to condition them for the final “yes” at the end when we ask for the contract. Chris Voss respects the author of “Getting to Yes,” but thinks he has it all wrong.

The negotiators that use the phrase win-win early on are the ones you have to look out for the most. Whenever someone asks Chris about win-win the conversation he quickly comes back to saying something like “I say win-win, but I always anchor high.”

Think back to the last time someone mentioned win-win early on. Did they ask you for a steep discount in exchange for a testimonial or something similar?

Having a great working relationship where both sides are happy comes down to the difference in outcomes how the process felt. Chris says the goal of any negotiation is for the other side to feel good, you don’t want them to feel like they lost, and to be better off than they were before.

When it comes to yes, you don’t want to be taken hostage to the vision of a rosier future, or afraid to say no down the road. Saying yes can also make prospects and customers uncomfortable because it means they’re committing to something. By getting them to say “no” early on it makes them feel more in control and open them up.

The Most Dangerous Negotiation

What is the most dangerous negotiation? The one you don’t know you’re in. For sales, the negotiating starts the moment we pick up the phone. Chris calls this the “law of negotiation gravity.” You may not like that you’ll fall off the cliff, but that doesn’t change gravity. If you think you haven’t been in a negotiation from the moment you started talking, you’re in trouble.

The way you’ve managed the sales process from the start can make or break a deal before the price is even discussed. If you’ve been a pain to work with for your prospect, they may think that the whole company will be like that and never talk to you again. On the other hand, if you’ve been a pushover from the beginning then they will inherently take advantage of you and the more you give the less respect you get. Sometimes we give so much that the client stops seeing our solution as valuable and decided to go with someone else.

Remember, you’re in a negotiation from the moment you pick up the phone.

Simple Questions Aren’t So Simple

A go-to question like “Is now a good time to chat?” isn’t so simple. It’s actually about four individual questions.

Do I want to talk to you?
Do I want to talk about what you want to talk about?
How long are we going to be on the phone?
How do I get off the phone?

The danger of this is that you can’t answer “Is now a good time to talk?” without those four questions running through your head and being distracted. We also talked about how some questions like “Can you tell me more about that?” is actually a command rather than a question.

Enjoy the full video of our interview below, and listen on the go on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcatcher. Want more tips from Chris? Text FBIEMPATHY to 22828 to sign up for his newsletter, The Edge.

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