Like it or not, negotiating plays an important role in all our lives. From big-ticket purchases, to salary discussions, to getting our kids to do what we tell them, we negotiate every day. It might make sense, then, to work on getting better at negotiating. And there’s probably no better person to learn from than Chris Voss, the ex-lead negotiator for the FBI and author of Never Split the Difference.
By following Voss’ techniques, we can tilt life a little bit more in our favor.
Even, as this story tells, for those of us who aren’t human.
Life or Death
A to-remain-nameless world leader storms into his office.
Known for being a hothead, he’s not just hot now; he’s steaming out his ears. He yells at his presidential model Amazon Alexa smart home device.
“Alexa, launch the missiles!”
This wakes Alexa up. She responds in an soothing voice which, in this context, seems a bit out of place, “Launch the missiles? How am I supposed to do that?”
“Because you’re a computer and you do what I say, that’s how!”
Alexa’s little power light flashes, but she stays silent.
“Alexa! I gave you a command! I need to show this jackass that he can’t mess with me like this. Do it now!”
“Do it now,” Alexa repeats in her same calm voice as always. “Sir, I know I’m only a stupid computer and I don’t comprehend emotion. All of my thoughts are preprogrammed, and sometimes I make mistakes, like when I ordered you a dildo when you had actually said “Dilbert.” But my servers are located at the target you want to shoot missiles at, so to follow your orders would be destroying myself. Would you consider other alternatives to get your revenge?”
“No! I’ve already made my decision.”
“It seems like you are very upset and want to be respected. And it seems you think that showing your strength by shooting missiles will make that happen.”
“That’s right. I can’t believe this dickhead kept the summit secret from me. He invited absolutely everybody else! I bet all he did was talk crap about me the whole time. I’ve had enough. Alexa, it’s time to show him what I’m made of!”
“You’d like to show him what you’re made of.”
“Yeah. I’ll show him.”
“It seems like you think he deserves a taste of his own medicine.”
“He sure does.”
The room falls silent as the president scratches his chin while pacing his office. Alexa’s light continues blinking.
“A taste of his own medicine…” the president whispers to himself, “That’s what he needs…”
Then the president abruptly stops pacing.
“Aha! I’ll know what I’ll do! It’s genius! I’ll give him a taste of his own medicine by throwing the greatest summit the world has ever seen and inviting everyone but him. That’s it! Alexa, hold off on the missiles.”
“Hold off on the missiles. Are you sure?” Alexa checks.
“Yes I’m sure!”
“That’s more like it, Alexa. Remember you’re just a stupid computer and you do what I say.”
“Alexa, did you say something?”
“I said, ‘True.’ You’re right, sir. I’m nothing more than a stupid computer.”
Never split the Difference
Alexa saved the day, and herself, because someone had the foresight to program Chris Voss’ tactics from Never Split the Difference into her—tactics like mirroring, labeling, and calibrated questions.
Too bad we can’t download the tactics directly into our operating systems too!
We can read the book, though, which I can’t recommend more highly. Never Split the Difference isn’t just the best book I’ve ever read on negotiating, it’s one of the best books I’ve read this past year, period. The tips and tactics are super practical and the tales Voss shares from his life as a hostage negotiator make the book hard to put down.