Recently, a kind friend presented me with a copy of Chris Voss’s Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It.
I suspect the gift was occasioned by a conversation in which I admitted to having no business sense. In fact, it seems that in any enterprise where money is made or paid, I am destined to buy high and sell low. Had the good Lord not blessed me with many generous benefactors, this might have proved disastrous long ago.
As Voss notes, the negotiation techniques he describes might appear to be forms of psychological manipulation. His formal response, that these practices help to identify what is truly at stake in a given exchange, is a bit thin as stated, but may point to the highest potential of his advice.
Voss’s central claim is that negotiation is not as strictly rational a process as experts have claimed. Here he is referencing the spurious modern concept of reason, artificially divorced from the passions it allegedly exists to satisfy.
Though Voss sees himself as questioning the centrality of reason, he in fact demonstrates one of its primary powers.
When we acknowledge the role emotion plays in decision making, we are able to verbalize and thereby conceptualize our emotions. This has the benefit of moving them from the emotional part of our brain, where they dominate our thinking, to the conceptual part of our brain, where thinking can govern them.
Most of the strategies Voss recommends revolve around the notion of empathy. Understanding where the other party is coming from does not mean agreeing with him. Most of Voss’s “counterparts” are kidnappers, bank robbers, or terrorists, with whom we are not tempted to sympathize at all.
Still, showing that we comprehend the other person simultaneously wins his trust and respect, and (through the brain shift described above) helps him to reflect on his own demands more reasonably than before.
Another key technique—asking for the other’s advice—encourages him to get outside of his own ego. Even when this step is taken for selfish reasons, the encounter with a larger reality provides the other with an opportunity to demonstrate his magnanimity by offering more generous terms.
I’m not sure whether this book will make a businessman out of me, but it strikes me that Voss’s approach could be just what we need to repair our broken political society.
Civil discourse depends on bridging the divide among competing factions. Even when one side is objectively right and the other wrong, merely demonstrating that fact is insufficient. If we are to win others over to sound ideas and policies, we need to appeal to their emotions in a way that makes them more susceptible to the influence of reason.
Perhaps a political application of Never Split the Difference would be just the thing to patch up this splitting republic of ours.
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