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Susan Shek; Amazon/Insider
- As a solopreneur for the past 7 years, I realized one of my biggest weaknesses is negotiating.
- I read the book “Never Split the Difference” which felt like a detailed negotiation course.
- My biggest takeaways were to ask calibrated questions and let the other party speak first.
For the past seven years, I’ve worked for myself as a solopreneur. A big thing I found missing from my previous full-time job was having annual reviews where my boss would share the strengths and weaknesses of my performance.
To make up for that, I used the month of December to take inventory of different areas that I could improve on in the new year. One of the most glaring skills I needed to work on was negotiation, since so many deals I closed with clients this year paid me less than I initially proposed.
To help me become less of a passive-aggressive entrepreneur and more of a confident negotiator, I read the bestselling book “Never Split the Difference” by Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator (who also has a MasterClass on this topic) and Tahl Raz, an author and journalist.
Chris Voss, the author of “Never Split the Difference,” demonstrating a negotiation technique in his MasterClass.
It empowered me with surprising tools and techniques that I plan to use in all my negotiations going forward. Here are the five that stuck out the most.
“No” is how negotiations start, not end.
Oftentimes, I’m negotiating the price and terms of a service, whether it’s a fee for a speaking engagement or six weeks’ worth of consulting work for a company. I enter those conversations with a pitch of how much money I’d like to receive and hope for an automatic “yes” — which rarely happens.
It was eye-opening to read that the word “no” is the start of a negotiation, not the end of it. So often, when someone declines my first pitch, my heart starts to race, I get defensive, or I just assume the deal is over.
Instead, Voss encouraged negotiators to seek out a “no,” so that they can get more clarity on what parts of the deal the other side isn’t comfortable with, wants to change, or simply doesn’t understand.
When you get a “no,” he suggests following up with questions that help both parties come to a solution. For example, asking “What about this doesn’t work for you?” or “What would you need to make this work?”
That can help you figure out what part of the deal might need to be edited, rearranged, or changed to get to that “yes.”
Pay attention to your tone of voice.
Smiling, especially when you feel like you can get defensive or angry, can help keep negotiations collaborative.
When I’m negotiating the cost of my services with potential clients, my tone of voice can show hints of frustration and even gets louder if the point I’m trying to get across is rejected.
Managing your tone of voice is one of the first things mentioned in the book. It not only sets the stage for how your negotiation can go but can also disarm the other person — especially if they come to the table with a more aggressive approach.
Voss recommended a simple yet powerful technique for engaging in a conversation where you know your tone might get intense or defensive: Smile.
Smiling can not only change how your voice sounds but also shows the other person that you’re in a positive frame of mind. When they see that, Voss says they are more likely to collaborate and change how they approach the negotiation terms.
While he recommends using this easygoing voice as your default one in tough conversations, you can also occasionally use what he calls a “late-night DJ voice” when you want to make a strong point. The use of a calm and slow tone can give you an air of trust.
Try letting the other person start first.
When I hop on a call to negotiate a price for one of my services, I often start off the conversation by sharing a proposal that details all of my requests.
Voss said it’s okay to try an approach called anchoring, where you let the other party share their offer first, in case it’s higher than what you had planned to ask.
This is especially helpful to me in situations where I’m working with a corporate client who might have a big budget — I might not be able to guess how much they are willing to pay for my service.
Voss did warn that when you let the other party share their expectations and pricing first, you could hear a number way lower than what you planned for. In those cases, the negotiation might require additional techniques, like finding a middle ground or even getting the other party to agree to other perks or accommodations.
Ask carefully calibrated questions.
When I enter negotiations, I find myself so nervous that I end up just rambling and hardly ever pause to ask anything.
Voss recommended asking carefully assessed questions that can make your counterpart feel more in charge, even though you’re the one guiding the conversation. Some examples include:
- What about this is important to you?
- How can I help to make this better for us?
- How can we solve this problem?
- How am I supposed to do that?
All of these ask your counterpart for help and get them to start solving a problem to push the negotiation forward — and closer to a solution.
Remember the 7-38-55 rule, which prioritizes body language.
Your body language accounts for about 55% of your message.
While it can often feel like negations are mainly based on words, they surprisingly hold far less weight than I realized. Voss referenced a method created by Albert Mehrabian, a professor of psychology, called the 7-38-55 rule, which states that 7% of a message is verbal communication, 38% comes from the tone of voice, and 55% is delivered through the speaker’s body language and facial expressions.
Understanding this helped me realize the importance of paying attention to my body language (keeping a good posture and maintaining eye contact) and tone of voice (swapping an aggressive tone for the “radio DJ” one).
The bottom line
As someone who works for myself, personal development is something I have to seek out to advance in my career. The tools I got from reading “Never Split the Difference” not only felt like I took a detailed online course about negotiation, but helped me visualize and strategize how to approach these skills in 2023.