Negotiating as if you life depended on it, Finding the Black Swans

Negotiation is an important part of business and life.

In every aspect of our life we trade in and out things. With our boss, our teachers, our spouse with the shop owner to get a discount on something. “Never split the difference, Negotiating as if you life depended on it” is an engaging book that teaches how to negotiate effectively. The author of this book, the ex-chief negotiator of FBI for kidnappings and teacher of negotiation at Harvard, MIT and Kellogg universities Chris Voss, provides a summary of the practical techniques he used in solving though negotiation with high stakes. Every chapter provides a series of compelling stories from his years of FBI expertise and his MBA pupils business’ experiences that illustrate the negotiation skills in action in real instances and the reasoning behind them.

The negotiation abilities taught in the book help to uncover the known unknowns, things that, like in a game of poker we are certain exist in the game but we do not know yet.


“known unknowns are things we are certain exist in the game but we did not know yet”

The main tools described to uncover the known unknowns range from the traditional ones such as tone of voice, calibrated questions, use of precise numbers, and smiling while negotiating to more innovative ideas such as mirroring, the technique of repeating the important part of the other speech in a particular way to create empathy, Labeling, the technique of strategically summarizing the counterpart’s thought with the impersonal sentences like “It seems that…” to defuse conflict and finding new information, the psychological importance of getting a No before the yes to reveal the real stakes in the negotiation, The importance to avoid Why questions ( in every language a question that starts with a why requires a justification as an answer and therefore highlights an explicit or implicit accusation), the importance to get a “That’s right” in the conversation against a dismissive “You are right” to get rid of you, and many others techniques.

A pivotal concept explained in the book is the existence of the Black Swans or the unknown unknowns, critical hidden information that is game changing in the negotiation dynamics.

“Black Swans are red flags/clues that tell us that what appears in front of us is not the ordinary standard negotiation routine but an exception”

Black Swans are red flags/clues that tell us that what appears in front of us is not the ordinary standard negotiation routine but an exception. For example in the book there are various examples where these clues were present: from the first kidnapping where the perpetrator wanted to be killed instead of cashing money, to the more ordinary examples such as when a real estate agent inadvertently revealed that its client needed the money from its 4.3 million dollars property to pay mortgages on other properties, allowing for the negotiation of a much cheaper final price of 3.55 million dollars

Black Swans are leverages that can give the negotiator the advantage on the counterpart and the book discusses on how to spot them with all the methods discussed in it.

I highly recommend this book because it changed completely my perception about negotiation and I think it should be a mandatory reading in every business school and negotiation practice.

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