Home All Never Split the Difference! (Watermark Event with Chris Voss)

Never Split the Difference! (Watermark Event with Chris Voss)

written by Editor S.M. 21 July 2016

Senia Maymin is the founder and editor-in-chief of PositivePsychologyNews.com. She was the series editor for the Positive Psychology News book series that recently published the first book, Resilience: How to Navigate Life's Curves. (Bio, Articles)

What should you write in an email if you want a response within minutes? Why is it a good strategy to get your negotiation counterpart to say “No”? These are two of the questions that Chris Voss addressed to a standing-room-only audience at a Watermark event on June 30, 2016. Watermark is the largest women’s membership organization in the Bay Area in California.

Who is Chris Voss?

Chris Voss is a former FBI hostage negotiator. In his new book, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, he proposes techniques that lead Wharton professor Adam Grant to say, “This book blew my mind.”

In the Watermark talk, Voss offered several counterintuitive techniques for negotiation. He backed them up with examples from negotiating for hostage release as well as with personal examples that were usually funny and unexpected. While Voss didn’t highlight the research angle in his talk, his book generally backs up his techniques with thorough support from psychological research.

What were his counterintuitive techniques?

Here’s a sampler of the techniques he discussed:

  1. Get your counterpart to say “No.”


    Voss recommends the negotiations technique of getting your counterpart to say “No.” Voss cautions that as people who want a positive interaction, many of us want to get our counterpart to say “Yes.” Voss points out that saying “Yes” is often a way to express fake agreement. While we might want the other side to agree with us, Voss cautions that Yes-type agreement is usually superficial and not long-lasting.

    On the contrary, Voss recommends rephrasing key statements to instigate a “No” answer. Voss once asked Jack Welch, “Would it be ridiculous to ask you to come speak to my MBA negotiations class?” because he believed it was likely to produce better results than a question like “Would you please come speak to my class?” Jack Welch said, “No,” and subsequently spoke to the class.

    What is going on? Why would Voss’s technique work? When we go back to Ryan and Deci’s work on autonomy, we find that autonomy, being able to make our own decisions, is a key influencer of how motivated we’ll be to carry out an activity. Allowing a person to say “No,” leads to a greater exercise of autonomy than a superficial “Yes.” Voss believes that putting someone into that state of control and autonomy is vital. It enables the person to present his or her authentic self in the negotiation, and thus to come eventually to an agreement that the naysayer can fully support.

  2. Write emails to get an immediate response.

    Voss proposes that we tend to be agreement-seeking in our emails, and it often doesn’t evoke a response. Voss gave a personal example of a time when a particular person hadn’t finalized a contract with him as expected. Voss had two choices. He could send nag-like reminder emails. Or he could send an email with the question, “Have you given up on this contract?”

    Then he waited. By previous attempts, he expected to get a response back within 3-5 minutes. He didn’t get any response for hours. But when he did get a response, it was the revised contract.

    The psychology behind his email language? People want to match their ideal selves. When an email such as the above makes it to one’s Inbox, a receiver does a double-take, perceiving a gap between what they’ve done and what they want to have done. The receiver in this case took action to avoid embarrassment and to look like someone who doesn’t give up and wo is willing to do the work.

Even Chris Does Not Find This Instinctive

Despite the fact that the standing-room-only audience nodded and agreed, Voss himself didn’t use his own technique at the end of his talk. He invited people to buy his book. Several audience members called out statements such as, “Don’t you mean, ‘Is it a crazy idea for you to buy my book at the end of this talk?'”

Author’s Note: Watermark is based in the Bay Area in California and runs events such as the Watermark Conference, the Watermark Leadership conference this coming Friday, and others. Additionally, Watermark runs many webinars and virtual events for women across the globe all throughout the year. Here’s a link to the upcoming webinar schedule.



Voss, C. (2016). Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It. New York: HarperCollins.

Voss, C. (2016). Never split the difference: A talk at Google.

Chin, E. (2008). Don’t push the river: Autonomy and healthy development. Positive Psychology News.

Douglass, G. (2013). Intrinsic Motivation or Purpose Pursuit: Which matters most?. Positive Psychology News.

Gunay, I. (2013). Actual self vs. best self. Positive Psychology News.

Photo Credit: via Compfight with Negotiation training starts early courtesy of U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv

Not seeing the pictures for the book links? Disable Adblocking for this site to view them.

You may also like

1 comment

Judy Krings 23 July 2016 - 7:33 am

How fascinating and informative. Many thanks!


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

WP Twitter Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com