Selling Selling Your Home On Your Own? We Breakdown An Ex-FBI Negotiator’s Book Into 5 Key Takeaways (Part 1)
- March 7, 2021
- 9 min read
Call it manipulation, call it persuasion.
Whichever way we look at it, negotiations have long been and will continue to be an inherent part of our daily life.
You might not actually know you are doing it, but you are probably “negotiating” daily.
Whether you are talking with your boss about a new marketing initiative, or speaking with a potential client about a project – knowing how to effectively negotiate will help you get your desired outcome.
But why do some people seem to breeze past it effortlessly while others (myself included) often end up clueless and in the lower-end of the ditch?
According to former FBI negotiating expert, Chris Voss, it’s because of this one simple thing.
In his book “Never Split the Difference”, he ascertains that it is in fact emotions that drive our logical decisions and not the other way around.
He goes on to explore the importance and key steps in practicing the concept of tactical empathy when interacting with others – which he believes is the key fundamental behind every successful negotiation.
Now the book itself is definitely worth the read if you have the time, but for the sake of this article, I’ll try to condense some of the book’s main points by anchoring them with a parallel real estate ‘scenario’ for easier visualisation.
If you’re thinking of managing the buying/selling negotiations of a house solely on your own, this piece is for you!
The Key Fundamentals (Our need for Control & Safety)
Right at the beginning, Chris highlights that everyone wants to be understood and accepted.
And that we inherently want to feel safe and in control.
Throughout the course of the book, he employs various tactics that hinge on giving opposing parties at the negotiation table the illusion of control.
Let’s get right to it.
1. Active Listening
We’ve heard this phrase at least once in our lives – but what does ‘Active Listening’ actually mean?
When done right, it’s meant to make your opposition speak more, about the things you need to hear (for the negotiation), and to ultimately make him/her feel like you understand his/her needs.
Ever wondered why 95% of key business negotiation trips involve golf, dining and conversations?
It’s for this very reason.
Assuming you have time prior to negotiating, these steps are pivotal for amicable talks later on.
Here are 3 steps to begin with:
The concept of mirroring is simple to master – and perhaps even simpler to execute.
For example, “Hey Reuben, I really love your ID”
In a curious/concerned tone, repeat those crucial/last 3 words back to them.
“Love my ID?”
It prompts them to elaborate more, while giving them the sense that you’re listening. As Chris mentioned, there are often 2 personas when someone’s speaking. 1.) The Presenter ‘ie. the surface guy with the antics’ and 2.) The Underlying Emotion.
You want to expose “2.” swiftly – and mirroring effectively helps to uncover this.
- Labeling + Summarize/’The Epiphany Moment’
To hit the nail on the head that you’re really listening and not just patronizing them, a little paraphrasing goes a long way.
More importantly, by putting a ‘summarizing label’ onto their thoughts, it helps to concise their thoughts, making it easier to understand their desires, while again, establishing rapport.
Buyer: “Yes, I love the way the shades of your wallpaper and the sofa blend together”
Seller (me): “Wallpaper (pause thoughtfully)… and sofa?”
Buyer: “Yeah! And the extra cove lights, it really makes the space very cozy”.
Seller (me): “Ah. So you like the way the colours and the lights bring out the warmth in the interior?”
Buyer: “Yes, exactly!”
It goes without saying that the wrong tone could set you up for disaster. Just imagine approaching this with a haughty/mocking tone (hint: it doesn’t end well).
One thing that Chris refers to in the book is the importance of execution. He states the 7-38-55 rule of communication, which is basically 7% words, 38% tone of voice and 55% body language.
I could go into the entire neuro-biology of this, but I’ll keep it straightforward.
In essence, smile (feel free to do some research on ‘amicable body-language’ – you’ll be surprised at what you can learn), slow-it-down (ie. be calm), and be aware which of the following tones you are using:
Late-Night DJ – Calm and slow, Inflected downward. Creates trustworthiness, combats defensiveness. Use selectively to ascertain points.
Positive & Playful – Easy-going and good natured. Smile and relax. Creates rapport and eases tension. Should be your default tone.
Direct/Assertive – Straightforward, no-nonsense. Often a quick command/point with no room for negotiation. Use very sparingly.
2. Removing Hurdles
Next, you want to remove any elephants in the room – including key concerns of the opposition (whether personal or about you).
Contrary to popular belief, avoiding these hurdles early on often sets us up for unanticipated disaster down the road.
Here are some steps to bring the hurdles into the open (amicably):
- Observe & Listen (“What are Some of your Main Concerns”)
One major technique that Chris uses is the ‘calibrated question’ or open-ended question. It usually starts with a ‘How/What’.
The reasoning behind this is simple.
Instead of prompting a yes/no question, an open-ended question allows the opposition to elaborate, allowing you to garner more information, whilst giving you time to think and still allowing the buyer to feel in control.
(Note: Be careful with ‘why’s’ as they can prompt defensive replies)
If you practice it altogether, it should look something like this:
Seller (me): “What are some of your main concerns about the house?”
Buyer: “Oh..nothing much really”
Seller (me): “Nothing much?”
Buyer: “Yeah, except perhaps that some bits of the wallpaper looks old and there are some paint marks here on this side of the windows”
Seller (me): “Ah… yes. Wallpaper and Windows”
Buyer: “Yes, and the lack of a service yard – that’s a big concern for us”
Naturally, you’d want to continue mirroring and gently nudge them to lay out all their concerns so that you know what you are dealing with. For the sake of keeping this succinct, we’ll imagine that’s all there is to this convo and we’ll head to the next step.
- “Allowing Them to Say No”
Throughout the negotiation, there will be a myriad of concerns that come up – ranging from financials to logistical nightmares.
By allowing them to say no early on in the relationship, it gives them a semblance of control and prevents them from going on the subconscious defensive. (ie. would you prefer if someone said “no” and it was the truth or if someone said “yes” but he was lying).
So how do you let them know/get them comfortable with saying no – and subsequently opening up?
A.) By asking questions specifically designed to make them say “no” – ie. “It seems like you are not a fan of units like these”
And what do you do after the “No”?
B.) You mirror, or follow up with “How/What” questions to get them to elaborate/solve their problems (…for you!)
It encourages conversation as humans are often incentivised to elaborate after ascertaining a ‘negative response’ that goes against social norms in the moment.
- Labeling (Concerns)
Similar to the previous section where we paraphrased and summarized their desires, it is important to do the same thing with their concerns too.
Assuming the buyer was relatively charmed with the house – and had no other concerns (hint: this wouldn’t be the case 99% of the time):
“Right, so living-room wise, the patchy wallpaper, and stained windows are the main concerns, and with regards to the layout, the lack of a service yard will be troublesome.”
Even if your opposition does not seem enthused at this point, fret not. They might be afraid of offending you, so just smile and continue to empathise.
You’ve already uncovered their concerns, and made them feel like you understand. Now to apply the finishing touch.
- Replacing Concerns (Positive, Compassionate and Solution-based)
Finding an immediate solution to big hurdles is easier said than done. It requires you to be sharp, and be equipped/have past experience that’ll help quell their concerns.
But even if you didn’t have the solutions on hand, you still have 2 tools to help you out.
Positivity and compassion.
An example of approaching their concerns from such an angle would be:
“We know exactly what you mean. When we first shifted in, we were freaking out about the lack of a service yard (laughs). We tried hanging it on the windows at first, but it was so unsightly. We eventually bought a washer/dryer to solve the issue. I understand though that this will incur unexpected extra costs for you, so let me pull out the utility figures. Afterall we both have 3 people in our family”
“Regarding the patchy wallpaper and the stained windows, we’ll be happy to get some workmen to touch-up the space and install new wallpapers of the same design if need be”.
Your potential buyers will be all the more open to hearing what you have to say next.
There’s more than just Empathy in a Negotiation
Up till now, we’ve delved mostly into merging with the psyche of our ‘oppositions’.
At some point however, you need to get to the negotiation table (ie. closing the deal).
Towards the 2nd half of his book, Chris brings out some of these key techniques that we can all use to:
- Secure a seemingly incredulous deal (to your advantage)
- Close with a true confirmation from the opposition and,
- Prepare for any unexpected off-table blows to the negotiation (ie. Black Swans/Unseen Parties)
See how the magic comes together in the second part of this article when we apply some of Chris Voss’ all-time negotiation tactics (hint: numbers involved) with the tactical empathy we’ve learnt today.
Follow us at Stacked for part 2!