Being Persuasive

There are all sorts of self-help books about how to convince people to believe what you Vosssay. Maybe you’ve found in them somthing that works for you. Maybe not.

Writing for The Ladders, a job search site, Eric Barker summarizes some key points from Chris Voss’ book, Never Split the DIfference. Voss is a veteran FBI hostage negotiator. Some of his points are similar to what you’ve probably read, and some are just the opposite. They all make sense.

Book passages are in itallics.

  • Don’t be direct

Blunt comes across as arrogant and rude. You need to start by understanding and acknowledging the feelings the other side has. Don’t assume or guess. Listen and recognize. Whether you like it or not, that’s how they feel, and you get nothing by disregarding that as the starting point. Good sales people know that.

  • Don’t try to get them to say “yes”

Forcing a “yes” response may give the other side a sense that they are losing control over the discussion. Word a question to give them a chance to say no to something. Yes can come later. (That’s exactly the opposite of what is taught in a lot of sales training.)

  • The “accusation audit”

Make a list of possible attack points and then diffuse them without confrontation.

Denying an accusation enhances the accusation. Saying, “I don’t want it to seem like I don’t care about you,” is denying a negative and that’s a poor tactical choice. Say, “I know it seems like I don’t care about you.” That defuses the negative.

You’re more likely to here this from a marriage counselor than from a recruiter or sales trainer, but it applies.

  • Let them feel in control

Negotiation isn’t a power struggle, rather its a conversation  with the goal of achieving what both parties see as the best possible solution.

Say, “Okay, you want to set the agenda? Set the agenda.” Ask them open-ended questions. People love to be asked open-ended questions that start with “what” or “how”, because it let’s them feel like they’re educating you and it gives them a feeling of being in control. It works on two levels. One, it tends to create a more collaborative environment, which means you’re going to make a better deal. And, two, if the other side is trying to gain control to cheat you, it lets them drop their guard, so that you can get the upper hand.

For someone who has made a career out of asking questions, I enjoy this illustration of a good use of open-ended questions. In writing questionnaires, it drives me nuts when a client adds and open ended item and then doesn’t want to read the answers. Text analytic tools are still a poor substitute for reading, in their limited ability to deal with sarcasm or the obtusely worded responses that people write.

  • “That’s right”

This, not “yes,” is the breakthrough in a negotiation. This phrase means the other party accepts you as being on the same page with them, sharing a common understanding of what the issues are.

That’s a really powerful connection to be able to establish. They’re telling you they feel connected to you, and they feel a great rapport with you. If there’s anything that’s going to move them in your direction swiftly it’s when they say, “That’s right.”


  • Listen for levers

Negotiation is a process of discovery, as is good research. The respondent will tell you what matters to them, eventually. It may take awhile and you have to listen carefully for it. If you are more worried about time or budget, the process is likely to fail.

  • “How am I supposed to do that?”

Let the other party feel like they are advising you.

I love this one. The respondent is the expert in his feelings and his situation, not you. That’s the reality. Barker refers to this as “playing dumb,” but it’s really simply acknowledging a truth.

  • If you’re selling, don’t assume the sale. Let the client tell you how to close it.
  • If you’re interviewing, don’t assume the answers. You’ll learn nothing if you do.
  • If you want a job, let the hiring manager tell you how to make it happen. If you ask the right questions, he or she will tell you what you need to know.

Whatever you do, don’t let ego get in the way. That simply makes a person look stupid, regardless of how much prestige or wealth he or she has.


  2. Chris Voss, “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It,” HarperCollins, 2016.




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