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Heroes of the House Never Split the Difference
Negotiation and deal-making are not the same thing
The (now) 21 incoming Congressmen who refuse to cave to the establishment know something about negotiation. Take notes.
Negotiation is not “give and take.” Nor is “deal-making” negotiation. Give and take is easy. Deal-making is child’s play. Negotiation is big league. And 21 US House districts are represented by all-star calibre negotiators. They’re giving the establishment a free lesson in the art.
Former FBI hostage negotiator (from back when the FBI still had a few non-criminals on its payroll) wrote a brilliant book: Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It. It’s the contrarian’s guide to negotiation. It stands on its head every principle of negotiation taught at the nation’s once-prestigious universities: Harvard, University of Michigan, Yale, Stanford. Chris Voss’s method destroyed them all.
In the book, Voss explains that his way of negotiation is not the academic way. And to find out which method is superior, Harvard’s head of negotiation training, Bob Mnookin, invited him to participate in Harvard’s annual negotiation competition. It’s a very big deal in some circles. Write Voss:
For more than three decades, Harvard had been the world epicenter of negotiating theory and practice. All I knew about the techniques we used at the FBI was that they worked. In the twenty years I spent at the Bureau we’d designed a system that had successfully resolved almost every kidnapping we applied it to. But we didn’t have grand theories.1
How did the Kansas City beat cop (Voss) perform against one of the top lawyers in the country? A faculty instructor revealed the results of Voss’s first engagement with academic excellence:
“You got literally every dime he had,” she said, “and in his brief he was supposed to hold a quarter of it back in reserve for future work.”2
Voss continued to destroy the “experts” for days. He completely disrupted Harvard Law School’s vaunted Winter Negotiation Course. Voss explains what happened.
The thing was, it was the cutting-edge techniques these guys were using that felt dated and old. I felt like I was Roger Federer and I had used a time machine to go back to the 1920s to play in a tennis tournament of distinguished gentlemen who wore white pantsuits and used wood rackets and had part-time training regimens. There I was with my titanium alloy racket and dedicated personal trainer and computer-strategized serve-and-volley plays. The guys I was playing were just as smart—actually, more so—and we were basically playing the same game with the same rules. But I had skills they didn’t.3
Our Heroes of the House must feel a lot like Voss right now. They’re negotiating like beat cops while the Democrat-Republican establishment is trying to make a deal. The kid Voss crushed in his first negotiation session—Andy was his name—used all the established rules of “negotiation.”
Determine your BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement)
Decide how many rounds you want
Make an offer 30% above (or below) your BATNA
Meet your counterparty’s counter half way
Give another 10%
Shake hands and announce, “we have a deal.”
Child’s play. But it’s not negotiation. It’s horse trading.
Voss negotiates, and he never splits the difference.
Here’s what makes real negotiation so difficult for professional “negotiators”: guys like Voss can learn the other side’s techniques watching a 20-minute YouTube video. The pros, however, refuse to believe any method can be better than the ones taught at Harvard, Wharton, and U Mich. They don’t understand human behavioral psychology, tells, biases, and all the tools Voss uses. And Voss makes them into monkeys because of it.
It’s unfair. An academic deal-maker has no chance against a street-smart negotiator. The best of the best from Harvard will never negotiate to save an innocent human life. They will make billion-dollar deals, instead. They will counter only others like themselves—BATNA masters. Against their ilk, everybody keeps their 25% for future projects. Against a negotiator, they get fired.
Lauren Boebert summarized the position of the Heroes of the House perfectly tonight: “I’m not looking for a deal.” Neither was Voss when he negotiated at Harvard or with a hostage taker. Negotiators don’t split the difference. They don’t say, “give us half the hostages, and have your way with the rest.” They don’t settle for getting the kid’s hands and feet—they demand the whole kid, alive. And they get him.
“I’m not looking for a deal.”
Establishment Republicans pride themselves on deal-making. They look for Democrats “we can work with.” They proudly say their deals produce results “everybody is unhappy with,” then tell you “that’s what leadership is all about.”
They get that right. Republican leadership generally pisses everybody off and fails to solve the problem the prompted the whole thing. Kevin McCarthy voted with Democrats 46 percent of the time.
There were half a dozen Democrats in the last Congress who voted with their party less than the Republican leader. Kevin McCarthy is a hockey player who shoots the puck into his own net half the time.
Boebert, Gaetz, and crew don’t make deals—they want to get the kid out alive, and the kid is the United States of America. The hostage taker is the Uniparty (Democrat-Republicans), and the kidnappers have the entire media-industrial complex on their side. There is no room for compromise when your counterparty lies, cheats, steals, and Welches on every single agreement they make.
Take this as a lesson: never split the difference. Take it all. Get it all. Win.
Huge MAGA kudos to the Heroes of the House.
Voss, Chris; Raz, Tahl. Never Split the Difference (p. 4). Harper Business. Kindle Edition.
Ibid. (p. 6)
Ibid. (pp. 6-7)