Negotiating like a Voss


I’m a big fan of the book, Never Split the Difference, by former FBI hostage negotiator, Chris Voss. I geared up to put his principles into practice: I was going to ask Sensei to let me catch up to my girls in Tae Kwon Do, despite my four-month absence and his seemingly strict testing rules.

Asking him to deviate from a system he’s been using for two decades for my sake was a big ask.

I planned my approach. I would start with a “no” question a la Voss, ie: “Would it be impossible for me to get caught up to my girls?”

The idea is, with that wording, he’d likely say, “No,” which is what I wanted.

Never Split the Difference, by negotiation-master Chris Voss

I had four points, Sensei’s possible counter-points, and my counter to those counters all ready to go, practicing them in my head for several days in advance.

When the night in question came, I prepped my girls to go directly to the van after class, so I could talk to Sensei alone.

My nerves ran high as Sensei and I meandered to the parking lot. I listened patiently as he talked about his parkour gym, finding people to video his jumps so he could analyze his technique, taking videos for others for the same reason, the open gym policy, the hours, the classes, exactly where the gym was located, that it might be near that one rock climbing gym…

Finally, he wound himself down. My heart pounding, I steadied and readied myself for the attack.

“So,” I began. “Do you think it would be possible for me to catch up with my girls?”

Darn it! That was not the “No” answer question I had so carefully prepped!

He responded immediately.

“Yeah, I think so.”

But, but, but… My points and counter-points! My careful planning!

“I can see you’ve been putting the work in.”

And I had. Though I’ll next be testing the blue belt form to earn my brown belt, I had also secretly taught myself the brown belt form, largely to impress him and help my cause.

That slick maneuver came into play during the previous class. He had suggested I practice my blue form while he worked on brown with the girls.

“Oooorrr… I could do brown form too,” I said.

“Well, that’s not what you’ll be testing for. You should be sure you’re solid on what you need to know for the next test.”

“Fair enough,” I conceded, heart sinking to my stomach.

“But if you want to do brown with us,” he shrugged into letting me attempt it.

That’s when I showed him.

It wasn’t perfect. As this was my first time doing the form with him, there were some subtle details I hadn’t discovered on my own. Still, I knew it better than my girls. (One of my arguments was: being on the same form as my girls, I could more easily help them with it.)

And then…

At the final move, left hand high, right hand low, Sensei had it backwards. Since he was facing me, he saw my hand placement.

“Oh, that’s right,” he said, and moved his hands to match mine.

Can you hear my internal evil laughter?

Now back to the parking lot:

“You know the brown belt form almost completely if not completely by now,” he said.

Oh, you bet I know it completely by now.

Then he worked out that I could test during the first half of the next session, at a non-testing time, then be ready to test for red belt at the same time as my girls.


In my opinion, the best Chris Voss advice on negotiation is to establish a rapport with the person. Be kind. Be friendly. It’s so much harder to deny a request from someone who listens to your [seemingly endless] stories and takes your [definitely endless] sarcastic jabs in stride.

And if Sensei happens to read this post: You know I’m [mostly] joking! But also, you did have your hand placement wrong.


85 responses »

  1. I love this!! First of all, you recommended that Chris Voss book to me a while back — and I loved it. He tells such great stories and you summed it up so well here – establish rapport, be kind and friendly. Yes!

    And YES YES YES on your victory. I love that you’ve been secretly working on it. Perhaps to add to the list above – make sure you’ve done the work? And you have. Congratulations, my dear friend!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • It was difficult to not tell you about this in advance. I wanted your post reading to be “authentic.” πŸ˜› But I was sure you’d appreciate this story more than anyone else. I hope it made you laugh that all my careful verbal planning turned out to be unnecessary! Ha!

      Also, “be kind,” was originally “be nice,” but then I remembered that post by Tamara about the difference between the two!

      And totally: doing the work was probably the best argument for my case, without having really said anything. Phew!

      Liked by 3 people

      • Oh, you are so thoughtful to give me the authentic experience. Well, I loved it. And yes, I was laughing about the careful planning – but I bet it helped because conversations never go as expected. Right? And I love you are back training with your girls. Makes me feel warm all over.

        And such a good point about Tamara’s post about being kind vs being nice.

        So glad you are my very kind (and amazing) friend!! πŸ™‚ ❀

        Liked by 2 people

      • It’s definitely best to over-prepare. The other thing I meant to tell you was, learning forms has become so much easier now. Remember how I struggled and nearly gave up on orange, the second, form? Apparently my brain has stretched itself!

        So glad YOU are MY very kind and amazing friend! πŸ™‚ ❀

        Liked by 1 person

      • Isn’t that fun and interesting about learning. Must be like the learning curves we see with our kids. Tying their shoes is painful to watch – and then its not. Thank goodness you are proving we can still do it!



      • I suspect with these last two belts, it’s helped that I’ve had videos to watch. Maybe I’m a visual learner. But, shhhh. Don’t tell my brain that. Let it think it can do anything. πŸ˜‰

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Good story, Betsy. Having negotiated multi-million dollar deals for the last 15 years of my professional life, I found one truth in negotiations. There has to be something in the agreement for each side. If you find out what that something is for the other side, and it is something you can grant, then it becomes a win-win negotiation since that something can be used to achieve what this side wants.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, now I feel like my book reading is lame. But I can totally relate to planning out a speech, only to mess up the wording. It helps to have a cheat sheet, only it’s hard to use in person. Im glad you still had success!

    P.S. Posted!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I messed it up on sentence ONE! Can you imagine how likely it would be for me to brutally stumble through everything else I had planned? Carnage. Good thing I was spared! Note cards with talking points would have been hilarious though.

      Noted! Will pop over soon! πŸ™‚


  4. Establishing rapport and being kind and friendly are certainly important aspects of negotiation, as they can help to build trust and create a more positive interaction. It’s also impressive that you prepared so thoroughly and had counterpoints ready to address any potential objections.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Ritish. In hindsight, it was silly to be so over-prepared. But I’m glad I didn’t need to use any of that other material since I messed up line one! Hard to imagine how I would’ve botched everything else. πŸ˜›


  5. Your negotiation skills are confirmation I should keep my comments on your blog to just one, followed by your one response. After all, whatever question you might ask me in return could be laced with motive! Also, I couldn’t get past the “parkour gym” comment. Really? Sensei is willing to risk his mastery of martial arts with broken limbs? Admittedly, those who do it well are fun to watch.

    Liked by 1 person

    • He calls it a parkour gym, but to me, it’s just one of those trampoline parks. Plus, less chance of limb breakage. He has shown me some clips of his jumps. It is fun to watch. I also just found out he’s a master scuba diver and has arranged dives all over the world. I was like, “What don’t you do?”
      “Laced with motive”? Come now, Dave. I’m just a little lamb at heart.

      Until you cross me.

      πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜› πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You know, all this talk of brown belts and blue belts is all fine and dandy, but I won’t be truly impressed until you earn that coveted Orion’s belt! Guess we’ll have to wait for all the stars to align first.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Sounds like an interesting book, but like you, I’d get all geared up to put it into practice and then… what’s that saying? The best laid plans?
    Actually, the second I close a book after finishing it I forget all the finer points, and five minutes later I’ve forgotten the title. And after a week all I can recall is “the feeling it gave me.” And I can never remember the author’s name even when I’m in the midst of reading it. Best stick to TV and movies, I guess… And maybe see a dementia specialist?

    Liked by 1 person

    • This sounds so much like me, TA. I was going to pick back up the book, because I haven’t quite finished it, and part of me said, “But do you remember anything other than ‘get a no-answer’ anyhow?” Hmm. And talk about best laid plans. I screwed things up with my first sentence! I can only manage how badly I would’ve botched my other carefully-prepared lines. :/ πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Just a few more weeks – A Silly Place

  9. Awesome negotiating skills, Betsy! I think, though, it helped a lot that you already started preparing the brown form and were able to demonstrate it (maybe not to testing form yet). I get the sense that Sensei is pretty easy-going, maybe even “cool”, and he probably sees that you are bummed you had to be out for so long and missing class.

    Ooohh, kitty pile on Betsy! Don’t know if you follow Jess Lourey on FB, but she’s got a new foster who’s ready to have her babies. Beautiful little mama-to-be. We’re all on kittie baby watch πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitty Baby Watch! Hilarious. I may have to look for that person on FB.

      Yeah, I was probably more stressed than I needed to be. Well, I had texted him something to the effect of my request, and he didn’t respond. That made me think the answer was a hard no. That’s what made me think it would be a tough sell. But demonstrating that I already knew the form (and thank goodness I had a chance to do so), was probably my best argument. Sensei being “cool”? Ehh. πŸ˜›

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Woohoo! Go you!!!
    Best laid plans … and you didn’t even get to use your arguments! and still you managed to end up where you wanted! Yay!!!

    So funny … that hand placement!!! I would have belted out loud that evil snigger for sure!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good thing I didn’t have to use my arguments, since I botched my opening statement. Who knows where I would’ve gone from there?

      Probably best that I didn’t laugh at his hand placement mistake. That wouldn’t have helped me be on his good side. πŸ˜›


  11. I am so glad that you are healed up and moving forward with such strength!
    and the Voss book sounds really good and I plan on getting it – also, so may things in life go better when we “establish a rapport with the person”

    Liked by 1 person

  12. The darned thing about putting this into practice is that I tend to overthink and conjure a million situations that won’t happen. Then I realise I could’ve spent my time in much better ways. Might check out this book because of you though!


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