1: The impulsive boss was known for his “drive-bys.”
Another “urgent, poorly thought out assignment that created a lot of unnecessary work,” former FBI negotiator Chris Voss writes in Never Split the Difference. “Past attempts at any kind of debate created immediate pushback.”
“I think I have a better way” was always interpreted by the boss as “the lazy way.”
It was the end of a long consulting engagement. Thousands of documents had been generated.
There he was. Suddenly standing outside Chris’s student’s workspace. Unannounced.
“Let’s make two copies of all the paperwork,” the boss said. He wanted paper copies because he was still skeptical of anything “digital.”
“I’m sorry, two copies?” she said in an inquisitive tone.
“Yes,” the boss responded, “one for us and one for the customer.”
“I’m sorry, so you are saying that the client is asking for a copy and we need a copy for internal use?”
“Actually, I’ll check with the client—they haven’t asked for anything,” he replied. “But I definitely want a copy. That’s just how I do business.”
“Absolutely,” she responded. “Thanks for checking with the customer. Where would you like to store the in-house copy? There’s no more space in the file room here.”
“It’s fine. You can store it anywhere,” he said, slightly perturbed now.
“Anywhere?” she said with calm concern.
The boss paused—something he did not often do. Chris’s student remained silent.
“As a matter of fact, you can put them in my office,” he said, with more composure than he’d had the whole conversation. “I’ll get the new assistant to print it for me after the project is done. For now, just create two digital backups.”
The next day the boss sent an email, “The two digital backups will be fine.”
“I was shocked!” the student wrote in an ecstatic note to Chris. “A week of work avoided!”
2: So what exactly happened here?
Chris’s student utilized a technique called “mirroring.”
“Of the entirety of the FBI’s hostage negotiation skill set, mirroring is the closest one to a Jedi mind trick,” Chris writes. “Simple, and yet uncannily effective.”
To mirror, we simply repeat back the last three words that the other person has said. Or the one to three of the most important words.
When we do this, our counterpart will typically elaborate on what was just said and maintain the connection.
The power of repeating back what was said was shown in a study by psychologist Richard Wiseman. “One group of waiters, using positive reinforcement, lavished praise and encouragement on patrons using words such as “great,” “no problem,” and “sure” in response to each order,” Chris writes. “The other group of waiters mirrored their customers simply by repeating their orders back to them.
“The results were stunning: the average tip of the waiters who mirrored was 70 percent more than of those who used positive reinforcement.”
Mirroring is a neurobehavior humans and other animals use to “copy each other to comfort each other,” Chris notes. “It’s generally an unconscious behavior—we are rarely aware of it when it’s happening—but it’s a sign that people are bonding, in sync, and establishing the kind of rapport that leads to trust. It’s a phenomenon (and now technique) that follows a very basic but profound biological principle: We fear what’s different and are drawn to what’s similar.”
“Trust me,” a mirror communicates to the other person’s unconscious, “You and I–we’re alike.”
Once we are aware of it, Chris predicts we will see it everywhere: “Couples walking on the street with their steps in perfect synchrony; friends in conversation at a park, both nodding their heads and crossing the legs at about the same time. These people are, in a word, connected.”
We can mirror with body language, vocabulary, tempo, speech patterns, and tone of voice. But as negotiators, a “mirror” focuses on the words being said. “Not the body language. Not the accent. Not the tone or delivery,” Chris notes. “Just the words.”
3: Chris encourages us to experiment with mirroring, understanding it will feel awkward at first. But “that’s the only hard part about it; the technique takes a little practice. Once we get the hang of it, though, it’ll become the conversational Swiss Army knife valuable in just about every professional and social setting.”
The mindset behind most mirrors should be “Please help me understand.” The technique is particularly effective when the other person’s tone of voice or body language is inconsistent with their words.
When we ask someone, “What do you mean by that?” we typically prompt defensiveness. In contrast, when we mirror, we signal respect and concern for what the other person is saying. They will respond by rewording what they’ve just said. But often with greater clarity.
When we approach a negotiation or conversation with a “pit bull approach,” we often end up “with a messy scene and lots of bruised feelings and resentment,” Chris writes.
Fortunately, there’s another way. We follow five simple steps:
A. Use the late-night FM DJ voice [hyperlink to Wednesday’s RWD].
B. Start with “I’m sorry . . .”
D. Silence. At least four seconds to let the mirror work its magic.
Reflection: Reflect on situations where mirroring would be helpful or effective.
Action: Experiment with mirroring. Today.