1: Fair is fair.  Until it isn’t. 

The actor and comedienne Robin Williams wanted to do something special for his kids, Chris Voss writes in his book Never Split the Difference.

So, he agreed to be the voice of the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin for a fee of $75,000.  Far below his usual $8 million payday. 

“But then something happened,” Chris notes.  “The movie became a huge hit, raking in $504 million.”

At which point, Robin went “ballistic,” Chris writes.

Why?  Was it the money?  No.

“It was the perceived unfairness that pissed him off,” Chris writes.  “He didn’t complain about his contract until Aladdin became a blockbuster, and then he and his agent went loud and long about how they got ripped off.”

Disney responded by pointing out the obvious: Robin had signed a contract. 

Then, they sent their star a Picasso painting worth a reported $1 million. 

Because they wanted Robin Williams to be happy.  They wanted to work with him on future projects.

Fair is fair.  Until it isn’t.  At which point, as human beings, we want to make things fair again.

2: What is the most powerful word in any negotiation?


“Fair is a tremendously powerful word,” Chris writes. 

“As human beings, we’re mightily swayed by how much we feel we have been respected,” he observes.  “People comply with agreements if they feel they’ve been treated fairly and lash out if they don’t.”

Yesterday, we challenged the belief that we are all “rational” beings.  In fact, emotion drives our actions and our decision-making. 

Chris recommends we become aware of three ways the word “fair” is used in any negotiation. 

First, beware the situation where the other side says: “We just want what’s fair.” 

“Think back to the last time someone made this implicit accusation of unfairness,” Chris writes.  Did it “immediately trigger feelings of defensiveness and discomfort?” 

Most likely, yes.  “These feelings are often subconscious and often lead to an irrational concession.”

Chris shares the story of a friend who was selling her home in Boston when the market was exceptionally slow. 

“The offer she got was much lower than she wanted—it meant a big loss for her—and out of frustration,” she said, “We just want what’s fair,” the friend said.

At which point, the prospective buyer raised his offer.

When the other party says, “I just want what’s fair,” we are wise to step back.  Take a deep break.  And restrain our desire to concede. 

Instead, we say: “Okay, I apologize.  Let’s stop everything and go back to where I started treating you unfairly and we’ll fix it.” 

A variation of this scenario happens when our counterpart tells us, “We’ve given you a fair offer.” 

The insinuation is that we are “dense or dishonest,” Chris writes.  The goal is to distract us and manipulate us into giving in.

During the last NFL lockout, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) insisted that the owners “open their books.”

The owners’ answer? 

“We’ve given the players a fair offer.” 

“Notice the horrible genius of this,” Chris writes.  “Instead of opening their books or declining to do so, the owners shifted the focus to the NFLPA’s supposed lack of understanding of fairness.”

How do we “declaw” this tactic? 

We flip the situation around: “Fair?” we say, “pausing to let the word’s power do to them as it was intended to do to us,” Chris suggests. 

Then, we follow with a label: “It seems like you’re ready to provide the evidence that supports that.”

We are alluding to them “opening their books or otherwise handing over information that will either contradict their claim to fairness or give us more data to work with than we had previously,” Chris suggests.

3: The final use of the F-word is Chris’s favorite “because it’s positive and constructive,” he writes.  “It sets the stage for honest and empathetic negotiation.”

Early in the negotiation, we say, “I want you to feel like you are being treated fairly at all times.  So please stop me at any time if you feel I’m being unfair, and we’ll address it.” 

Doing so communicates to the other party that it’s okay to use “the F-word.” 

If they do so honestly.

More tomorrow!


Reflection: Think back.  Have I ever been in a negotiation where the other party accused me of being “unfair”?  How did I respond?

Action: Experiment with one of the strategies Chris recommends.

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