1: Brandon Voss was six foot two and weighed 250 pounds. 

What did he like most about high school football?

He liked to hit people.

“He loved to knock every player wearing an opposing jersey to the ground,” writes Chris Voss in his book Never Split the Difference. Chris is the FBI’s former chief hostage negotiator and Brandon’s dad.

Brandon’s senior year, his coach moved him to linebacker from defensive line. Suddenly, his role “changed from hitting everything he saw to avoiding players who were trying to block him,” Chris writes. “He was supposed to play off blocks—dodge them, if you will—and get to the ball.”

But that’s not what Brandon wanted to do. Instead, he “continued to confront opposing blockers head-on,” Chris notes, “which kept him from getting to the ballcarrier.”

Brandon’s coach implored him to avoid blockers.

“But Brandon couldn’t change, Chris writes. “He loved to hit. Flattening opposing players was a source of pride.”

2: Chris decided to talk to his son. He repeated what the coach had been telling Brandon.

“You’re right,” Brandon said. 

Which was the “worst possible answer,” Chris reflects. “He agreed, in theory, but he didn’t own the conclusion.”

Sure enough, Brandon continued to “smash blockers and take himself out of the play,” Chris writes.

It’s not unlike when someone is bothering us. When they won’t let up. When they won’t listen to what we have to say.

What do we say to make them go away? 

Two words: “You’re right.” 

“It works every time,” Chris notes. “Tell people ‘You’re right’ and they get a happy smile on their face and leave you alone for at least twenty-four hours.”

What we haven’t done is agree to their position. We use “You’re right” to get them to quit bothering us.

Chris knew he needed a different approach with his son.

He thought back to the Jeffrey Schilling negotiation. After months of back and forth, the breakthrough came after the hostage negotiator summarized and repeated back the key elements and emotions of the terrorist’s version of the story. 

The terrorist was silent on the line for nearly a minute. Finally, he spoke. 

“That’s right,” he said. 

Chris took his son aside before a crucial game. He had searched for the right thing to say: “You seem to think it’s unmanly to dodge a block,” I told him. “You think it’s cowardly to get out of someone’s way that’s trying to hit you.” 

His son stared back at Chris. There was a pause. 

“That’s right,” he said. 

“With those words Brandon embraced the reality of what was holding him back,” Chris reflects. “Once he understood why he was trying to knock down every blocker, he changed course. He started avoiding the blocks and became an exceptionally fine linebacker.”

3: What happened here?

When a person feels “understood, and positively affirmed in that understanding, the more likely that urge for constructive behavior will take hold,” Chris notes.

To trigger a “That’s right,” we need to paraphrase what the other person has said and label the emotions they are feeling. 

Our goal? To “identify, rearticulate, and emotionally affirm “the world according to . . .”

When people feel heard, they often say, “That’s right.” 

“That’s right” is way better than “yes.” 

And much, much better than “You’re right.” 

“That’s right” works wonders. But when someone tells us, “You’re right,” nothing changes. 

More tomorrow.


Reflection: When making an argument, am I more focused on making my point or actively listening to the other person and affirming their perspective?

Action: In an upcoming negotiation, utilize Chris’s recommendations of labeling emotions and paraphrasing to elicit a “You’re right.”

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