Never Split the Difference

Attended a webinar given by Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, delivered in partnership with Mind Gym. Based on experience, psychology and evidence of what works, Chris argues that it is a mistake to try and get people to say ‘yes’ in a negotiation, that people fear saying ‘yes’ or become defensive in fear that they will be trapped into committing to something they don’t really want – a bigger ‘yes’ somewhere down the line.

Instead, the goal should be to get people to say ‘that’s right’, having correctly summarised how they feel about the situation or facts in question. In so doing you are forming an emotional bond which demonstrates empathy and incites a small epiphany in the person you are negotiating with. This is different from a ‘you’re right’ response which is often counterfeit like ‘yes’, or which indicates that the person just wants to end the conversation or get out of the negotiation without really agreeing.

In the question and answer session that followed Chris said that the most important skill in getting a ‘that’s right’ response is summarising, combining the skills of identifying and labelling what the other person is saying, and paraphrasing the key points and facts.

When asked about what to do when someone gives a ‘no’ answer Chris said that this wasn’t necessarily bad, that it just means that you have mis-labelled something and that the person will typically follow a ‘no’ by correcting you or giving you more information.

Finally Chris gave some general negotiating advice from his experience. Always let the other person start the discussion if you can, don’t be afraid to use silence as it entices the other person into giving more information and, as most people feel out of control when not talking, tactical use of such pauses can give you an advantage, and finally if negotiating via email try to keep each email to a single point and end emails with something positive as that is what will stay with people.

A recording of the webinar and the slides are available on Mind Gym’s website here.

Session 2: Knowing Yourself to Lead Others


The first full teaching day on the Leading from the Middle course was delivered by an external company, Insights, who used their Discovery tool, a kind of personality test, to create a profile for each of us before the session, and then used to session to explain the theory and how it can be applied to learn more about our own personalities and preferences, and how to quickly assess others and the best way to interact with them based on their profiles. The basic model is composed of four colour energies, cool blue, earth green, sunshine yellow and fiery red, a concept that can be traced back to Hippocrates’ four humours and developed by psychologists such as Carl Jung in the twentieth century. Insights have taken this further and developed their own model, a wheel with 72 types to give a more nuanced view of your personality. These are arranged under eight broad headings which are, going counter-clockwise from blue to red, Reformer, Observer (blue), Coordinator, Supporter (green), Helper, Inspirer (yellow), Motivator and Director (red).

I have to confess to being a little sceptical about this kind of thing. I enjoy studying the underlying psychology, and if it has been presented within that framework I think I would have gotten more out of it, but when they are corporatized and packaged up into small, discrete packages that can be easily sold to organisations by external consultants, and when something seems to be unnecessarily overcomplicated, then a little warning bell goes off in my head.

Nevertheless, you don’t get anything out if you don’t engage, and so I can reveal that based on the Insights Discovery Evaluator, a series of 25 preference statements which you rate to generate your profile, I am a blue, green, red, yellow kind of person. Not a huge surprise to me, and it accords with a self-assessment I made based on a ‘colour summary’ in one of Insights’ handouts in which I ticked mostly blue, quite a few on the cusp between blue and green, and a couple of red qualities, specifically ‘Fears: Losing control’ and ‘Decisions are: Pragmatic’. On Insights’ 72 point wheel, my conscious wheel position is 54, ‘Coordinating Observer (Accommodating)’, and my less conscious wheel position is 14, ‘Coordinating Observer (Focused)’. This is a bit of an interesting position; if I had to pick where I thought I fitted I would have went for either Reformer or Coordinator, though Observer is in the middle of these two so perhaps it’s right. The ‘Preference Flow’ shows that I skew towards red and yellow which, if I understand this right, means that I am making an effort to go in this direction, against my natural inclinations, which is a good thing. Most of my cohort were in broad agreement about where they came out in the evaluation, though a few reds noted that they feel that they are being forced into this category unnaturally due to pressures at work.

It’s not all about colours, and the profile which is created delves into quite a lot of detail about your personality and style, highlighting perceived strengths, weaknesses and communication strategies. I found myself agreeing with most of this analysis, even if the language was a bit over the top at times – “her original mind, fine insight and vision” (urgh) – but some of it was wrong and I would argue that some statements which were presented as positive things are really more problematic. For example, the statement that I am a “no-nonsense person who is not often attracted by the strange, exotic or unfamiliar” is patently untrue, certainly when it comes to my work and technology where I delight in being on the cutting edge. Another statement that stood out to me, as it goes to use of instinct which came up a few times, was “may be rather slow to make decisions as she wants to gather all essential information before acting.” This may be true in an ideal situation, but in reality, when there are deadlines and pressures, or no clear indication on the correct course of action, I am a great believer in going with instinct or in choosing the more positive option, something which I find usually works out well.

One of the most useful things I will take away from the evaluation and the session is the need to adapt communication strategies to match the preferences of the other party, so that you are not, for example, unnecessarily forcing a more red person to give you too much detail before starting work. Also, using the most appropriate colour response to a situation to get the best results, so in my case that could be being more open and sociable in less formal meetings for example. There were also some comments in a suggested development section which I found useful. “Accepting that perfection can be a rather obstructive standard to constantly aspire to” is something that I am aware of and I know that I can spend too much time on something when ‘good enough’ is enough. Also, “never attending a meeting without speaking out” stood out as, thinking about it, I can see many examples where I am very quiet in meetings, and I will be more conscious of this in the future. However, as a counterpoint to that I do feel the need to note that there are so many meetings I attend which are almost completely pointless and accomplish very little.

Reinventing Performance Management


A half hour webinar delivered by Octavius Black, CEO of Mind Gym. After first discussing the problems inherent in traditional performance appraisal schemes – e.g. too infrequent, too focused on weaknesses, perceived value of schemes too tied to personal relationships between appraisee and manager – Octavius moved on to the substance of the webinar, how to make such schemes more successful and achieve the right amount of positive stress for optimal performance. The six points they have identified, all based on psychological research and backed with evidence and case studies, are:

  1. Purpose: People need to have a sense that their work matters.
  2. Challenge: Work has to be sufficiently demanding. Where specific hard goals are set people perform better than when they are just asked to ‘do their best’.
  3. Attention: Demonstrating attention to detail in people’s work shows them that you have paid attention to it and gives them specific, concrete areas to build on.
  4. Growth: When people’s work is based on their strengths and what they do best they perform better and show continuous improvement – a positive feedback loop.
  5. Recognition: People need to feel that their work is recognised and rewarded, but as measured against their colleagues and not some arbitrary absolute.
  6. Choice: Giving people autonomy and ownership of their work and development.

Mind Gym’s paper which goes into detail on all of these points is available for free on their website here by registering with them, or you can watch a recording of the webinar or download the slides here.

Six Psychological Tricks That Make Learning Stick

A webinar provided by Sebastian Bailey, co-founder of Mind Gym. The webinar began with the assertion that in traditional learning new practice only ‘sticks’ for around 15-20% of people, with the majority trying the new practice, or parts of it, for a little while before falling back into old habits and ways of thinking and working. The six tricks are all designed around the concept of reducing cognitive load, making it easier for what you are trying to teach to sink in.

1. Build belief in the early stages of change

Five stages of change were identified: Persisting > Contemplating > Preparing > Acting > Maintaining. Studies were then presented that showed that when people were given time to contemplate why the change was required or desirable the success rate was significantly increased.

2. Create emotional arousal

Demonstrated how learning retention and performance improves when someone is under positive stress, e.g. by making people do an exercise which is outside of their comfort zone. Care has to be taken to get the balance right, as too much stress leads to anxiety and reduced performance. To be successful with this approach you need to both sell the need and the positive consequences while providing people with concrete steps they can take immediate action on.

3. Use stories over facts

Demonstrated that retention is significantly improved if you use an emotional story rather than facts and figures. Cited a case study on how to get people to donate to charity, with one group being given facts and figures about poverty, the second group the story of an individual who was affected by poverty. The second group were shown to retain more information and donated more money.

4. Use written, shared, implementation intentions

Encourage learners to reflect on their goals and add implementation intentions such as ‘I am going to update my CV on such-and-such a date’, preferably phrased as ‘if-then’ statements which reinforces that there is a fall-back position. Finally, encourage learners to share their intentions, while noting that the act of sharing is not itself a significant step to completing the goal or task.

5. Set specific ‘missions’ built into the workflow

Demonstrated that people can only spot a limited number of changes in a given scenario, and to help them improve on this give specific cues and prompts, set specific missions or tasks in the workflow, and encourage mindfulness.

6. Prime the right mindset by providing tools

Showed that people’s behaviour adapts to match that of those around them and that you can take advantage of this by priming people into believing that they are better learners. In an example IQ test three groups were given the same test, with the second and third groups being primed to ‘think like professors’ and professors’s assistants respectively. Both groups scored higher than the control, with those who were told to think like professors scoring 15% higher.