I needed to get a handle on a corporate contract recently and felt I was doing an awful job of it – as a psychologist my ‘wanting to help people and improve their wellbeing’ side overtook my ‘I won’t be much support to anyone if I can’t pay the mortgage’ side. A fellow psychologist suggested a book written by Chris Voss called Never Split the Difference. I was sceptical as hostage negotiation is a very different vibe that sport psychology but I need to improve on the business side so bought it.

What struck me when reading it is that there were actually a number of points he makes that would be really helpful for us as sport psychologists. We are clearly not trying to force our clients into giving anything up, or even changing anything – but what I found in this book is that if we really listen we can find the tools to help our clients come to conclusions which give them the outcomes they desire.

Each section of the book finishes with a key lessons section. Here are 12 I’ve taken out of these sections that really resonated with the way I work in my practice and might be valuable for others:

  1. If someone seems irrational, there is likely to be a constraint, hidden desire or some bad information that they are working to.
  2. Work to understand the worldview of the person you are with. When you find these you move beyond facts and logic and into the emotion.
  3. We need to build rapport before we can do effective work. Certainly as a sport psychologist I’ve been guilty of rushing in trying to show my worth and help someone ‘fix’ things before getting to know them and their ambitions, and fears.
  4. When the pressure is on we don’t rise to the occasion, we fall to our highest level of preparation – so really prepare well.
  5. Set boundaries – our client will never be the problem – the situation might be though.
  6. When struggling to break the ice humour and humanity can be effective.
  7. Consider the 7-38-55 percent rule: 7% of a message is based on words, 38% from tone of voice and 55% from body language and face. This suggests that while so many of us are working over zoom there are more opportunities for miscommunication as some body language is hidden.
  8. People take more risks to avoid a loss than they will to create a gain.
  9. Sales is not logical – often it is emotional. I would suggest sport is similar. There might be races or competitions we want to win, that twist our tummy with excitement, logically they are not made for our style of racing or the course or venue is not great for us but our heart tells us there is something we want to achieve there.
  10. When working with someone explaining how we think they might see the world we are looking for a response of: That’s right. They need to know we get them.
  11. Don’t ignore the negative, acknowledge it. It can diffuse the fear and leaves space to have a more productive working relationship.
  12. And finally, my favourite quote of all, “Emotions aren’t the obstacles, they are the means.”