Mastering Negotiations in DevOps: The Chris Voss Approach

In the dynamic world of DevOps, where collaboration and communication are as crucial as the latest automation tool, the art of negotiation takes center stage. Enter Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, whose strategies in "Never Split the Difference" can be just as effective in navigating the complexities of DevOps environments as they are in high-stakes criminal negotiations. This blog post explores how Voss's negotiation tactics can be a game-changer in your DevOps career, ensuring that you not only deploy code but also deploy effective communication and collaboration strategies.

1. The Power of "No"

Voss emphasizes the importance of "no" in negotiations, suggesting it provides a sense of security and control to the speaker. In DevOps, when faced with unrealistic deployment schedules or conflicting project priorities, encouraging stakeholders to say "no" can open the door to deeper conversations about project constraints and alternatives, leading to more feasible solutions and timelines.

2. Tactical Empathy

Understanding and acknowledging the emotions of others is what Voss calls tactical empathy. In the context of DevOps, this means genuinely understanding the concerns and pressures that developers, operations staff, and business stakeholders face. By acknowledging these pressures and demonstrating empathy, you can build trust and collaboration, essential ingredients for a successful DevOps culture.

3. Mirroring

Mirroring, or repeating the last few words your counterpart has just said, is a technique Voss uses to encourage others to expound on their thoughts. Applied to DevOps, mirroring can be especially useful during troubleshooting sessions or project planning meetings. It not only shows active listening but also encourages a deeper dive into issues, leading to more comprehensive and effective solutions.

4. Labeling

Voss recommends labeling as a way to identify and name the emotions in a negotiation, which helps diffuse tension. In DevOps, when tensions rise due to missed deadlines or failed deployments, labeling emotions ("It seems like there's frustration about the release schedule") can help address the underlying issues, opening the path to constructive dialogue and problem-solving.

5. The "Accusation Audit"

Before entering a negotiation, Voss advises conducting an "accusation audit," where you list every negative thing the other party could say about you. In DevOps, before proposing a new tool or process, consider all possible objections ("This will slow us down," "It’s too complex"). Addressing these concerns proactively can disarm skepticism and build a more receptive environment for your proposals.

6. Finding the "Black Swan"

Voss talks about the importance of uncovering hidden, transformative information (black swans) that can change the outcome of a negotiation. In DevOps, this could mean discovering a key piece of information about a system's limitations or a stakeholder's hidden concerns that, once addressed, can turn opposition into support for a project.

7. "That's Right" vs. "You're Right"

According to Voss, getting the counterpart to say "that's right" signifies agreement and understanding, while "you're right" often means they just want the conversation to end. In DevOps, aim for "that's right" moments by thoroughly explaining the rationale behind a technical decision or a project plan, ensuring that stakeholders truly understand and agree with the approach rather than just acquiescing.

8. Calibrated Questions

Asking open-ended questions that start with "how" or "what" can lead the other party to solve the problem for you. In DevOps, asking a stakeholder, "How do you see this impacting the project timeline?" or "What are your main concerns with this approach?" can provide valuable insights and lead to collaborative problem-solving.

Applying Chris Voss’s negotiation tactics in your DevOps career can significantly enhance how you communicate and collaborate with your team and stakeholders. These strategies ensure that even in the fast-paced, often unpredictable world of DevOps, you can navigate challenges with confidence, empathy, and effectiveness, leading to better outcomes for everyone involved. Remember, negotiation in DevOps isn't just about tools and processes; it's about people. And mastering the art of negotiation can make all the difference in fostering a productive, innovative, and harmonious work environment.

I highly recommend watching Chris Voss on Masterclass or check out his YouTube videos or grab a copy of Never Split the Difference.

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