The Split-Page Method

The Split-Page Method

One of the little tricks I like for remembering what’s important is to simply take a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle, and on the left side of the top write NEGOTIABLE, and on the right side write NON-NEGOTIABLE. You can fill in as necessary, based on your initial intelligence. If it’s a car, you might put something like: DVD player with headrest screens, CD changer, GPS navigation system, extended warranty, maybe even the color of the vehicle. Under NON-NEGOTIABLE go your limits, like the model vehicle you have your heart set on, an absolute cap of $25,200—dream on, right?

Of course, after the commander reviews the list and reviews certain inalienable facts about kids and long car rides, you slide the DVD player and headrest screens off the negotiable side and place it on the non-negotiable side, but you get the idea.

It’s not exactly high-tech; I don’t think a sheet of paper costs more than a nickel even in New York, and I doubt you’d plunk down a couple of hundred dollars to attend a seminar where that was the only piece of advice.

But I have to tell you, it’s saved many a negotiation. The simple rules are sometimes the very best rules, and this simple one works for everything from hostage negotiation to buying a car or refrigerator.

Basic Principles

Three rules are important at any stage in a negotiation:

  • Never lie.

  • If you make a promise, keep the promise.

  • If you don’t ask, the answer is ALWAYS “No.”

Quick Fixes

The first principle, “Never Lie,” ought to be obvious. This is as much practical as moral. Lies are counterproductive because they hurt the trust you’re trying to establish during the negotiation. You have to assume that eventually the person is going to be able to find out the real information; if that happens and they realize you’ve lied, at best it demolishes the rapport you’ve established. At worst, the other party may use it as a legitimate reason to end negotiations altogether.

The thing about lies is that they are always tempting. They’re seductive. They’re almost impossible to resist sometimes, because you know, you just know, that if you say them you’ll get what you want.

Usually not, but boy it seems that way at the time. A lie is a quick fix to a complicated situation—and that’s exactly why they’re dangerous.

We had a hostage situation in New York City once where I was negotiating over a speakerphone so the rest of the team could hear what was going on. I forget all of the nitty-gritty, but basically there was a fellow with a gun inside an apartment. We talk on the phone for a while, a long while, and finally we get to the point where he says, “Look, I’ll put down my gun and come out, but you have to promise me you’re not going to handcuff me.”

One of the department chiefs—the NYPD has several—was standing across from me at the time. I happened to look up and saw that he was nodding his head. Then he mouthed the words, “No handcuffs.”

Now I have to tell you that there is no way in the world—no way—that a person in that situation is not going to be handcuffed. It’s a matter of safety. The guy has just held a few dozen officers at bay with a gun. If he’s not restrained, what will prevent him from making a grab for a weapon once he’s outside?

The chief knew that, and the chief fully intended that the man be handcuffed. But the chief figured that by claiming he wouldn’t, we’d get the guy out, have the hostages safe, and be done with a very dangerous situation.

But telling the suspect that he wouldn’t be cuffed was a lie. I wouldn’t do it. I asked him to repeat what he wanted. The chief started waving his hands in my face—I mean, I was getting a full-blown dramatic presentation here.

“I have a situation here,” I told the subject. “Let me put you on hold and get right back to you.”

As soon as I hit the button, the chief was all over me. Now at that point I knew most of the chiefs in the department, but this guy and I hadn’t worked together before. Which I guess made me a little more polite, at least at first.

“What’s up, Chief?” I asked.

“Tell the guy okay.”

“I’m not telling him that. He’s got to be handcuffed.”

“Tell him.”

“I’m not going to do it.”

“I order you to do it.”

“You’re ordering me to do it?” I said.

He nodded.

Well, an order is an order. I picked up the phone and told the subject, “Look, you’re going to be cuffed. And you’re going to be cuffed behind your back. That’s the way it is. That’s our policy. I can’t change that.”

“Okay, Dom,” he replied. “Now I know I can trust you. I’ve been arrested before. I know how it goes. I just wanted to see if you were full of shit or not.”

A few minutes later the guy put the weapon down and came out.

Of course, the chief and I had a little personal time in the hallway as the handcuffed suspect was taken away. He wanted to know why I had disobeyed a direct order.

“Are we talking chief to detective, or you to me?” I asked.

“You to me,” said the chief.

“Well, you didn’t know what you were doing,” I explained. “You saw a quick fix and thought that would solve everything. In this business, there is no quick fix. When something looks like one, that’s exactly the time to stick to your guns.”

I had an advantage over the chief, not just because of my training, but because I had been dealing with the guy for a while on the phone and had the entire context: I somehow knew he was testing me. But the incident emphasized for me that there is never a quick fix, and that you have to stick to your basic principles or you’ll be tripped up in the end.