Every once in a while, I’m prone to share a more vulnerable, personal story – a struggle, if you will. This post is one of those. It’s about evolving – the need to. More specifically, it’s about the important parts of me that have fallen and the struggles to continue to evolve.
It’s a pain in the neck – literally. Last year, I injured my neck, and I haven’t been able to recover. I might’ve pulled a muscle or so while working out, but the following Saturday, I got hit pretty hard from the back – the other player flying straight into the back of my neck. My right arm went numb for a few minutes. I rested up after that, but you know what happened? Nothing. Almost two months went by, and I didn’t feel better. My neck was in all sorts of pain. I couldn’t turn to my right to look at my girlfriend in the passenger seat of my car without feeling pain in my neck.
I went to the doctor who prescribed physical therapy. I blew past the 8 sessions, and my PT was able to get more sessions from my insurance provider. However, I had plateaued. I wasn’t getting better.
All this time, I changed everything about my workouts – lowering all the weights, changing the exercises, etc. In soccer, I moved myself towards the backline. I favored the middle of the park, but it required me to be more mobile. The back and forth and sideways movement was too much. Playing in my favored role required quick changes in direction. Apparently, changing directions on a sprint heavily involves one’s neck. That was no good. I started slotting into the backline. This, at least, kept most of the play in front of me. I could put a little distance so I could also prepare if I needed to break out into a sprint. That’s how much my pain was.
I didn’t get more sessions from insurance for PT. I had “failed out”. I went back to the doctor and was told to get an MRI. The results… was a herniated disc.
The troubling part about a herniated disc is that there is little that can be done. Like many injuries, you lean on your body to repair itself. However, it’s been so long with the herniated disc that it was clear my body had not repaired itself… and grimly, might not. We opted for a couple epidural injections over the next couple months to ease the pain while perhaps giving my body some “space” to heal.
Sadly, that hasn’t proven the case.
The next treatment? There’s really only one option – vertebrae fusion. It’s, “eff your disc, it’s not getting better. We’re just going to fuse the two vertebrae that is separated by the disc together.” Except 80% of folks I talk to say not to do it. They say most people don’t get better, and the complications that can arise from this surgery is “worth it”. Awesome.
I sit here today getting ready to play soccer in a few minutes. My neck is sore. It’s not in a lot of pain at the moment unless I articulate my neck within 15-degrees of my prior-limits (looking left, right, up, and down. That’s a lot of restriction. Tomorrow, I hope to work out. Except, I’ll approach it as a very strict “de-de-load” session.
To be honest, I’m scared. I’m scared because I’m feeling aches in my body now, and I don’t know what else can be done. Or rather, I don’t like the next options. I’ve already limited so much of what I do – weight, range of motion, exercises, etc. I’ve lowered my expectations. I apply a heat pack daily to my neck and upper traps. I stretch as much as I can. I’m scared I’m losing a big part of me – the physical me.
For years, soccer was my passion. It was who I was. In high school French class, I always volunteered at the beginning of class [for participation points] to say what I did the day prior in French. “J’ai joue au foot!” (I played soccer!) I was like a parrot I said it so often. I played soccer every day. I played soccer throughout college. Then, I kept playing after college. Then, something happened. Friends couldn’t play anymore. They were moved out-of-town. They were having kids. Organizing soccer with friends became harder.
At that point, working out had started to be THE thing for me. If soccer was hard to come by because of a lack of friends (team sport), then working out was a sport I didn’t have to rely on anyone else. It was me against myself. Weights didn’t care if I had a bad day. It was perfect.
Working out became such a big part of my life. It even became a part of my entrepreneurial life with Body Boss.
Now, it’s possibly being taken away from me. Now, I think I’m losing that, too. I’m no longer the competitive soccer player. Now, I may not be the strongest guy in the room. I may not be the guy everyone looks up to for being able to lift and do impressive feats of exercise.
I admit that when I think about how I can’t challenge myself because of the pain, it hurts real fricken deep. When I feel the pain coming when I work out, I wonder if I should just pack it up and go home. Don’t know how many people around me know this feeling. I wouldn’t wish anyone to face this. In some ways, it’s an existential crisis. If I have stern look these days, chances are, the back of my mind is trying to rush into the front of my mind – reminding me of the pain and the possibility of everything going away. I didn’t think this would happen to me, let alone so soon.
Last week, I remember rolling up from the bench press into a sitting position. I was able to lift a good heavy weight, but I knew that I used to be able to lift so much more. I knew that I used to know I could push myself. Now? Now, I’m scared to. I’m afraid of the pain. Again, I think about going home. I looked down at my watch, though, and realized my 2-minute rest was about over. Well, while I still can, “eff it”. I rolled back down on the bench and go to my next set. Might as well…
It sucks. I’m scared. I don’t want to be anyone else, yet. But looks like I might have to. Who will I have be next?

Just finished Chris Voss’ Never Split the Difference. Chris was a 25-year veteran of the FBI’s hostage negotiation unit where he honed his skills in negotiation. In contrast to business school education of negotiation, Chris’ experience was cultivated in real-practice. Though his experience was incredibly serious (negotiations were over lives), he realized his ability to effectively negotiate in most every situation including business.
In contrast to teachings from other negotiation books like Getting to Yes, Chris realized that for him, there could not be a win-win situation. He could not “split the difference” with hostage takers – “I’ll take two hostages, you take the other two”. It was about life or death.
The crux of Chris’ learning and the foundation of the book is being able to separate the emotional side of a person vs. the logical. In this way, Chris could leverage his preparation to shake up the other party, and cause the other party to reveal their intentions. This enabled Chris to influence the negotiation so the other party was moving towards Chris’ goals seemingly on his/ her own.
Lots of take-aways here:
  • Controlling emotions is critical. In negotiations, it’s easy to get personally and emotionally involved. However, this is where rationality can be lost. Exude confidence and calmness to influence the other party.
  • Preparation is key. In every negotiation, it is best to be well informed on the goals of the negotiator, and what are the potential goals of the other. Prepare understanding the other person’s interests – be empathetic.
  • Chris mentions how “black swans” can be important in influencing a negotiation – some outside insight that can change the game. Listen to context clues of the other’s intentions that can reveal clues as to the motivations. These can be financial trouble that is not known at the beginning, etc.
  • Mirror – this isn’t just about mannerisms and behavior. Instead, Chris highlights the effect of repeating the 3 (or so) most important words someone says – in a calm tone with a slight upward inflection like forming a question. This buys the negotiator time to think about a response, but also gives the other party to reveal more data points.
  • Analysts vs. accommodators vs. assertive. These are the three broad types of negotiators. Analysts need time to think about a situation. Rushing them will cause them to push back. Accommodators are collaborative but can also give up more interests to reach an agreement. Assertive negotiators ask less questions; instead, they choose to tell. For assertive negotiators, they need to be heard first before hearing the other.
  • A few questions that help buy time, but also thrusts the onus on the other party to help come up with a resolution (thus, get buy-in later): “How am I supposed to do that?”  “Your offer is very generous. I’m sorry that just doesn’t work for me”.
  • Chris offers this one line as a means to get a response via email: “Have you given up on this project?” Many reasons for why/ how this works including its directness in causing the recipient to think about loss aversion. This can be a very incredibly uncomfortable email, and though I think it could work, it could work in a detrimental way without some edits.
  • Label feelings with “It sounds like…”, “It seems like…” to get the other person to confirm and to speak more and reveal more information.
  • “You’re right” vs. “That’s right”. There’s a difference when the other party responds one of these ways. “You’re right”, typically, is the response the other party is just trying to move on. They don’t actually agree. “That’s right”, however, signals an agreement in what the other says. “That’s right” signals the negotiator is on the right-track. Chris asks questions and labels feels to get the other party to suggest solutions, and then, repeats these solutions to get the buy-in from the other party.
  • Use exactness and precision in negotiations to seem like it’s calculated with reason. For example, telling the other party you can only $477.65 seems too precise to be made up vs. $500.
  • Let other party feel like they’re in control by asking a question looking for a “no” (i.e. is now a bad time to talk?” Let them feel comfortable and in control knowing they said no.
  • To turn around objections, consider questions like, “what about this doesn’t work for you?” “what would you need to make this work?”
  • Anchor emotions to the worst case at the beginning, then ask if there’s anything else. (For example, “you probably feel that I want to gouge you of all your money. You might even think that I just want to kick you out of the apartment to make more money from someone else. Am I missing something else?”) Let the other party consider the worst-case scenario before you pitch a not-as-bad scenario.
  • Coupled with using specificity (not round numbers) in a negotiation, offer another concession that you don’t care much about – the “gift”. This has the perception that you really have nothing else to offer.
  • Rule of 3 – the idea is to get the other party to agree to some statement or commitment three times. It’s hard for folks to lie 3 times. Use this to get past seemingly non-committal responses.
  • 7-38-55… ratios of what is communicated. 7% is the words actually being said. 38% is the ton of voice. 55% is the body language including facial expressions. You get so much more by meeting in person – body language.

There are some real good tips in here from Chris, and lots of good take-aways for a sales guy (anyone, since we’re all negotiating something sometime). In hostage negotiation, there are limited options/ alternatives. In sales and business, there are usually other alternatives (best alternative to a negotiating agreement (BATNA)). As such, there are situations where win-win situations is the only way deals can be made. Looking for the only win can be short-sighted.

However, again, there are great take-aways here applicable in many situations. There’s a reason why selling solutions to pains works – there’s an emotional component to pain. Practice and know how to employ Chris’ teachings.

Last week’s book review post on The Mom Test made me think more about Googling solutions to problems. It also reminded me of a post from a few years ago about testing a business as a hobby first ( “Before Starting a Business from Your Passion, Can You Stand It If It’s A Hobby?”).
The gist of both Googling and testing an idea as a hobby is this: is this even important enough to do something about?
Read: Is a problem a problem enough for you to (and others) Google? Is the problem one where people are seekinga solution? Would you even want to solve this problem as a hobby before? Happy enough to pursue part-time, let alone full-time?
There are ideas everywhere – just ask any wantrepreneur. Many ideas just come from happenstance annoyances. These annoyances aren’t problems. They’re rarely big enough or occur often enough to warrant looking for a solution, let alone paying to solve – certainly not enough to build a sustainable business around.
Is it problematic enough?

We’re doing a lot of customer discovery work right now at SalesWise. We’ve built a great platform with strong enthusiasts, but we need to keep evolving to help our customers do what they do best. Helpful, then, when a colleague recommended I check out The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick. Rob describes the book simply:

“How to talk to customer and learn if your business is a good idea when everybody is lying to you”

You may have a notion of what the book is about, but it’s likely not that – not just about target audiences in customer discovery. It’s both more general in its approach and more specific in asking the right questions to get the most useful input.
What I liked most about this book was its focus on tactics. Many books like the Lean Startup, the Challenger Sale, etc. are great at shaping your conceptual thinking. They’re great frameworks. However, they aren’t as tactical as what I found in Fitzpatrick’s book – a welcome change of pace. Plus, I can always ask better questions.
  • The gist of The Mom Test is to get beyond compliments and to facts. Most people provide what you want to hear – spare your feelings. They’ll tell you how great your idea is. They’ll tell you to keep them in the loop for when you launch. When it comes time to launch or buy, they don’t. Instead, ask for specific examples of how they accomplish tasks today. Ask for real problems – examples. Ask how problems affect them. Ask for facts.
  • “Why do you bother?” An interesting question here. It’s a question to get at the effects/ impacts folks run into. Get to the “why” and “how is that important”. “It’s important for me to know how productive my team is”, “I have to run reports daily on employee overtime”, etc. Impact sheds light on value.
  • Don’t talk about the idea. When gathering feedback, it’s important to not lead the audience. Ask questions about the current situation that your product/ service (idea) may solve for. Ask for impacts. Ask how they currently solve the problem you hope to solve. How has the audience tried to solve the problem – have they found other solutions? If they haven’t, why? Maybe it’s not a big problem after all…
  • Bad is good. That is, if the multiple folks in your market reiterates they have a fine solution, and they say their problem happens only so often, that’s good. If they says they don’t bother to look for a new solution, that’s good. Yes, you may want to show off your idea and try to convince them why your idea will save their lives. However, if the signs are not looking good, this is good feedback. Maybe you shouldn’t actually pursue this idea after all. Pursue another opportunity with better traction and viability.
  • Have conversations. Fitzpatrick highlighted the importance of having “conversations” rather than interviews or meetings. Approaching casually enables the dialogue to flow with honesty and buy-in.
  • Meetings are only productive when there is learning and/ or clear next steps. This is already highlighted in countless sales books. Even if the next step is not to move forward – again, moving on is a good thing. Get commitments and advances – time, money, or reputation (e.g. introductions).
  • Democratize feedback to get alignment and provoke thought leadership. Withholding input from conversations challenges creativity, problem-solving, etc. Share feedback across leadership, teams, etc. – transparency or democratization of insights.
  • Segmentation is critical to success – addressing a target audience to ensure a product/ service has a market. If there are too many different responses, take a sub-segment till you have cohesive feedback. Too many responses could mean too wide of a market which could lead to too many solutions. Then, no segment actually gets satisfied.

The book could use a professional editor. There are quite a few typos and misspellings. Normally, this stuff distracts the heck out of me losing a lot of credibility. However, the book’s points and lessons were great. Thus, I highly recommend this book.