Never Split the Difference, by Chris Voss

November 1, 2020

This week, I finished reading Never Split the Difference, Negotiating As If Your Life Depended on it. Written by former FBI lead international kidnapping negotiator, Chris Voss, it was a fascinating read on how to add emotional intelligence and empathy into the negotiation process.

I totally recommend it.

You can use the techniques outlined in the book for negotiations and everyday life: in business, at home, or when you ask for a raise or a new position.


Chris Voss, Never Split the Difference
Chris Voss, Never Split the Difference

Important Takeaways From the Book

Become a Mirror

Mirroring is magical. 

“Repeat the last three words (or the critical one to three words) of what someone has just said because we fear what is different and find comfort in similarity. “

The five steps of mirroring are:

  1. Use the late-night FM DJ voice– keep it calm and slow. Use this selectively to make a point. When done correctly, the late-night FM DJ voice creates an aura of authority and trust without making the other party defensive.
  2. Start with phrases like, “I’m sorry…”
  3. Mirror
  4. Use silence effectively
  5. Repeat.

Don’t Feel Their Pain, Label It.

Tactical empathy is understanding the other party’s feelings and mindset and hearing what is behind those feelings to increase your influence. 

Labeling is validating someone’s emotion by acknowledging it. First, you need to detect the other party’s emotional state and then highlight the feeling by labeling it. You can phrase a label as statements or questions. 

  • “It seems/looks/sounds like…”

People’s emotions have a “presenting” behavior (what we can see and hear) and the “underlying” feeling (the motivation behind the behavior).

Address those underlying emotions by labeling them. If you are labeling a negative emotion, you diffuse it. If it’s positive, you reinforce it. 

Beware “Yes”—Master “No”

A “No” can be an excellent opportunity to clarify what you want by eliminating what you don’t want.

“No” can often mean:

  • I am not yet ready to agree;
  • I don’t understand;
  • You make me feel uncomfortable;
  • I’d prefer to talk to someone else.
  • I can’t afford it;
  • I need more information;

A “No” can allow real issues to emerge. It protects you from making poor decisions and gives you time. It helps you feel safe and moves the negotiation process forward. That’s why “Is now a bad time to talk?” is better than “Do you have a few minutes to talk?

And there are three kinds of “Yes”:

  • Counterfeit:  the other party plans on saying “No” but feels that a “Yes” is an easier escape route.
  • Confirmation: generally innocent, reflexive response to a black or white question. 
  • Commitment: most often leads to a definite outcome, such as signing a contract.

Also, “That’s right” is better than “yes.” You can make a summary by combining a label combined with paraphrasing.

Bend Their Reality

“Starting with a very low or high offer, using offers with specific and odd numbers or other such arbitrary factors will influence parties to compromise or accept an offer during a negotiation.”

Here’s how you can do that:

  • Anchor their emotions.
  • Let the other side anchor monetary terms first. 
  • Establish a range: instead of saying, “I’m worth $110,000,” say, “At top places like Acme Corp., people in this job get between $130,000 and $170,000.” 
  • Pivot to non-monetary terms.
  • When you talk numbers, use odd ones: ex, $87,563.
  • Surprise them with a present.

Note: People will take more risks to avoid a loss than to realize a gain. Make sure the other party sees that there is something to lose by inaction.

Create the Illusion of Control

Use calibrated questions to educate the other party on the problem rather than cause conflict by telling them what the problem is.

Here are some calibrated questions you can use:

  • What about this is essential to you?
  • How can I help make this better for us?
  • How would you like me to proceed?
  • What is it that brought us into this situation?
  • How can we solve this problem?
  • What are we trying to accomplish here?
  • How am I supposed to do that? 

Guarantee Execution

Because most communication is nonverbal, you should develop the ability to interpret body language and tone of voice.

The 7-38-55 Percent Rule

The 7-38-55 Percent Rule states that

  • 7% of a message is based on the words
  • 38% comes from the tone of voice
  • 55% from body language and face.

The Rule of Three: get the other party to agree to the same thing three times in the same conversation. 

The Pinocchio Effect: a Harvard Business School study found that, on average, liars use more words than those telling the truth. They also tend to use more third-person pronouns.

The Chris Discount: use your name to create a sense of “forced empathy” and make the other party see you as human.

Bargain Hard

If you’re trying to close a deal, you can choose an encouraging tone of voice, and ask “Let’s put price off to the side for a moment and talk about what would make this a good deal?” Or “What else would you be able to offer to make that a good price for me?

If you’re trying to win a deal from your competitors, pitch statements like “Why would you ever do business with me? Your existing service provider seems great!” The “why” can coax the other party into working with you. 

The Ackerman Model

The Ackerman Model is an offer-counteroffer method you should prepare before the negotiation takes place.

  1. Set your target (goal) price.
  2. Set your first offer at 65 percent of your target price.
  3. Calculate three raises of decreasing increments (to 85, 95, and 100 percent).
  4. Use lots of empathy and different ways of saying “No” to get the other side to counter before you increase your offer.
  5. When calculating the final amount, use precise, non-round numbers like, say, $37,893 rather than $38,000. It gives the number credibility and weight.
  6. On your final number, throw in a non-monetary item (that they probably don’t want) to show you’re at your limit.

Find the Black Swan

“Black Swans are hidden elements that can totally change the negotiation if uncovered and used.”

Black Swans are leverage multipliers. To discover Black Swans ask about the other party’s beliefs and actively listen so you can mirror what they say. People feel safe in similarity and shared beliefs. 

Final Words

Humans want to be accepted and understood. Choose to be an active listener, demonstrate empathy, and show a sincere desire to understand the other side better.

This book is handy to handle everyday conflicts at work and home. A negotiation is an act of discovery. Listen to the other party, validate their concerns and emotions, build trust, and create a safety net for real conversations, and you will never split the difference.



A 12-Minute Summary of “Never Split the Difference” by ….

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