Never Split The Difference Summary By Chris Voss
Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It
Former FBI Hostage Negotiator Chris Voss has few equals when it comes to high stakes
negotiations. Whether for your business or your personal life, his techniques work.” (Joe
Navarro, FBI Special Agent (Ret.) and author of the international bestseller,
What Every Body is Saying.)
CHAPTER 1 THE NEW RULES
It all starts with the universally applicable premise that people want to be
understood and accepted. Listening is the cheapest, yet most effective
concession we can make to get there. By listening intensely, a negotiator
demonstrates empathy and shows a sincere desire to better understand what the other side is experiencing
Psychotherapy research shows that when individuals feel listened to, they
tend to listen to themselves more carefully and to openly evaluate and clarify their own thoughts and feelings.
CHAPTER 2 BE A MIRROR
Here are some of the key lessons from this chapter to remember:
■ A good negotiator prepares, going in, to be ready for possible
surprises; a great negotiator aims to use her skills to reveal the surprises she is certain to find.
■ Don’t commit to assumptions; instead, view them as hypotheses and use the negotiation to test them rigorously.
■ People who view negotiation as a battle of arguments become
overwhelmed by the voices in their head. Negotiation is not an act of battle; it’s a process of discovery. The goal is to uncover as much information as possible.
■ To quiet the voices in your head, make your sole and all encompassing focus the other person and what they have to say.
■ Slow. It. Down. Going too fast is one of the mistakes all negotiators are prone to making. If we’re too much in a hurry, people can feel as
if they’re not being heard. You risk undermining the rapport and trust you’ve built.
■ Put a smile on your face. When people are in a positive frame of mind, they think more quickly, and are more likely to collaborate and
problem-solve (instead of fight and resist). Positivity creates mental
agility in both you and your counterpart.
There are three voice tones available to negotiators:
1. The late-night FM DJ voice: Use selectively to make a point. Inflect
your voice downward, keeping it calm and slow. When done
properly, you create an aura of authority and trustworthiness without
2. The positive/playful voice: Should be your default voice. It’s the
voice of an easygoing, good-natured person. Your attitude is light
and encouraging. The key here is to relax and smile while you’re talking.
3. The direct or assertive voice: Used rarely. Will cause problems and
■ Mirrors work magic. Repeat the last three words (or the critical one
to three words) of what someone has just said. We fear what’s
different and are drawn to what’s similar. Mirroring is the art of
insinuating similarity, which facilitates bonding. Use mirrors to
encourage the other side to empathize and bond with you, keep
people talking, buy your side time to regroup, and encourage your counterparts to reveal their strategy
CHAPTER 3 DON’T FEEL THEIR PAIN, LABEL IT
Imagine yourself in your counterpart’s situation. The beauty of
empathy is that it doesn’t demand that you agree with the other
person’s ideas (you may well find them crazy). But by
acknowledging the other person’s situation, you immediately convey
that you are listening. And once they know that you are listening,
they may tell you something that you can use.
■ The reasons why a counterpart will not make an agreement with you
are often more powerful than why they will make a deal, so focus
first on clearing the barriers to agreement. Denying barriers or
negative influences gives them credence; get them into the open.
■ Pause. After you label a barrier or mirror a statement, let it sink in.
Don’t worry, the other party will fill the silence.
■ Label your counterpart’s fears to diffuse their power. We all want to
talk about the happy stuff, but remember, the faster you interrupt
action in your counterpart’s amygdala, the part of the brain that
generates fear, the faster you can generate feelings of safety, wellbeing, and trust.
■ List the worst things that the other party could say about you and say
them before the other person can. Performing an accusation audit in
advance prepares you to head off negative dynamics before they take root.
And because these accusations often sound exaggerated when
said aloud, speaking them will encourage the other person to claim that quite the opposite is true.
■ Remember you’re dealing with a person who wants to be
appreciated and understood. So use labels to reinforce and encourage positive perceptions and dynamics.
CHAPTER 4 BEWARE “YES”—MASTER “NO”
Break the habit of attempting to get people to say “yes.” Being
pushed for “yes” makes people defensive. Our love of hearing “yes”
makes us blind to the defensiveness we ourselves feel when someone
is pushing us to say it.
■ “No” is not a failure. We have learned that “No” is the anti-“Yes”
and therefore a word to be avoided at all costs. But it really often just
means “Wait” or “I’m not comfortable with that.” Learn how to hear
it calmly. It is not the end of the negotiation, but the beginning.
■ “Yes” is the final goal of a negotiation, but don’t aim for it at the
start. Asking someone for “Yes” too quickly in a conversation—“Do
you like to drink water, Mr. Smith?”—gets his guard up and paints
you as an untrustworthy salesman.
■ Saying “No” makes the speaker feel safe, secure, and in control, so
trigger it. By saying what they don’t want, your counterpart defines
their space and gains the confidence and comfort to listen to you.
That’s why “Is now a bad time to talk?” is always better than “Do
you have a few minutes to talk?”
■ Sometimes the only way to get your counterpart to listen and engage
with you is by forcing them into a “No.” That means intentionally
mislabeling one of their emotions or desires or asking a ridiculous
question—like, “It seems like you want this project to fail”—that can
only be answered negatively.
■ Negotiate in their world. Persuasion is not about how bright or
smooth or forceful you are. It’s about the other party convincing
themselves that the solution you want is their own idea. So don’t beat
them with logic or brute force. Ask them questions that open paths to
your goals. It’s not about you.
■ If a potential business partner is ignoring you, contact them with a
clear and concise “No”-oriented question that suggests that you are
ready to walk away. “Have you given up on this project?”
CHAPTER 5 TRIGGER THE TWO WORDS THAT IMMEDIATELY TRANSFORM ANY NEGOTIATION
■ Creating unconditional positive regard opens the door to changing
thoughts and behaviors. Humans have an innate urge toward socially
constructive behavior. The more a person feels understood, and
positively affirmed in that understanding, the more likely that urge
for constructive behavior will take hold.
■ “That’s right” is better than “yes.” Strive for it. Reaching “that’s
right” in a negotiation creates breakthroughs.
■ Use a summary to trigger a “that’s right.” The building blocks of a good summary are a label combined with paraphrasing. Identify,
rearticulate, and emotionally affirm “the world according to . . .”
CHAPTER 6 BEND THEIR REALITY
All negotiations are defined by a network of subterranean desires
and needs. Don’t let yourself be fooled by the surface. Once you
know that the Haitian kidnappers just want party money, you will be miles better prepared.
■ Splitting the difference is wearing one black and one brown shoe, so
don’t compromise. Meeting halfway often leads to bad deals for both sides.
■ Approaching deadlines entice people to rush the negotiating process
and do impulsive things that are against their best interests.
■ The F-word—“Fair”—is an emotional term people usually exploit to
put the other side on the defensive and gain concessions. When your
counterpart drops the F-bomb, don’t get suckered into a concession.
Instead, ask them to explain how you’re mistreating them.
■ You can bend your counterpart’s reality by anchoring his starting
point. Before you make an offer, emotionally anchor them by saying
how bad it will be. When you get to numbers, set an extreme anchor
to make your “real” offer seem reasonable, or use a range to seem
less aggressive. The real value of anything depends on what vantage point you’re looking at it from.
■ People will take more risks to avoid a loss than to realize a gain.
Make sure your counterpart sees that there is something to lose by inaction.
CHAPTER 7 CREATE THE ILLUSION OF CONTROL
■ Don’t try to force your opponent to admit that you are right.
Aggressive confrontation is the enemy of constructive negotiation.
■ Avoid questions that can be answered with “Yes” or tiny pieces of
information. These require little thought and inspire the human need
for reciprocity; you will be expected to give something back.
■ Ask calibrated questions that start with the words “How” or “What.”
By implicitly asking the other party for help, these questions will
give your counterpart an illusion of control and will inspire them to
speak at length, revealing important information.
■ Don’t ask questions that start with “Why” unless you want your
counterpart to defend a goal that serves you. “Why” is always an
accusation, in any language.
■ Calibrate your questions to point your counterpart toward solving
your problem. This will encourage them to expend their energy on
devising a solution.
■ Bite your tongue. When you’re attacked in a negotiation, pause and
avoid angry emotional reactions. Instead, ask your counterpart a
■ There is always a team on the other side. If you are not influencing those behind the table, you are vulnerable.
CHAPTER 8 GUARANTEE EXECUTION
Ask calibrated “How” questions, and ask them again and again.
Asking “How” keeps your counterparts engaged but off balance.
Answering the questions will give them the illusion of control. It will
also lead them to contemplate your problems when making their
■ Use “How” questions to shape the negotiating environment. You do
this by using “How can I do that?” as a gentle version of “No.” This
will subtly push your counterpart to search for other solutions—your
solutions. And very often it will get them to bid against themselves.
■ Don’t just pay attention to the people you’re negotiating with
directly; always identify the motivations of the players “behind the
table.” You can do so by asking how a deal will affect everybody
else and how on board they are.
■ Follow the 7-38-55 Percent Rule by paying close attention to tone of voice and body language. Incongruence between the words and
nonverbal signs will show when your counterpart is lying or
uncomfortable with a deal.
■ Is the “Yes” real or counterfeit? Test it with the Rule of Three: use
calibrated questions, summaries, and labels to get your counterpart to
reaffirm their agreement at least three times. It’s really hard to
repeatedly lie or fake conviction.
■ A person’s use of pronouns offers deep insights into his or her
relative authority. If you’re hearing a lot of “I,” “me,” and “my,” the real power to decide probably lies elsewhere. Picking up a lot of “we,” “they,” and “them,” it’s more likely you’re dealing directly
with a savvy decision maker keeping his options open.
■ Use your own name to make yourself a real person to the other side
and even get your own personal discount. Humor and humanity are the best ways to break the ice and remove roadblocks.
CHAPTER 9 BARGAIN HARD
Identify your counterpart’s negotiating style. Once you know
whether they are Accommodator, Assertive, or Analyst, you’ll know
the correct way to approach them.
■ Prepare, prepare, prepare. When the pressure is on, you don’t rise to
the occasion; you fall to your highest level of preparation. So design
an ambitious but legitimate goal and then game out the labels,
calibrated questions, and responses you’ll use to get there. That way,
once you’re at the bargaining table, you won’t have to wing it.
■ Get ready to take a punch. Kick-ass negotiators usually lead with an
extreme anchor to knock you off your game. If you’re not ready,
you’ll flee to your maximum without a fight. So prepare your
dodging tactics to avoid getting sucked into the compromise trap.
■ Set boundaries, and learn to take a punch or punch back, without
anger. The guy across the table is not the problem; the situation is.
■ Prepare an Ackerman plan. Before you head into the weeds of
bargaining, you’ll need a plan of extreme anchor, calibrated
questions, and well-defined offers. Remember: 65, 85, 95, 100
percent. Decreasing raises and ending on nonround numbers will get
your counterpart to believe that he’s squeezing you for all you’re
worth when you’re really getting to the number you want.
CHAPTER 10 FIND THE BLACK SWAN
Let what you know—your known knowns—guide you but not blind
you. Every case is new, so remain flexible and adaptable. Remember
the Griffin bank crisis: no hostage-taker had killed a hostage on
deadline, until he did.
■ Black Swans are leverage multipliers. Remember the three types of
leverage: positive (the ability to give someone what they want);
negative (the ability to hurt someone); and normative (using your
counterpart’s norms to bring them around).
■ Work to understand the other side’s “religion.” Digging into
worldviews inherently implies moving beyond the negotiating table
and into the life, emotional and otherwise, of your counterpart.
That’s where Black Swans live.
■ Review everything you hear from your counterpart. You will not
hear everything the first time, so double-check. Compare notes with
team members. Use backup listeners whose job is to listen between
the lines. They will hear things you miss.
■ Exploit the similarity principle. People are more apt to concede to
someone they share a cultural similarity with, so dig for what makes
them tick and show that you share common ground.
■ When someone seems irrational or crazy, they most likely aren’t.
Faced with this situation, search for constraints, hidden desires, and
■ Get face time with your counterpart. Ten minutes of face time often
reveals more than days of research. Pay special attention to your
counterpart’s verbal and nonverbal communication at unguarded
moments—at the beginning and the end of the session or when
someone says something out of line.
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