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.)


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.


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

triggering defensiveness.

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

create pushback.

■ 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


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.


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?”

works wonders


■ 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 . . .”


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.


■ 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

calibrated question.

■ There is always a team on the other side. If you are not influencing those behind the table, you are vulnerable.


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.


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.


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

bad information.

■ 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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3 thoughts on “Book Summary: Never Split The Difference Summary By Chris Voss”

  1. <a href="”>Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It A former international hostage negotiator for the FBI offers a new proven approach in the field for high-risk negotiations, whether in the boardroom or at home.


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