Never split the difference

Never Split the Difference is a book on negotiation techniques in which Chris Voss, the author, makes the case that psychology, empathy and rapport play a crucial role in negotiations. Voss was the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator and for the last decade he has run a consulting firm that guides organizations through negotiations.

I really enjoyed reading the book as it’s easy to understand and has great examples. Yet it feels like there is more to it than this book provides. Its a great read for anyone looking for more guidance in negotiation, yet for everything in life: it comes with practice. Do not overthink it and just try out some of the techniques instead of everything at once. Each situation, counterparty, business, industry is different. And it’s the reader’s task to take the basics and apply them to her reality.

Bullet Summary

  • Don’t negotiate as if emotions didn’t exist: they do exist and are often part of the problem you must tackle.
  • Listen, I mean, really listen
  • Use empathy: put yourself in the other person’s shoes and label their feelings
  • Make the other feel powerful, listen to them, summarize what they’ve just said until they say “that’s right” and ask “how” and “what” questions

Full summary

Voss says that the old approach of “leaving the feelings outside of the negotiation” makes no sense. How can you leave the feelings outside when feelings are part and parcel of the human experience and when feelings often are the main problem. He says instead that a great negotiator always has empathy for the other side. That doesn’t mean you agree, but it means you put yourself in his shoes.


  • Tone
    • Smile and slow down
    • Three voices:
      • Late-night DJ voice : Use selectively to make a point. Inflect voice downward. Calm and slow. Creates aura of trustworthiness without triggering defensiveness
      • Positive & playful: Default voice. Voice of easygoing & good natured person. Relax & smile while talking
      • Direct / Assertive: Used rarely
  • Mirroring
    • Used to encourage the other party to talk more, build rapport and buy time
    • Repeat the last (or critical) 3 words of what someone else has said (and then pause)
  • Labeling (decreases the intensity of the emotions)
    • Validate someone’s emotion by acknowledging it
      • It seems like … / It sounds like … / It looks like …
    • Pause to let the label sink in. Other party will fill in the silence
  • Allow them to say no
    • Makes them feel in control, saying yes makes people defensive
    • If I hear No
      • What about this doesn’t work for you?
      • What would you need to make this work?
      • It seems there’s something here that bothers you?
    • 3 types of Yes Counterfeit :
      • Yes as an escape route (want to say No )
      • Confirmation : Reflexive response question. Affirmation with no promise of action
      • Commitment : True agreement that leads to action
    • Trigger a No : Is now a bad time to talk?
    • Might sometimes need to force counterpart into a no
      • Intentionally mislabel an emotion
      • Ask a ridiculous question that can only be answered by a No
  • Never Split the Difference
    • Leads to a bad outcome for both sides, eg 1 black + 1 brown shoe
  • Anchor their emotions low
    • If you need to offer something lower than expected, preface it by saying what you’re about to tell them might be shocking and they won’t like it.
  • Calibrated questions makes them feel in charge
    • Start with “how” and “what” and are designed to open up dialogue, make the other party feel in charge and let them negotiate with themselves.
      • What caused you to do it (instead of accusatory “why did you do it”)
      • What did you have in mind when you..
      • How could we go about to do it
    • Avoid “why” question as they seem accusatory. Bite your tongue and never overreact.
  • Reinforce Commitment With The Rule of 3
    • To confirm and strengthen the commitment to a course of action instead, let them confirm the resolution three times.
      • First time they propose or agree to something, that’s number one
      • Second time you summarize and let them confirm with “that’s right”
      • Third time you ask a calibrated “how” or “what” question about the implementation
  • Negotiators
    • The Three Types
      • Accommodators
      • Assertive
      • Analysts
    • It’s a common mistake to think that assertives are the most successful.
    • Each style can be successful, but to reach your peak potential you need elements from all three styles.
    • A study also shows that 65% of some of the most successful negotiators are accommodators.
  • The More They Say “I” the Less Power They Have. The more someone says “I” trying to sound more powerful, the more likely it is they’re clueless and have little actual power. More shrewd people use “we”, “they” and “them”.