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Never Split The Difference Book Summary

Table of Contents

Book Title: Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It
Author: Chris Voss
Date of Reading: February 2018
Rating: 10/10


What Is The Book About As A Whole:


Never Split The Difference teaches us about the art of negotiating in a way that doesn’t leave anything at the table. And its foundation doesn’t come from theory, but practical iteration from negotiating with terrorists and abductors for 30 years. 


What Is Being Said In Detail:


The book is divided into ten chapters with every chapter building on top of the previous one. 

The first chapter emphasizes the point of active listening.

The second chapter goes into techniques of active listening: mirroring, silences, and late-night FM DJ voice.

The third chapter introduces tactical empathy and its elements: labeling and accusation audit

The fourth chapter will teach you the difference between “you’re right” and “that’s right.” 

The fifth chapter will examine how to get to “yes” by asking for a “no.”

The sixth chapter deals with the art of bending reality and framing things.

The seventh chapter explains the importance of calibrated, open-end questions.

The eight chapter will teach you that a “yes” is nothing without a “how.” 

The ninth chapter will cover haggling and the best way of doing it— the Ackerman system.

And the last chapter will teach you how to discover the Black Swans— three to five pieces of information that change every single negotiation. 


Most Important Keywords, Sentences, Quotes:


Our techniques were the products of experiential learning; they were developed by agents in the field, negotiating through crisis and sharing stories of what succeeded and what failed. It was an iterative process, not an intellectual one, as we refined the tools we used day after day. And it was urgent. Our tools had to work, because if they didn’t someone died.

In my short stay I realized that without a deep understanding of human psychology, without the acceptance that we are all crazy, irrational, impulsive, emotionally driven animals, all the raw intelligence and mathematical logic in the world is little help in the fraught, shifting interplay of two people negotiating.

Through decades of research with Tversky, Kahneman proved that humans all suffer from Cognitive Bias, that is, unconscious—and irrational—brain processes that literally distort the way we see the world. Kahneman and Tversky discovered more than 150 of them.

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.

Chris Voss Quote

Tactical Empathy. This is listening as a martial art, balancing the subtle behaviors of emotional intelligence and the assertive skills of influence, to gain access to the mind of another person. Contrary to popular opinion, listening is not a passive activity. It is the most active thing you can do.

A successful hostage negotiator has to get everything he asks for, without giving anything back of substance, and do so in a way that leaves the adversaries feeling as if they have a great relationship. His work is emotional intelligence on steroids. Those are the tools you’ll learn here.

In one of the most-cited research papers in psychology George A. Miller persuasively put forth the idea that we can process only about seven pieces of information in our conscious mind at any given moment. In other words, we are easily overwhelmed.

…when you inflect your voice in a downward way, you put it out there that you’ve got it covered. Talking slowly and clearly you convey one idea: I’m in control. When you inflect in an upward way, you invite a response. 

One group of waiters, using positive reinforcement, lavished praise and encouragement on patrons using words such as “great,” “no problem,” and “sure” in response to each order. The other group of waiters mirrored their customers simply by repeating their orders back to them. The results were stunning: the average tip of the waiters who mirrored was 70 percent more than of those who used positive reinforcement.

Four simple steps to get your way without confrontation:
1. Use the late-night FM DJ voice.
2. Start with “I’m sorry . . .”
3. Mirror.
4. Silence. At least four seconds, to let the mirror work its magic on your counterpart.
5. Repeat.

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.

Emotions are one of the main things that derail communication. Once people get upset at one another, rational thinking goes out the window.

Getting to this level of emotional intelligence demands opening up your senses, talking less, and listening more. You can learn almost everything you need—and a lot more than other people would like you to know—simply by watching and listening, keeping your eyes peeled and your ears open, and your mouth shut.

Tactical empathy is understanding the feelings and mindset of another in the moment and also hearing what is behind those feelings so you increase your influence in all the moments that follow. It’s bringing our attention to both the emotional obstacles and the potential pathways to getting an agreement done. It’s emotional intelligence on steroids.

Politics aside, empathy is not about being nice or agreeing with the other side. It’s about understanding them. Empathy helps us learn the position the enemy is in, why their actions make sense (to them), and what might move them.

We employed our tactical empathy by recognizing and then verbalizing the predictable emotions of the situation. We didn’t just put ourselves in the fugitives’ shoes. We spotted their feelings, turned them into words, and then very calmly and respectfully repeated their emotions back to them. In a negotiation, that’s called labeling.
Labeling is a way of validating someone’s emotion by acknowledging it. Give someone’s emotion a name and you show you identify with how that person feels. It gets you close to someone without asking about external factors you know nothing about (“How’s your family?”). Think of labeling as a shortcut to intimacy, a time-saving emotional hack.

Let me let you in on a secret: people never even notice.

Labeling is a tactic, not a strategy, in the same way a spoon is a great tool for stirring soup but it’s not a recipe.

I’ve found the phrase “Look, I’m an asshole” to be an amazingly effective way to make problems go away. That approach has never failed me.

Now, look at what I did: I prefaced the conversation by labeling my audience’s fears; how much worse can something be than “horrible”? I defuse them and wait, letting it sink in and thereby making the unreasonable seem less forbidding.

But at the end of the day, “Yes” is often a meaningless answer that hides deeper objections (and “Maybe” is even worse). Pushing hard for “Yes” doesn’t get a negotiator any closer to a win; it just angers the other side.

It comes down to the deep and universal human need for autonomy. People need to feel in control. When you preserve a person’s autonomy by clearly giving them permission to say “No” to your ideas, the emotions calm, the effectiveness of the decisions go up, and the other party can really look at your proposal.

I’ll let you in on a secret. There are actually three kinds of “Yes”: Counterfeit, Confirmation, and Commitment.

In every negotiation, in every agreement, the result comes from someone else’s decision. And sadly, if we believe that we can control or manage others’ decisions with compromise and logic, we’re leaving millions on the table. But while we can’t control others’ decisions, we can influence them by inhabiting their world and seeing and hearing exactly what they want.

So let’s undress “No.” It’s a reaffirmation of autonomy. It is not a use or abuse of power; it is not an act of rejection; it is not a manifestation of stubbornness; it is not the end of the negotiation.

…to mislabel one of the other party’s emotions or desires. You say something that you know is totally wrong, like “So it seems that you really are eager to leave your job” when they clearly want to stay. That forces them to listen and makes them comfortable correcting you by saying, “No, that’s not it. This is it.”

Email magic of never being ignored again: You provoke a “No” with this one-sentence email.
Have you given up on this project?

As you’ll soon learn, the sweetest two words in any negotiation are actually “That’s right.”

“THAT’S RIGHT” IS GREAT, BUT IF “YOU’RE RIGHT,” NOTHING CHANGES. Driving toward “that’s right” is a winning strategy in all negotiations. But hearing “you’re right” is a disaster.

Consider this: Whenever someone is bothering you, and they just won’t let up, and they won’t listen to anything you have to say, what do you tell them to get them to shut up and go away? “You’re right.”
It works every time. Tell people “you’re right” and they get a happy smile on their face and leave you alone for at least twenty-four hours. But you haven’t agreed to their position. You have used “you’re right” to get them to quit bothering you.

The moment you’ve convinced someone that you truly understand her dreams and feelings (the whole world that she inhabits), mental and behavioral change becomes possible, and the foundation for a breakthrough has been laid.

No. Just, simply, no. The win-win mindset pushed by so many negotiation experts is usually ineffective and often disastrous. At best, it satisfies neither side. And if you employ it with a counterpart who has a win-lose approach, you’re setting yourself up to be swindled.

To make my point on compromise, let me paint you an example: A woman wants her husband to wear black shoes with his suit. But her husband doesn’t want to; he prefers brown shoes. So what do they do? They compromise, they meet halfway. And, you guessed it, he wears one black and one brown shoe. Is this the best outcome? No! In fact, that’s the worst possible outcome. Either of the two other outcomes—black or brown—would be better than the compromise.

In other words, while we may use logic to reason ourselves toward a decision, the actual decision making is governed by emotion.

Look at this from the most basic level. What does a good babysitter sell, really? It’s not child care exactly, but a relaxed evening. A furnace salesperson? Cozy rooms for family time. A locksmith? A feeling of security. Know the emotional drivers and you can frame the benefits of any deal in language that will resonate.

Or imagine that I offer you $20 to run a three-minute errand and get me a cup of coffee. You’re going to think to yourself that $20 for three minutes is $400 an hour. You’re going to be thrilled. What if then you find out that by getting you to run that errand I made a million dollars. You’d go from being ecstatic for making $400 an hour to being angry because you got ripped off.

To get real leverage, you have to persuade them that they have something concrete to lose if the deal falls through.

In a recent study, Columbia Business School psychologists found that job applicants who named a range received significantly higher overall salaries than those who offered a number, especially if their range was a “bolstering range,” in which the low number in the range was what they actually wanted. Understand, if you offer a range (and it’s a good idea to do so) expect them to come in at the low end.

We learned that negotiation was coaxing, not overcoming; co-opting, not defeating. Most important, we learned that successful negotiation involved getting your counterpart to do the work for you and suggest your solution himself. It involved giving him the illusion of control while you, in fact, were the one defining the conversation.

He who has learned to disagree without being disagreeable has discovered the most valuable secret of negotiation.”

First off, calibrated questions avoid verbs or words like “can,” “is,” “are,” “do,” or “does.” These are closed-ended questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or a “no.” Instead, they start with a list of words people know as reporter’s questions: “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why,” and “how.” Those words inspire your counterpart to think and then speak expansively. But let me cut the list even further: it’s best to start with “what,” “how,” and sometimes “why.” Nothing else. “Who,” “when,” and “where” will often just get your counterpart to share a fact without thinking. And “why” can backfire. Regardless of what language the word “why” is translated into, it’s accusatory. There are very rare moments when this is to your advantage.

The first and most basic rule of keeping your emotional cool is to bite your tongue. Not literally, of course. But you have to keep away from knee-jerk, passionate reactions. Pause. Think. Let the passion dissipate. That allows you to collect your thoughts and be more circumspect in what you say. It also lowers your chance of saying more than you want to.

“Yes” is nothing without “How.” While an agreement is nice, a contract is better, and a signed check is best. You don’t get your profits with the agreement. They come upon implementation. Success isn’t the hostage-taker saying, “Yes, we have a deal”; success comes afterward, when the freed hostage says to your face, “Thank you.”

Calibrated “How” questions are a surefire way to keep negotiations going. They put the pressure on your counterpart to come up with answers, and to contemplate your problems when making their demands.

The trick to “How” questions is that, correctly used, they are gentle and graceful ways to say “No” and guide your counterpart to develop a better solution—your solution. A gentle How/No invites collaboration and leaves your counterpart with a feeling of having been treated with respect.

Truly effective negotiators are conscious of the verbal, paraverbal (how it’s said), and nonverbal communications that pervade negotiations and group dynamics.

You know the moment: you’ve mirrored and labeled your way to a degree of rapport; an accusation audit has cleared any lingering mental or emotional obstacles, and you’ve identified and summarized the interests and positions at stake, eliciting a “That’s right,” and . . . Now it’s time to bargain.

Because when it comes to negotiating, the Golden Rule is wrong. The Black Swan rule is don’t treat others the way you want to be treated; treat them the way they need to be treated.

The person across the table is never the problem. The unsolved issue is. So focus on the issue. This is one of the most basic tactics for avoiding emotional escalations. Our culture demonizes people in movies and politics, which creates the mentality that if we only got rid of the person then everything would be okay. But this dynamic is toxic to any negotiation.

Taking a positive, constructive approach to conflict involves understanding that the bond is fundamental to any resolution. Never create an enemy.

Remember, pushing hard for what you believe is not selfish. It is not bullying. It is not just helping you. Your amygdala, the part of the brain that processes fear, will try to convince you to give up, to flee, because the other guy is right, or you’re being cruel. But if you are an honest, decent person looking for a reasonable outcome, you can ignore the amygdala.

And so I’m going to leave you with one request: Whether it’s in the office or around the family dinner table, don’t avoid honest, clear conflict. It will get you the best car price, the higher salary, and the largest donation. It will also save your marriage, your friendship, and your family.

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Book Review (Personal Opinion):


The old way of negotiating through compromise fails in many situations. Chris Voss teaches us how to “win” negotiations when that’s the only option you are left with. This book helped me go from being a broke writer to having a successful freelance writing business. 

Rating: 10/10


This Book Is For (Recommend):

  • A freelancer learning how to price gigs
  • A salesman who wants to learn how to better sell his products
  • A parent, husband, or a wife who wants to improve their relationships

If You Want To Learn More


Here’s Chriss Voss’s at “Talks at Google”
Chris Voss at Google


How I’ve Implemented The Ideas From The Book


There are some scripts from the book I used verbatim in negotiating a contract. Also, I had a client who refused to pay me for six months. I used the things I learned from this book to finally get my payment. 


One Small Actionable Step You Can Do


Since most of the book emphasizes the fact that you need to listen to people and label their emotions, the two examples of how you can do that are:

  • Strike up a conversation and put a label on one of the other person’s emotions. It doesn’t matter if your talking to the mailman or your eleven-year-old son—and then go silent. Let the label do its work.
  • When you go into a store, instead of telling the clerk what you “need,” describe what you’re looking for and ask for suggestions.